Southern English Brown Ale Style Profile

NOTE: In the 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines, Southern English Brown has been removed as a separate style.  It has been recategorized as Category 27 Historical Beer.  The Historical Beer category contains styles that either have all but died out in modern times, or that were much more popular in past times and are known only through recreations. This category can also be used for traditional or indigenous beers of cultural importance within certain countries. Placing a beer in the historical category does not imply that it is not currently being produced, just that it is a very minor style or perhaps is in the process of rediscovery by craft brewers.  The beer is categorized as Historical Beer: London Brown Ale.

Southern English Brown Ale, or London Brown Ale as it is sometimes called, is a relatively recent style of English beer. Throughout the ages, all English beers were brown so there was no need to label the obvious.

With the advent of coke as a fuel and the drum roaster as a tool, malts became lighter and more distinct in character. The maltster was able to dry and toast the malt without contact with the fuel. This allowed the flavor of the malt to come through in the finished beer.

No longer were the beers harsh and smoky in character. The malsters were able to produce black malts such as black patent, and with the new control over the malt’s color and character, many other malts such as caramel, brown, and pale malt were produced as well.

The Southern English Brown ale we know today originated in London and was most likely the second runnings from the highly popular Porter style being brewed at the time.

Less hops were used in the second beer to produce a beer for the masses that was more affordable.

Today however, many consider English Brown Ales as simply bottled versions of the English Mild Ale, a low alcohol draft beer that is still popular in the midlands of England today. In fact, prior to 1927 all bottled versions of dark mild were marketed as brown ale.

Many believe that the blueprint for today’s brown ale came from the Scottish brewmaster from Newcastle, Jim Porter. He was tasked to create a beer which could fill the demand for bottled beers. So, in 1927 he created his now famous Newcastle Brown for the working class, a beer that was more drinkable than the previous brown ales with a nutty character, slight caramel notes, and a dry finish.

Today, most brown ales in England are similar to the original Newcastle recipe, although the beers from the south (Southern English Brown Ales or London Ales) are somewhat sweeter, darker, less hoppy and less alcoholic.

Very few commercial examples of Southern English Brown ale exist especially in the United States. But that is why the style is popular with homebrewers.

London or Southern English Brown ales are malty beers with fairly low bitterness. They have a sweet caramel flavor, are usually dark in color and have some dark fruit (such as raisin of fig) flavors.

It is often considered a smaller version of a sweet stout, or a sweet version of a dark mild ale.

Brewing Tips:

Important factors to consider when brewing this style are:

  • its mouthfeel, 
  • its malt character, 
  • its hop character and
  • its serving temperature.

Unlike mild ales, which are often brewed with added sugars to lighten the beer, Southern English Brown does not have added sugars in the mash. This gives it a bigger feel, but since it is still low in original gravity (1.035 – 1.042).  

It is important that you leave enough residual sugars and dextrins in the finished beer so that it has plenty of mouthfeel.

Using a superior base malt is imperative, but the skilled use of specialty malts are what make a truly award winning Southern English Brown. If you want to use brown malt, keep the percentage fairly low, as it is very noticeable at between 10% and 20% of the grain bill.

Most often, caramel and chocolate malts are used to give the deep amber to mahogany color and it’s essential flavors of toffee. It is easy to go over the top with this beer and end up making a light version of a porter, and it will probably get gigged as such on a competition scoresheet.

The use of English hop varieties, such as East Kent Goldings and Fuggle, would be appropriate in making an authentic version of this beer.

Keeping its carbonation low, and serving it at warmer temperatures helps with the perception of richness and sweetness in this beer.

Southern English Brown / London Brown Ale Description

  • Aroma: The aroma of a Southern English Brown is malty-sweet, often with a rich, caramel or toffee-like character. Its nose is moderately fruity, and often has notes of dark fruits such as plums and/or raisins. It will have very low to no hop aroma and no diacetyl.
  • Appearance: The color should be light to dark brown, and can be almost black if a lot of dark specialty malts are used. It is almost opaque but should be relatively clear. The grain bill will leave a low to moderate off-white to tan head.
  • Flavor: Southern English Brown ales have a discerning, caramel- or toffee-like malty sweetness that lasts into the finish. From the English base malt you should notice hints of biscuit and coffee and there may be a moderate dark fruit complexity from the specialty malts used. The hop bitterness should be low and hop flavor low to non-existent. There should be little or no perceivable roasty or bitter black malt flavor as in a stout. The beer should have a moderately sweet finish with a smooth, malty aftertaste. Low levels of diacetyl are acceptable.
  • Mouthfeel: This beer usually has a medium body, although the residual sweetness may give the impression of a bigger beer. It will exhibit low to moderately-low carbonation with a texture that is very creamy and smooth, particularly for its low gravity.
  • Overall Impression: This is s luscious, malt-oriented brown ale, with a caramel, dark fruit complexity of malt flavors.
  • Comments: Commerical examples of this style are getting more and more rare; Mann’s has over 90% market share in Britain. Some consider it a bottled version of dark mild, but this style is sweeter than virtually all modern examples of mild since it does not use the sugars popular in the Mild’s grain bill which tend to dry that beer out.
  • History: English brown ales are generally split into sub-styles along geographic lines. Southern English (or “London-style”) brown ales are darker, sweeter, and lower gravity than their Northern cousins. It was developed as a bottled product in the early 20th century out of a reaction against vinous vatted porter and often unpalatable mild. Well suited to London’s water supply.
  • Ingredients: English pale ale malt as a base with a healthy proportion of darker caramel malts and often some roasted (black) malt and wheat malt. Moderate to high carbonate water would appropriately balance the dark malt acidity. English hop varieties are most authentic, though with low flavor and bitterness almost any type could be used.
  • Vital Statistics: OG: 1.033 – 1.042 FG: 1.011 – 1.014 IBUs: 12 – 20 SRM: 19 – 35 ABV: 2.8 – 4.1%.
  • Commercial Examples: Mann’s Brown Ale (bottled, but not available in the US), Harvey’s Nut Brown Ale, Woodeforde’s Norfolk Nog.

References: Information for this article was taken from the 2008 BJCP Style Guidelines, the article in All About Beer magazine entitled Basic Brown by K. Florian Kemp, published in

May 2008 in Vol. 29, No. 2, the article Brown Ale: Style of the Month which appeared in Brew Your Own magazine in July 1997, the Beersmith Home Brewing Beer Blog entitled Brown Ale Recipes: Brewing Styles written by Brad Smith and posted July 9, 2008 on, and Brewing Classic Styles 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew, written by Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer.

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