DRAFT PICKS: Ahhhhhhhhh! Brown ales!

At a recent beer tasting evening with a bunch of great folks on the deck alongside a local lake, a lot of time was spent discussing the “heavier” brews such as stouts and porters.

And we talked quite a bit about the more malty ales.

I’ve written about them before. Truth be known, my favorite style of beer is the American Brown Ale.

There are good brown ales and there are some pretty crummy brown ales. And then there are a bunch of ales marketed as brown ales simply because they are the color brown when poured.

Hmmmmmm ...

What’s a beer lover to do?

Well, let’s keep it simple.

In very general terms there are two main styles or linages of brown ales — English (or British) and American.

Trying to nail down a definition of an English brown ale is pretty tough since there are a wide variety of the same throughout the British Isles.

In short, though, English brown ales are noted for their red-tinted brown color. They are almost always what we are learning to call “malt forward” — with fine malts dominating the recipe. Their maltiness often carries a distinct nutty taste and background hints of fruitiness. English browns are generally rather mild in taste but at the same time are full-bodied in mouth-feel.

Some English Browns tend to be a little sweeter (using less bittering agents e.g. hops), than do American ales.

English Browns are very refreshing and usually fully delicious.

Then we have the American Brown Ales.

Brewers in the U.S. learned early on that brown ales held a lot of potential.

They saw how popular the browns were in England and some parts of Europe, and they adopted and adapted the old recipes to the American palate. U.S. brewers took the English brown ale, created virtually the same brew using distinct American ingredients, and then juggled it around a bit by adding things like coffee beans, chocolate nibs and various nuts - especially hazelnuts in some brews.

Like its English cousins, the American browns are more often than not “malt forward” (In fact, almost always so).

It should be pointed out that the brown ales we’re drinking today are a relatively new resurrection of traditional browns. These classic brews died out of popularity in the late 1800s when brewers started focusing on lighter versions of the ale in order to increase both production and profit.

The “new” brown ales began a struggle to renewed recognition just before World War II, and only really re-earned their place on the bar over the past two or three decades.

Even the popular Newcastle Brown Ale, which some might think has been around since Henry VIII was on the throne, has only actually been being served since the later 1920s.

Both English and American brown ales are generally mild. Some are more full-bodied, others a bit more sweet.

American browns are generally a bit drier than English or British brown ales - that is to say, they are most often less sweet and hinted with less caramel flavor and more of the other tones so common from well roasted malted grains.

In fact, in some American brown ales there may be a hint of hops in the background - something usually missing in European versions.

As such, there may be a touch more bitterness to American browns. Nevertheless, compared to other brews the hops are virtually non-existent.

Good browns need to be chilled, but not COLD! No frozen glasses here ... please!

Too cold and A) the brew loses all of its nuances and simply becomes a cold malt beverage, and B) this type of brew can become a bit cloudy if over chilled. That doesn’t ruin anything, but some folks may be a bit put off thinking the ale has “gone bad.”

Chill brown ales, don’t “freeze” them. (This isn’t a slurpy, you know!)

Some brown ales (both English and America) for sale in this area include: Indian Brown Ale, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery; Hazelnut Brown Nectar, Rogue Ales; Frangelic Mountain Brown, Founders; Nut Brown Ale, Mt. Carmel Brewing Company; He’Brew Jewbelation, Shmaltz Brewing Company; Ellie’s Brown Ale, Avery Brewing Company; Brown Angel, Clown Shoes Brewing (Yes! That’s the name!) and Short’s Bellaire Brown.

Try them out. I’m sure you’ll find one or two you enjoy.


El Dankerino is an American Double IPA with 10 percent ABV.

I say that up front because it doesn’t necessarily taste or feel like 10 percent.

The Odd Side team are doing exciting things down in Grand Haven. They surely didn’t disappoint me with this brew.

Dankerino pours a rich amber color with a good amount of head that aids in the scenting process. You must act quickly. The foam doesn’t linger too long.

At first whiff there is a decent amount of sweetness wafting from my schooner. Then the hops bubble bursts and with it comes a wash of fruitiness highlighted by a defined citrus smell with just a touch of an outdoorsy background.

Taste follows pretty strong on smell, with a feel of sweetness on first wash followed by the more defined fruity aspects of the brew.

Dankerino has a quite malty emphasis in the back of the palate, but up front it’s all about the hops. The Odd Side team have chose their hops wisely and carefully. There is just a touch of bitterness, and that more toward the end of the wash.

The sweetness and light fruitiness at first sip lingers after the swallow and creates a pleasant aftertaste.

This is a very, very good beer. Not as harsh or herbal as might be expected from a Double IPA, but smooth and with a very pleasant mouthfeel.

Highly recommended to those edging into the field of IPAs.


This brew was gifted me by a friend who brought it up from Indiana, so ... I’m not sure if it available locally. If it is, give it a try!

Sticky Toffee is — at some stages - exactly what it advertises — very candy like.

The beer pours a dark brown color with a healthy beige head of foam.

There is a strong smell of caramel and coffee, but it seems a bit affected - as though the aroma was an additive. I don’t quite know how to explain it, but it just doesn’t feel real. There is a touch of fruitiness and certainly the more malty like scents. It just doesn’t smell ...real.

OK. I’m conflicted. This really is a fun beer. Tasty and dessert-like. But ... as with the aroma it just doesn’t convince me that someone didn’t simply pour some hazelnut coffee flavoring into the mix.

There is considerable toffee pudding-like taste at first sip (each time), but it disappears on the palate rather quickly and things get a bit herbal and even a touch bitter as the mouthful heads down the chute.

This is rather thin in the mouth. Much thinner than one might expect from a brew label as this is.

In short, as a gimmick this is an OK beer.

As a beer, I’d rather set my sights on something a bit more real and less playful.

Toffee Pudding doesn’t taste bad, it just isn’t ... whatever.