Why there’s no such beer as ‘English brown ale’

The man who invented brown ale …

The ability to deny the evidence of your senses is widespread. There’s the dictator insisting to television interviewers that his people love him, while across the country those long-oppressed people are taking up arms and waving the flag of liberation. And on a much less serious plane, there are people who will insist two beers that look totally different, taste totally different and are produced in totally different ways are variations of the same type.

It’s like setting up a category “horse” and insisting the seahorse and the clothes horse are its sub-categories. That’s slightly more ridiculous than insisting that Newcastle Brown Ale and Mann’s Brown Ale are sub-types of something called “English Brown Ale”. But it involves an identical confusion between “name” and “category”.

I don’t actually have any problems with the idea of “beer styles”. Labels can be very useful. But only if they’re meaningful. When I read that someone is going to be brewing “an English Brown Ale”, I have no idea what sort of beer they are intending to produce.

Look, here’s Newcastle Brown Ale, the urtyp “northern brown ale”, so-called. It’s “brown” only in the sense that if I had a pair of shoes that colour I would probably call them “brown”, if I didn’t call them “tan”. The beer is made – or was made, the method has changed, certainly since production was moved from Tyneside to Tadcaster in North Yorkshire – by mixing a low-gravity beer brewed at about 1030 OG (and sold separately for many years as Newcastle Amber Ale) with a matured, darker (from crystal malt and caramel) high-gravity beer to produce a blend with an abv of 4.7 per cent. The high-gravity beer gives fruity notes to the blend, and a final colour that is much the same as or only a little darker than many traditional English bitters, and certainly paler than, for example, Young’s Winter Warmer (which is a Burton Ale). The sweeter, maltier characteristics are more forward than you’d find in a bitter/pale ale, and there’s less of the hop apparent than would be found even in a Burton: bitterness, I believe is 24 IBU.

Then there’s Mann’s Brown Ale, the urtyp so-called “southern brown ale”. Brown? It’s almost black. That colour comes from roasted malt, and as you’d expect this is a beer with distinct chocolatey, roasty flavours (though less than you’d find in a stout or porter). It also has considerable sweetness (another one of the differences between this style of brown ale and stout – and Newcastle Brown Ale) and almost no hop character (brewers would use Mid-Kents and other non-premium hops for brown ales, and old hops as well, where the aromatic qualities had vanished but the preservative ones remained). Apart from the name also containing the words “brown ale”, Mann’s is utterly different from Newcastle Brown Ale. How can anyone with their brain not in “standby” mode think it works at all to ram these two very dissimilar beers under a single category called “English brown ale”?

To be fair, this is a confusion that goes back 40 years, at least (and before Michael Jackson shoved Newcastle Brown Ale and Mann’s Brown Ale into the same bed, so he’s not completely to blame for the confusion). The Daily Mirror newspaper, in a survey of British beers in 1972, also placed Newcastle Brown Ale and the similar Vaux Double Maxim together under a wide “brown ale” umbrella alongside a shelf-full of “Mann’s-style” dark brown ales such as Greene King Harvest, Truman’s Trubrown and Mann’s Brown Ale itself. Strangely, the Mirror not only failed to spot there were two sets of different-coloured “brown ales”, the hacks never noticed that the paler Newcastle Brown Ale and Double Maxim, were, for British beers, comparatively strong, at 4.5 per cent and 4.2 per cent respectively, while the other, “Mann’s-style”, dark brown ales had an average abv of just 2.7 per cent, with three (including Adnams) as low as 2.4 per cent.

The strength different between the two types of “brown ale” seems to be a post-Second World War phenomenon, however. An analysis of bottled Mann’s Brown Ale in 1909 published in the Chemical News found it to be 5 per cent abv (the same as the brewer’s dinner ale and, admittedly, on or just below average for a pre-First World War British beer). Ron Pattinson went through the records at the London Metropolitan Archive and found Mann’s Brown Ale to be 1048 OG in 1929 and 1054 in 1932 (after the tax on beer had come down, allowing brewers to increase gravities). Other dark brown ales included Trubrown at 1053 in 1932 (just 1032 in 1972), Whitbread at a similar 1052.7 in 1932 (1032.3 in 1972) and Ind Coope at 1052 in 1931 (1032, again, in 1972). I suspect that Newcastle Brown Ale stayed at a higher gravity because its flavour simply could not be recreated at a lower one, owing to the need to get that flavour by blending in a proportion of really high gravity beer (and Double Maxim, also sold primarily in the North East of England, stayed up in gravity to compete), while “dark brown ales” suffered from the general decline in strengths of British beers over the decades.

What Newcastle Brown Ale, in my not at all humble view, should really be called is “strong dark ale”, which would enable it to be put in there with other “strong dark ales” such as Hobgoblin, Black Sheep’s Riggwelter, and Springhead’s The Leveller. But calling it an “English brown ale” and sticking it in the same category as Mann’s is illogical and confusing, and leads to wheelbarrowloads of nonsense: Beer Advocate, for example, claims that “English brown ale” is “spawned from the mild ale”, which is wrong even when applied to Mann’s, but grade one tripe when applied to beers like Newcastle Brown Ale.

That’s not the only tripe talked about brown ale. There seems to be a belief with some drinkers that because several makes have been, and are, called “nut brown ale”, you should be able to find nutty flavours in the beer: I’m really sorry, guys, but I genuinely believe you’re imagining things. “Nut brown ale”, generally “quaffed” , is one of those poetic clichés in use for hundreds of years, but it referred to the colour, not the taste. “Nut brown” is not particularly useful as a colour descriptor anyway: it all depends (if you’ll pardon me) on what colour your nuts are. Hazelnuts are a very different shade of brown from chestnuts. Nor is it a particularly good descriptor for defining a type of beer: in the 1920s, for example, William Younger of Edinburgh was describing its No 3 Scotch Ale as “this glorious Nut-Brown ale”, No 3 being, in fact, a Scotch Ale, northern brother of Burton Ale.

Indeed, it was a Burton brewer, Marston’s, in 1915, that provided the earliest 20th century mention of a “Nut Brown Ale” I have been able to find, and this one was described as a “mild”. My guess is that this was a light (in gravity, since it was called “Lighter than Lager”, which British brewers always regarded as a low-gravity beer) Burton ale, since weaker Burton ales were generally called milds, and if it was a Burton Ale it would have been quite dark: think Young’s Winter Warmer again. Marston’s may have been deliberately trying to drag in some poetic associations by naming its wartime beer “Nut Brown Ale”, because for a very long time “brown ale” was a phrase only found in historic novels and reprints of John Milton’s poem of 1645, L’Allegro (“Then to the Spicy Nut-brown Ale …”). That changed in 1902, when Thomas Wells Thorpe – described by his contemporaries as “a forceful and progressive man” – son of a brewer from Boston in Lincolnshire, invented a new bottled beer at Mann’s Albion Brewery in Whitechapel, East London, where he was managing director. This was Mann’s Brown Ale, and it was promoted (at least according to the brand’s current owners, Marston’s, which acquired it via Refresh UK, which acquired it via the now closed former Watney Mann subsidiary Usher’s of Trowbridge) as “the sweetest beer in London”. It may have been part of a trend by parts of the British market not only towards bottled beers, but also towards sweeter beers, which saw the development of Milk Stout, with its unfermentable lactic sugars. But it was nothing to do with mild ales, sweet(er) though they generally were, because mild ales at the time were generally pale.

This was, indeed, an entirely new type of beer: there are a couple of references to “brown ale” late in Victoria’s reign, including a “mild nut-brown ale” sold on draught at a shilling a gallon by the Wright Brothers brewery in Shoreditch, on the eastern edge of the City of London, and an “XXB Brown”, again 1s a gallon (named in contrast to the same firm’s slightly cheaper “XX Mild Ale”) produced by Barnes & Co’s Tower Brewery in Clapton Park, Easton London in 1901. But for the rest of the 19th century, that’s it. Utter silence on the “brown ale” front. Effectively, there WAS no “brown ale” in the 19th century in the UK.

This is another area for confusion: people see that, for example, William Ellis’s London and Country Brewer in 1734 was talking about “pale and brown ales” and think there’s a link between the brown ales of the 18th century and those of the 20th. But in Ellis’s time, “brown ale” , while it would have been a lightly hopped drink, would have been much stronger than Mann’s Brown Ale ever was, probably above 7 per cent abv, and, depending on how the malt was made, quite possibly smoke-flavoured. The old-style brown ale was still around in 1754, as this rare advertisement for a small London brewer (very close to where Mann’s premises would be, coincidentally) shows: like other small concerns at this time, the Fox brewhouse was a generalist, selling “good strong mild porter” (mild here, of course, meaning new or unaged), a “neat fine Pale Home Brew’d Ale” (this, again would be a lightly hopped though strong brew), “Pale or Amber Small Beer” (this was “beer”, so more heavily hopped, the hops being required because it was also “small”, that is, low in alcohol), “Twopenny” (that would be, I think, an amber ale) and “Brown Ale”. They would also brew “any quantity of keeping Ale or Small Beer” – you don’t, I hope, need me to tell you now why one was different from the other. (Come on, come on – the keeping Ale was strong but lightly hopped, the Small Beer was weaker but more heavily hopped.)

The triumph of porter (a development of what was originally called “brown beer” – because it was heavily hopped), however, mean that the rival, less hoppy brown ale went into decline: Michael Combrune in 1762 said London brown ale was “heavy, thick, foggy, and therefore justly grown to disuse”. By the early decades of the 19th century brown ale seems to have vanished, and the expectation was that anything called “ale” would be pale. Here’s a source I’ve quoted from before, Dr Lardner’s Cabinet Cyclopedia from 1830:

Ale is of a lighter colour; it is stronger, sweeter and is less hopped than porter.

When Mann’s reintroduced a beer called “brown ale”, it doesn’t look as if it was any sort of immediate hit: the take-off in bottled brown ale sales does not seem to have started until the 1920s, more than two decades after it was invented. This was after the First World War crash in beer strengths, and when bottled beer sales in general were starting their long rise. In 1924 bottled beers in total, including stouts and bitter ale, made up just 14 per cent or so of Mann’s production. However, this would soon change. The same year, another East End of London brewer, the former porter giant Truman Hanbury and Buxton, brought out its own bottled brown ale. By 1929 this was being sold under the name Trubrown, when the Truman’s house magazine revealed that over the previous five years “the trade has increased by leaps and bounds and brown ale now outstrips all other brand [of the company's bottled beers].” Also in 1924, Whitbread acquired the Forest Hill Brewery Co in South East London, a firm with a reputation for “bright” (filtered) bottled beers, which brought with it the Forest Brown brand. Forest Brown was to grow into one of Whitbread’s best-selling bottled ale brands. Young & Co of Wandsworth, South London brought out a bottled Amber Ale in 1924, but in 1927 the company was forced to announce that “owing to many enquiries for Bottled Ale with more colour than we now supply we have decided to brew our Amber Ale to conform with more general demand,” the result being labelled Brown Amber Ale. The Norwich brewer Steward & Patteson introduced Norfolk Brown Ale in the summer of 1928 with a gravity of 1037.5, and soon announced that demand had “greatly exceeded expectations”.

It was the rise in sales of bottled ales that apparently encouraged Colonel James Porter, head brewery at Newcastle Breweries in the North East of England, to enter the market with a new beer in 1928 that, according to the company’s own histories, took three years to develop. It was called Newcastle Brown Ale, although it was, in fact, deep amber, rather than the chocolate-brown colour of beers such as Mann’s. The beer remained a regional speciality, however, until Newcastle Breweries merged with Scottish Brewers in 1960 to form Scottish & Newcastle Breweries, and Newcastle Brown Ale achieved nationwide distribution.

Mann’s-style brown ale, meanwhile (let’s call it “dark brown ale” for the rest of this piece, to avoid confusion – it’s a more accurate description, and there was even one brand actually called “Dark Brown Ale”, from Beasley’s brewery in Plumstead, South East London), had become a nationwide style, with brewers from the South West to East Anglia, and from Sussex to Alloa making a bottled dark brown ale – often called “nut brown ale”. Bottled brown ale was  drunk half-and-half with draught (dark) mild, to give a drink that was livelier than draught mild on its own but cheaper than a pint of bottled beer, and while brown ale and dark mild are properly separate beers, there was certainly an overlap. When the two brewers in Kimberley, Nottinghamshire, Hardy’s and Hansons amalgamated, albeit with a continuation of their separate estates, and the Hansons brewery closed in 1932, Hansons took Hardy’s Nut Brown Ale and relabelled it for its own pubs as Hansons Special Mild. At Benskin’s Watford brewery, on the other hand, in the 1950s the Nut Brown Ale was fractionally weaker than the XX dark mild, at 1032 OG against 1033, and marginally lighter, with a Lovibond colour of 37, a dark brown, against 38 for the mild.

I’m going to get extremely pretentious and say that the most accurate way of conceptualising the links and overlaps between beer styles is to see them, not as a family tree, or a Venn diagram, but as areas in an n-dimensional space, where the different axes or dimensions include strength, bitterness, hoppiness, colour, sweetness, acidity, mouthfeel, and whatever else you want to include. In that multidimensional space, Newcastle Brown and Mann’s Brown don’t overlap. Dark brown ales DO overlap, however, with dark mild, and to a degree with Burton Ale as well. Digging around for brown ale references, I came across a recipe from the Daily Mirror in 1946 for “Sausages in Beer Sauce” which instructed chefs to add to a pan of frying sausages and onions “about a cupful of brown ale … ordinary mild ale will do, although Burton gives a fuller flavour.”

Most brown ales slumped in strength during and after the Second World War, but there were still a few “double brown ales” around, including Whitbread Double Brown, launched in 1927, still 1054 OG in the 1950s, and sold as “a fine strong ale”; Bateman’s Double Brown; Chestnut Brown Ale from Young’s of Portsmouth, still 4.8% abv even in 1953 (though at 70% attenuation, probably quite sweet; Mitchell & Butler’s Sam Brown Ale; and Ruddle’s Strong Brown, at 1048, first brewed around 1970, making it one of the last new brown ales to be launched for decades. Although a survey in 1973 found some 112 brown ales still being brewed, with 90 per cent of Britain’s regional brewers producing at least one, and 18 making two, in the next 20 years the number of brown ales plummeted, as many regional breweries closed and others stopped making the style: brown ale was what your dad, or your granddad, drank. In 1959, bottled brown ales had been 12 per cent of the total British beer market: that was down to 9 per cent in 1967, and just 4 per cent in 1976 (and that probably included Newcastle Brown Ale, the one beer with “brown ale” in its name that continued to do well).

The success in the US of Pete’s Wicked Ale, supposedly based on Pete Slosberg’s interpretation of Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale from Tadcaster, has meant a fair number of American microbrewers making an “English Brown Ale”, though whether they are making a Newcastle-style “brown ale” or a Whitechapel-style dark brown ale, you won’t know until you pour the beer into your glass. Meanwhile in the UK, there has been a small revival of brown ale brewing: I can’t recommend highly enough Old Ember from the Highgate Brewery in Walsall, introduced in 2006, at 6.5 per cent abv a welcome revival of the strong dark brown ale style, brewed with a touch of honey.

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34 thoughts on “Why there’s no such beer as ‘English brown ale’

  1. A superb read.

    TBN, I can see where you are coming from with the use of the “nut” prefix with American made brown ales, but why do you think the popularity of Sam Smith’s in the US is inexplicable?

  2. Of all the breweries in England — of all the breweries in Yorkshire, even — why that one? If it was a big ambitious company with international intentions I could see it. If it was a tiny artisan producer with serious Real Ale cred, I could see it. But it’s an odd little anachronistic pubco that brews middle-of-the-road beers. To see it lauded in the US as some sort of icon of English beer is odd. I guess it would be like having Yuengling or Genesee beer held up as icons of American brewing over here. Just weird.

    • I think you are confusing available and affordable with ‘icon’. We can only buy what is imported. I would love to get more British beers here but it seems that only certain brands are available. I live near one of the best stocked stores in the country (Premier Gourmet foods) and can request beers to be brought in, but I don’t have the experience with what is available in England.
      On the other hand, I do have a great deal of experience with Genesee, which I feel is quite a bit better than the traditional big beers of the country. Their cream ale is a rather unique style, and almost extinct. I always liked their 12 horse ale (pale ale), which has probably never made it across the pond. And I happened to be in the brewery when they were making a test batch of doppelbock, which went on to win a medal in a German brewing contest (under the brand High Falls).

        • Craig,
          THE BEST American bock is the one made in my basement, but if you want to try some others, Blizzard bock from Flying Bison and Sled Dog from Wagner Valley are both good as well. And it is the season for them now.

  3. I used to drink Old Ember – lovely stuff indeed – up until about three years ago, when our local Sainsbury’s stopped stocking it. Annoyingly, I’ve not seen it anywhere since then – any recommendations as to a retail supplier?

  4. “Your life in prison is like a dog in a box.” Chris Morris is a genius.

    Anyway… Thanks for putting in the n-dimensional conceptual space image – when I got to it I was still reeling from the implications of the phrase “mild bitter ale” (do none of the words we use now mean anything?)

    I like the idea of nut-brown ale tasting ‘nutty’. But I know I’m not immune to auto-suggestion myself – I once described Marble Stouter Stout as tasting ‘inky’. (Not in a good way.)

  5. Fascinating!
    Does the recent demise of Harvest (much lamented in these parts!) mean that Harvey’s Nut Brown has become the last ‘proper brown ale’ left? If this is so (I haven’t seen Shepherd Neame brown for a year or two, but perhaps I’ve been in the wrong Sheps pubs), Manns Brown has outperformed all other brand leaders across the drinks trade in taking over virtually the whole of a sector of the market to itself. Even Guinness and the all-pervasive Coca Cola have not reached this degree of penetration in their respective markets. Does this therefore make Manns Brown the most successful UK beer brand ever? (For me it’s a bit too sweet; bring back Greene King Burton!)

  6. Hmmm. You’ll be saying there’s no such thing as boring brown beer next:)
    BN
    You’ve explained it yourself. Sam Smiths are simply unique in British brewing/pub owning. They are more than eccentric. Which other family brewer refuses to be a member of the IFBB, for example?

  7. Although I occasionally enjoy some strong dark ales such as Black Sheep and Hobgoblin, I haven’t had a drop of Brown Ale since the 70s.I used to drink tons of Harvest as a teen (and because of Alan Hull, Newcy Broon). However, I was slightly bemused a few weeks ago that all the Irish Bars in New York are heavily promoting Newcastle Brown as the “in” drink.

    Even more bemused that the only people I saw drinking it were women. That’s not a sexist point, by the way, just an observation. NB was always seen as a “real Man’s drink” back in the day.

  8. Why is there such an admiratin for Samuel Smith’s in America? I would guess, because it’s fairly available and a bit expensive, which means it must be good, right? It’s starting to crop up in grocery store and markets, in my area. It’s also only available in 4 pack bottles or 20 oz bottles, which to the rank and file means it’s exotic or somehow “more better.”

    We do see a fair bit of Newcastle, and obviously Guinness and it’s offerings of Smithwick’s and Harp, along with Bass. Most bars and pubs will have at least one of these on tap. Fuller’s is a rarity, anywhere other than a beer specific bar or store. That’s about all the exports from the UK that most Americans are exposed to. Yes, there are other beers available, but the get such little distibution, they basically get ignored.

    I’m guessing that Samuel Smith’s also is one of the first British exports, tried by newer American beer drinkers–that is not produced by a large brewery. I think the assumption is that Samuel Smith’s is representative of all British “craft” brewing, simply from lack of comparison. I would imagine that the opposite is true for products produced stateside imported into the UK, as well. It’s safe to say, that my grandma’s fried chicken is a bit better than Kentucky Fried Chicken.

  9. I’m in the US, so some of these brands are unfamiliar to me. The article makes a very convincing argument that Mann’s (never had) is a different beer to Newcastle, but the argument that Newcastle should be lumped in with beers like Hobgoblin is less convincing.

    Most people I know in the US beer scene consider Newcastle one of the standards of an “english brown ale”. I wasn’t aware until today of the “northern english brown” and “Southern english brown” distinctions but I gather the differences listed above are why there are two separate style guidelines in the BJCP. The fact that the two styles of browns are somewhat dissimilar does not to me present a convincing argument with lumping the beers in with other styles that they are dissimilar to.

  10. An interesting and persuasive run-through.

    The enduring success of the Samuel Smith beers in the United States is due to a number of factors. First, the beers are good but not highly assertive, and I think that struck the right note particularly with the first generation of the beer renaissance. (Of the range, I find the Imperial Stout the best).

    Second, the beers were and are imported to the U.S. by Merchant du Vin, an influential beer importer whose products starting appearing in the late 1970′s . This coincided with the appearance of Michael Jackson’s early books. The beers were (perhaps still are) merchandised in attractive wooden case displays. They looked good to buy but also it was natural to want to because you read about them in the World Guide to Beer or later Jackson books. Pete’s Wicked Brown Ale used West Coast hopping which completely changed the taste of a brown ale (as then understood) and created a new style in the process. I am not sure if this beer is still available, it went away for a time but I think is back now.

    Brown ale in the 1700′s surely was made from the same malts porter was, as you said. I agree too that with porter’s success, there seemed no need for an un-aged or ale version, and finally porter itself was sold mild, or always was (as that ad would suggest, good find there), so one can see porter absorbed all the available “brown” market in London at any rate.

    In the country though, I think brown ales must have survived. Wasn’t Burton and Scotch ale (circa-1800) a kind of brown ale? And this is why I think Newcastle Brown was called a brown ale, because it seemed similar to the close-by Scotch ales (which were not all strong), some of which were brown again especially after 1900. Ditto for Burton Ale. Initially some of the malts in those brown (or dark if you will) country ales were probably wood-kilned but in time that died out – just as it did for porter in Ireland.

    I think Ron has shown that 20th century brown ale did not use black patent malt, or if it did the quantities were so small as to be used effectively only to adjust colour.

    In my view, nothing really changed in the streams of beer from the 1700′s except two things: the use of black patent malt in porter, and the final abandonment of wood-kilned brown malt when the last English porter disappeared after the war. Yes, gravities fell and the colour of some beers changed in the later 1800′s, but the basic flavour of the beers was the same I think in 1700 as 1960 except for beers in 1960 that used black patent malt (Irish stout mainly) and beers in 1700 which used wood-kilned malt.

    By the way I think IPA may have been a blending, literal or via a purpose-made recipe, of pale small keeping beer and home-brewed pale ale. Both of these are mentioned in that 1754 ad but not apparently the beer that went to India.

    Gary

  11. Samuel Smith makes two great beers (IMO), no matter which side of the pond you are located, as Gary mentioned, Imperial Stout and my personal favorite Winter Welcome.Both are finely crafted ales , however all of Samuel Smith’s ales are extremely expensive here in the states, 50+ usd , they have traditionally been the “next level up ” ales from England beyond the typical “Bass and Newcastle” variety, additionally they both benefit from aging, and to me, the sweet spot is around 2-3 seasons. Taddy Porter is also good, but the other offerings seem to suffer from travel, clear bottles and lack of freshness.

  12. Realistically Mann’s-esque ales, fit the bill better, as “brown ales” they are, after all, more brown. The simple classification of “dark ale” (strong or otherwise) suits the NCs, Hobgoblins or Double Maxims. Those beers seem to need a little wiggle room, stylistically. Perhaps broadening their scope might allow for some interesting interpretations and a bolstering in their resurgence.

  13. Are brown ales popular in the UK? I would garner a guess that most US micros produce, or have produced, at least one brown ale. I wouldn’t say that the style is the most popular in the US, but they are readily available. I get the distinct impression that they arn’t quite as popular in the UK.

  14. Excellent article. I have always wondered what the similarity was between nut-brown ale and Mann’s brown ale other than the color. While I have been drinking Newcastle and Sam Smiths for about 30 years, I have only had 1 commercial beer that was described as being similar to Mann’s.
    I think that the reason for the popularity of the Sam Smith’s is derived from it’s early entry into the American market (more than 30 years ago) and the clear bottles that we get here. It was even more “imported” than all of the green bottle beers, which were all imports. Some breweries still send only green bottles to the US because there is still an image that all imported beers come in green bottles. I have found that the fresh Sam Smiths is usually quite good, but that it gets stale and/or skunky rather quickly due to the clear glass.
    And for anyone who had Pete’s Wicked Ale, back before ownership changed, it was mildly chocolatey, with a dry finish and had an assertive hop bitterness and flavor (I believe from Chinook hops). Another dramatically different beer from either English style. I would rather that more of the microbreweries and brewpubs in the states would make this style, but most are the nut brown ales, which don’t really have any nutty character, and generally don’t have much flavor at all.

    Thanks for the article.

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  16. “sold separately for many years as Newcastle Amber Ale”

    I’m glad that someone else remembers it, because for many years, I was at the point of thinking it was something I’d dreamed up.

    Newky Brown is increasingly ubiquitous in American locations — though often skunked in bottle, I’ve found, which makes the heresy of draft acceptable. I wonder if that’s why Sam Smith’s shifted to brown bottles, at least for the part of the US I’m in — where, as others have said, they punch above their weight.

  17. First time I’ve visited this (excellent) blog and straight away I find a mention of Newcastle Amber Ale, which I used to stock in my bar days. It was rare to find it in the on-trade but women used to drink it! I visited the Tyne Brewery fairly regularly and the Brown Ale was made up of Amber and the ‘stock’ which was never used as the basis for anything else. Amber was a low gravity version of Exhibition, with the ‘Ex’ wort simply diluted down to 1032. The mixed Brown Ale was changed to a single brew years before even the move to Dunston although needless to say in great secrecy, and with a lot of brew blending over a long period of time so no-one would notice the inevitable taste difference. S&N (or Heineken UK) apparently had to do the same during the move to Tadcaster.

  18. I just wanted to say that for most of the beer fans of all around the world these distinctions don’t exist just because most of us perhaps tasted the Newcastle Brown Ale and surely didn’t do it with the other one just because they are not available.
    Beer styles are very useful to explain beer. I use to give courses and really that system helps me to let people understand that beers can present a lot of varieties in names and tastes. Much more then what they have the habit to know.
    And finally there is an other little problem. It is difficult to find fiable information. Till now, the great majority of brewers didn’t give any information about there beers and ales. And now, they give something but they still seem to be affraid of informing about their art and intentions. So, if we are not close and if we are not used to read and write in English, how can we know the technical differences between Newcastle and Mann’s brown ale? We have to trust books that could contain errors or that are bad (or very bad) translated by people that normally don’t know anything about beer.
    I think that, slowly and progressively, the beer styles lists will include your ideas and we are going to speek about beers and ales more properly.
    Best greetings from Catalonia.

  19. I had a couple questions to ask, as I’m reading your most recent book at the moment. In this post you suggest, as well as Ron later on in the comments, that Southern and Northern English Brown ales are basically made up. But you make reference to them in your book’s “Brown Ale” chapter, to “North East Strong” and “Southern” brown ale. Also, you wrote a post on the blog saying that Brown Ale was not a result of the mild ale, but in the book you mention that could be the case.

    Not attacking here, and I could very well just be misinterpreting or missing something. I was just seeking clarification so I could better understand.

    • That’s very probably because in between writing the Brown Ale chapter of AGB and the blog post I changed my mind about certain aspects of their histories – not being a politician I’m able to do that without being pilloried in the public prints. There IS a cross-over at the edges between “southern” brown ale and dark mild, but the two are really separate styles with separate histories.

      The names “Southern English brown ale” and “Northern English brown ale” imply a link between the two that doesn’t exist, which is what I was saying in the blog, and “Southern English” is inaccurate because the style was brewed all over Britain, but they do make useful shorthand labels: perhaps one should say “Mann’s-style” and “Newcastle-style”, naming them after theb ur-typs.

      • I read the book and I really enjoyed it. But I am confused by what you mean by changing your mind? usually you state facts and 1st sourced history. are you just guessing here? please be more clear. There is no link? I know things change in history over time, but I am confused after rereading (AGB) that chapter and this post.
        Its not your fault of course That i am confused. I just have to read it till I get it…

        thanks, great blog.

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