After a long hiatus, the most excellent Northern English Brown Ale is returning to the Civil Life. Unlike our ever-popular American Brown Ale, with its characteristic notes of roasted coffee and cocoa, the Northern English has a decidedly earthy, nutty roast character with hints of toffee and chocolate. The “Northern English” take on a brown ale also has a rich history.
Many claim that almost every beer at one time was some type of brown ale, given the difficulty of getting lightly roasted malts until more sophisticated kilning techniques made light-roasted malts easier to produce. Some early malts were burnt and most were fairly smoky from the fires used to roast them.
Brown ales are among the earliest beer styles brewed in England, though they are not especially popular there any longer. In the seventeenth century, brown was the main style, but it lost ground to porter in the eighteenth century.
According to Martyn Cornell, the gravity (and consequently the a.b.v.) of beers had fallen during WWI. The lower gravity draft milds were much more perishable than the stronger, more highly hopped beers that wartime rationing and shortages had pushed aside, and pub owners needed to do what they could to please thirsty patrons. The most popular drink became draft mild mixed half and half with bottled brown beer. But when milds fell out of favor in the 1960s, so, too, did browns.
The browns of Northern England, however, retained their popularity, with Newcastle Brown Ale being the most famous. That famous brown is fruitier than our version. The northern browns tend to be dry, while many of the older browns from London and the surrounding area were somewhat sweet. Along with Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale, Newcastle was the exception in England, where brown ales had nearly died out.
At the same time, though, American craft brewers were reviving the style. Most of these, however, were the new “American” brown style. The Northern English Brown Ale is its own unique style, a style we our proud to brew and serve right here in South Saint Louis.
-Dr. Patrick Hurley, Barman and Civility Expert
The Civil Blog has returned. It is predominantly authored by Civil Life Barman, Dr. Patrick Hurley, who can be found tending to our bar patrons on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He is also responsible for tending to our draft lines, which is recognized as one of our most important tasks. Special guest writers will appear from time to time. We hope reading this blog will give you much insight about the Civil Life and most importantly help you understand a bit more about all of us that work here and the beers we put our hearts into.