REVIEW: Humboldt Brown Hemp Ale from Humboldt Brewing Co.

Quick Characteristics
Brewery: Humboldt Brewing Company
Location: Paso Robles, CA
Style: American Brown Ale
ABV: 5.7%
IBUs: 32
Appearance: Hardened Amber, Resembling Over-Brewed Iced Tea
Aroma: Malty Backbone with Nutty Hints
Flavor: Sweet, Roasty & Slightly Hoppy
Availability: Year-Round
Pairs With: Grilled Chicken or Pork, Pineapple, Colby or Asiago Cheese

This is my first foray into Humboldt brewing. The brewing company’s history writes like the “little brewery that could.” It was first started back in 1987, being one of the first craft breweries to come on the scene in California. From the very start this brewery was on a mission to brew responsibly and sustainably. It’s easy to see why when you look at where the brewery was located. Humboldt County is home to the awe-inspiring majesty and might of the redwoods and it is an easy step, after seeing nature at its most spectacular, to want to help preserve it.

In 2000 the brewery was having trouble keeping up with production and Firestone Walker Brewing stepped in to lend a hand. Then in 2005 Firestone Walker bought the brewery, changing its name to Nectar Ales. The brewery was then bought in 2013 by Total Beverage Solutions, but for the present, their line of beer is still being brewed by Firestone Walker.

It will be interesting to see where this “little brewery that could” will go from here. Will it reopen its own doors again? I don’t know and can’t find much information on the net about where they are headed. However, they have added a new beer to their line this year. It is a limited release double IPA named “500 B.C.”, referencing the age of the great trees that shaded this breweries humble beginnings; ten cents from every bottle sold goes to Redwood conservation. With a 26 year history, multiple awards, and a small flock of only 5 beers; I can only imagine each being a pretty intense labor of love.

“What stitch’ed whispers I find here, of earth and roast and roundness near.”

The Humboldt Brown ale is brewed with roasted hemp seeds…just to make things interesting. I like interesting. The label shows a mountain background, but I believe this is an older design. The website shows all their beers having the standout hummingbird, in color schemes to fit each beer. The new labeling ties all the beers nicely together, while affording each its own signature. These labels are really nice and I almost wish I’d managed to get a bottle with the new label on it.

The Pour and Aroma

The Humboldt Brown pours the color of a Coca-Cola or over-brewed ice tea. The real color depth comes out when it is held up to brighter daylight; suddenly it feels like you are looking through a door into a world trapped in hardened amber. The short dirty ivory head dissipates quickly leaving very little blanketing and no lacing to track the heads quick decent.

Humboldt Brown Hemp Ale

Aroma runs pretty even with the rest of the “Brown Ale Pack.” A nice dry malt backbone presides over nutty hints and bread crust toastyness. It does diverge from the pack with a subtle earthy herbal note which is hard to lay a hold of and quickly disappears as the nose acclimates and quits recognizing this subtle signature.

Mouthfeel and Taste

This beer is nicely full-bodied and the amount of carbonation carries well. Sipping shows the deep “brown ale” roots it celebrates. Sweet malt hugs the palate first, preparing the way for the roasted notes of darker malts, and peeks at slight coffee bitterness.

I read a few reviews on this beer while looking for info on the brewery and found it funny how many reviewers where disappointed that this beer didn’t actually taste like hemp. Not sure what they were expecting it to taste like, but even if the hemp had been completely overblown, I doubt it would have been what they wanted (to say nothing of the beer probably not being all that great). All this to say, the hemp, in this hemp brewed brown, stays mostly hidden. So, why is it there? What does it contribute? This again, is hard to pin down.

To me the beer seems a bit rounder and more complex than other browns I’ve tried. Also, there’s a hint of something, a whisper at the end of the taste. After the sweetness at the front of the taste, the bitter/roasty counters through the middle, and the oh-so-slight hop presence at the end; there’s that whisper of a different roasty character. Then like the scent of something pleasing caught adrift on unstable air it is whisked away and I’m left smacking my lips and breathing through my mouth trying to bring it back. You’ll miss it if you aren’t tuned in and “listening.”

Humboldt Hummingbird

Finishing Impressions

This is a beer worthy of enjoyment. It fits the style parameters of a brown ale while offering its own character in the form of something that might only be expressed as “earthy herb roasted nut.” I know, very poor try at describing this “something,” but maybe it’s better left a little undefined… whatever the descriptors you want to use it does add to the complexity, and in turn the enjoyment of this beer.


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Nick Carr

About Author

Nicoli Carr has been tinkering with homebrewing for over 10 years and graduated from the American Brewers Guild (CBA) Craft Brewers program in 2014. When he’s not busy freelance writing, he is likely out foraging wild brewing options, writing, or hunting stillness in remote places. You can contact him through his website

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