Nick Carr on July 20, 2017 1 Comment Table of Contents The History of London Brown Ale Style Profile & Characteristics Examples of the Style How to Brew a London Brown Ale Final Thoughts History of London Brown Ales Brown beer has been around since the very beginning of brewing history. This was partially due to malt being dried over open flames before the arrival of better kilning technology. However, it is not strictly true that all beer was brown, as Martyn Cornell points out in his book Amber, Gold, & Black, malts were also sundried, and the use of wheat — which has been used in brewing just about as long as barley — would both make a paler-colored libation. But, it is probably safe to say brown beer was the most prevalent type, and in Britain at least, it was one of the oldest and most popular styles for many years. There are two often quoted early references that speak to the popularity and the age of brown ales in Britain. The first is found in William Langland’s narrative poem ‘Piers Plowman‘ written in the late 1300s. “Ne noon halfpeny ale in none wise drynke, But of the beste and of the brunneste that [brewesteres] selle.” “Best and brownest” could be taken to indicate that the browner the beer the better, and thus more popular. Another poem, titled L’Allegro and written in 1645 by John Milton, again describes brown beer. “And young and old come forth to play On a sunshine holiday, Till the live-long daylight fail; Then to the spicy nut-brown ale” “Nut” is still used today as part of the description of many brown ales. Note that “nut” is describing the brown color and in no way signifies a flavor you should be expecting in the beer. How the Growth of Pale Ales Changed Brown Beer Despite having a less than stellar reputation sometimes, these brown beers continued to be popular. This trending popularity continued right up until the beginning of the 18th century when the public’s tastes took a turn toward the new higher-hopped pale ales. To compete with this shifting tide in taste the brown beer brewers made the decision to rework their recipes. They upped the strength and bitterness then aged the beer for a longer time; creating a drier, more bitter version of their brown beer. English Porter was born. With the birth of this hip and trendy daughter, the parent fell further out of favor and the Brown Ale style was forgotten until the turn of the 20th century. It would take over 150 years for the Brown to make another appearance as a distinct style. The first modern rendition was Mann’s Brown Ale. It was first brewed in 1902 by Mann, Crossman & Paulin at the Albion Brewery in the East End of London. This new modern brown would also become the defining example of the London (Southern English) Brown. The Albion Brewery was built in 1808 by Richard Ivory. In 1818, the brewery was leased by John Mann and Philip Blake after the previous tenant ran into money problems. By 1826, Blake had had enough of the brewer’s life and retired. John Mann continued running the brewery and, in 1846, found new partners in Robert Crossman and Thomas Paulin. With the new financial capitol came a new name; Mann, Crossman & Paulin. The inventor of Mann’s Brown Ale was Thomas Wells Thorpe. He started working at the brewery in 1875. He found he had a knack for the trade and quickly rose through the ranks first becoming head brewer, then general manger, and finally, in 1901 when Mann, Crossman & Paulin became a public company, chairman. Thorpe invented the recipe in response to the growing popularity of bottled and dark, sweeter beers, such as the sweet stout. It was called Mann’s Brown ale and promoted as the ‘sweetest beer in London.’ Unlike sweet stouts, where added lactose builds the sweet character, the sweetness of London Brown came only from low attenuation. The beer had a starting gravity of 1.033 but an ABV of only 2.7 percent. The Great Gravity Drop of 1914 Thorpe’s new beer had a slow road to popularity however. The end of the First World War saw the British government advocating for lower alcohol beers to save on raw materials and battle rising public drunkenness. Martyn Cornell writes in Amber Gold & Black, about beer strengths dropped an average of 25% across the country between 1914 and 1919. It was dubbed the ‘great gravity drop’. The weaker beer spoiled more quickly and drove many a publican to camouflage their less than stellar beer by mixing it with better keeping bottled beer. Mann’s Brown Ale found sudden popularity; and other breweries, riding the coattails of success, quickly whipped up their own versions. The other English brown ale was, and often still is, called Northern English Brown, but is now simply “British Brown Ale” in the 2015 revised BJCP style guidelines. Its origin comes 25 years after that of Mann’s Brown Ale, and its original example is Newcastle Brown Ale, a beer still very popular today. Northern English Brown vs London Brown: The defining differences between these two distinctly separate styles include: Strength — The British style is stronger. Sweetness — The London style is much sweeter. Bitterness — The London version has a lower IBU range. Color — London is usually a dark brown, while the British tends to be more a red/amber brown. Style Profile & Characteristics The guidelines for the London Brown Ale style are set by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Committee. The below details are a summary of what a London Brown Ale should represent. Quick Characteristics Color Range: 22 – 35 SRM Original Gravity: 1.033 – 1.038 OG Final Gravity: 1.012 – 1.015 FG IBU Range: 15 – 20 ABV Range: 2.8 – 3.6% Appearance: Dark brown, almost black. Clarity will be good if not opaque. Low to mid-size head will be tan or off-white. Aroma: Malty sweetness leads the way with notes of toffee or caramel. Low to moderate fruity esters. Low to zero hoppy aroma. Flavor: Caramel or toffee malts from start to finish. Low fruity esters are common. Hoppy bitterness should be low. Medium sweet finish with malty aftertaste. Mouthfeel: Smooth & creamy mouthfeel. Low carbonation. Medium body. Serving & Storage Temperature: 52 – 55°F Shelf Life: 6+ Months Suggested Glass: Mug Food Pairings: BBQ, game meats, beef, mushrooms, spicy marinade, aged gouda, ice cream float, dark chocolate. The BJCP classifies the London Brown Ale style under category number 27, “Historical Beer” category and it can be found in the guidelines as sub-category (27D). Other beer styles under this category include: Gose (27A), Kentucky Common (27B), Lichtenhainer (27C), Piwo Grodziskie (27E), Pre-Prohibition Lager (27F), Pre-Prohibition Porter (27G), Roggenbier (27H), and Sahti (27I). Appearance: Color will be a medium to dark brown. The darker examples can appear almost black. If the beer is not opaque, clarity should be good. Head will be off-white to light tan and low to medium in size. Aroma: A malty sweet character will be the main player here. It often carries notes of deep rich toffee or caramel. Fruity esters, especially dark fruit such as plum, build a low to moderate background character in the aroma. Hops, if present at all, should remain low, giving off characteristic whispers of English hops; floral and/or earthy. Mouthfeel: The high sweetness of this style may give a false impression of weightiness to the medium body. Mouthfeel will be smooth and creamy, belying the low gravity. Carbonation should be moderately low to medium. Taste: Much like the aroma, the flavor is overlaid with malty-sweet depths, which usually lasts well into the finish. Caramel and toffee-like, with possible notes of biscuit and coffee. If roasty and/or bitter malt flavors are present they should be below the mid-low range. Dark fruity esters are common, but low, due to a cleaner fermentation profile than often found in English styles. Hop bitterness should be low and flavor will be low to unnoticeable. If hop flavor is present it should give a slight earthy/floral character. Finish will be medium sweet -sometimes perceived as sugary- running into a malty-smooth aftertaste. Food Pairings: Brown ales are easily one of the most versatile categories when it comes to pairing food. The high sweet character of this brown ale pairs well with gamey meat such as venison, pheasant, boar, and quail. Beef in all its various preparations, though not as exotic, will find a quick friend in this, and any other style of brown. Dress your dish up with some mushrooms, the earthiness and roast match and dance. If barbecuing don’t go too sweet with the sauce otherwise the sweet index may reach critical mass and overwhelm. The same for any other sauces used to dress up meat dishes. Also try pork tenderloin with a lightly sweet/spicy marinade. You can also use the beer in your cooking. As a base for a hardy stew or pour it into your marinade. Aged Gouda, Stilton, or gorgonzola are all good cheese choices. Load that snack cheese plate up or slather on a thick slice atop your steak or hamburger. For dessert, go for a London Brown Ale ice cream float; vanilla or coffee, your choice. Dark chocolate desserts with low coffee elements and/or nuts and not too sweet will work great with this style. Try an almond or walnut cake. Or if you’re feeling slightly more sophisticated you can always just settle for the ale alone. London brown has enough sweetness to satisfy that after meal craving all on its own. Serving & Storage: For best presentation and greatest appreciation, a London Brown should be served at around 52-55°F in a glass mug. They are best stored at cellar temperatures away from light and can age well for longer than 6 months. *Reference: The 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines Examples of the Style There are not many easily found examples of this style even in England, and finding examples outside of its mother country is truly a challenge. The easiest place to find an example may be at your local brewpub, where curious brewers often cycle through beer styles. Keep your eyes and ears peeled, because when they do brew it, it’s unlikely to be around long and it may be a long time before they brew it again. An interesting piece of information to carry along on any trip to England is offered up in Garrett Oliver’s book The Brewmaster’s Table. He writes that many English brewpubs still do make a London Brown, but they are often unadvertised, bottled, and kept behind the bar. He gives Fuller’s Brown Ale as an example. You have to know that they are available and what to ask for, otherwise you’ll miss them. Mann’s Brown Ale from Thomas Hardy Burtonwood -Molson Coors- (UK) Arrowaine from Wychwood Brewery Company Ltd. (Witney, England) Englishman from Chapman’s Brewing Company (Angola, IN) Southern English-Style Brown from SchillingBridge Winery & Microbrew (Pawnee City, NE) Bloomsbury Brown from Harvey’s Brewery (East Sussex, UK) How to Brew a London Brown Ale Recipe Brown ales, in general, are great homebrewing projects for the beginner. This historical style of brown ale is no different. Click Here to View Our Favorite Brown Ale Recipe London brown is often described as a “little” (less alcoholic) sweet stout or a dark mild with a slightly sweeter side. It is a unique beer to brew, in that it is low alcohol, but retains much of the body and character of dark strong styles. This makes it an especially pleasant homebrew to have around when the fall season is catching up to summer, the first twinges of coolness surf the air, and you want something smooth and malty. Grain Bill: The London brown style packs a lot of mouthfeel into a low alcohol libation, so choosing a high-quality base malt and specialty grains with the right character is extremely important. Look for high-quality English pale malt, such as Maris Otter. English pale malt is kilned a couple of degrees darker than American 2-row, which brings a deeper, richer biscuit and breadiness to the beer. Both Muntons and Crisp make good-quality English pale malts. Though, it may, slightly, fly in the face of the modern Mann’s-based style, you might also consider using a portion of English brown malt. This harkens back to older traditional recipes. This malt is available from Crisp Malting, but it is also quite easy to make at home. If you use brown malt you may go as high as equal proportions brown and pale, but be careful not to over express bitter and roasted elements. Caramel malts are another essential addition. Stick to the darker end of the crystal malt range 80°L and up. These will add some sweetness and dark fruitiness, while darkening the color of the beer. You could use as much as 20 to 25 percent total. Mann’s Brown uses a portion of wheat to help with body. If you are trying to replicate the original, use about 10% in your recipe. Other specialty malts that could potentially have a place in a London brown ale recipe include: Small amounts of oats, special roast, chocolate, pale chocolate, chocolate rye, Carafa Special II (for color), and biscuit. For any of these specialty malts stay below about 8 percent. The higher a lovibond color rating the smaller the amount you want to use here. Extract Brewing: If you are an extract brewer replace the base malt with an English pale ale extract. Mutons makes one from Maris Otter malt. Choose your specialty grains using the above guidelines and steep them. Water: You want to be using moderate to high carbonate water to balance against the dark malt acidity. If you’ve brewed darker beers before with no adjustments and the beer tasted good, you’re probably fine unless you want to get more exact for competition. One of the most convenient options for those seeking the right profile, but not wanting to get into the nitty-gritty of water chemistry is to use Beer Dust. I’ve never used them, but they may be worth checking out. These are packets you add to distilled brewing water to make a correct water profile. Hops: Obviously, English hops should be your first choice, but because of the low hop bitterness and flavors just about any hop could be used. English brewers often used old and mistreated hops when brewing styles such as London Brown, because the hops were not a main element of the beer’s profile. This is a good practice for the homebrewer also. I know I often end up with a stash of hops that just keeps getting older and older. Time to break them out. Classic English hops, such as Fuggles or East Kent Goldings, perform great with this recipe. Other varieties associated with the style include: Target Liberty Northern Brewer Sovereign Willamette Remember, you are looking for relatively low bittering and a flavor/aroma profile that’s low to non-existent, so keep your additions small. Your bitterness to starting gravity ratio (IBUs/SG) will be right around 0.5. If you decide to add flavor and aroma, do so with a careful hand. The Mash: A 60 minute, single step infusion mash is all you need for this style. Go for a slightly higher temperature range (153 to 155°F) to ensure you leave enough residual sweetness behind. Sparge with 170°F water to your boil volume. The Boil: A 60 to 90 minute boil is common. If you want more caramelization and other melodian flavors go for the longer boil time. Add your bittering hops at the 60 minute mark. If you’ve decided on a small flavor/aroma addition add it between 20 minutes and flame out. Yeast: Many English strains can be used to make this beer style. When you select your yeast you want to find one that can still produce some fruity esters even at lower fermentation temperatures, and one that is highly flocculent, but with relatively low attenuation (70 or less). Dry Yeast: Cooper’s Ale Yeast; Lallemand Cask & Bottle Conditioning (CBC-1); Fermentis SafAle S-04 Wyeast: London ESB Ale (1968); London Ale III (1318); Whitebread Ale (1099) White Labs: English Ale (WLP002); London Ale (WLP013) Fermentation/Bottling: Fermentation temperatures will vary somewhat depending on the yeast you choose, but generally, you’ll want to ferment right between 62°F and 68°F. A low temperature impedes attenuation somewhat and builds sweetness in the finished beer, but lower temperatures will also impede ester production and you may end up with a profile that’s too clean. It’s a balancing act. Hold the temperature steady for the entire fermentation. Though, a climb of a couple degrees may be appropriate at the end for a diacetyl rest, but again, this will depend on the strain and your own preferences. You may also consider aging it for about a week in a secondary with some oak chips to add subtle complexity and woodiness. Keep your carbonation at the low end when you’re ready to package. Shoot for about 1 to 1.5 volumes. The lower carbonation will help create that weighty sweet mouthfeel. Now, it’s time to wow your friends! Serve this style slightly warm, around 55°F, so that the full, rich, smooth, sweetness comes through. If you’ve done everything right, there’s no way they’ll believe this beer is so low alcohol, not with all that malty richness going on. Finishing Thoughts This is another style that needs every brewer’s help. It is not made much anymore by commercial brewers (just look at the number of examples out there), so it is up to the homebrewer to nurse London Brown through this dark time in its history, keep it alive as a style, and hope at some point it will gain more popularity again. Brew it to celebrate those first fall colors, serve it as a sessionable holiday option, or brew it just to check it off the BJCP list. You may find yourself tacking it onto your yearly brewing plans despite initial ideas that anything with an ABV this low can’t be worth making. I hope you’re pleasantly surprised by this style. Cheers!