English Brown Ale – Homebrew Recipe & Review

English Brown Ale

I keep coming back to this humble English Brown Ale recipe.

If you frequently visit this blog, you’ll notice that there are certain beer styles I tend to rebrew on (at least) an annual basis. This is certainly the case with Northern English Brown. My affinity for brewing this beer mainly revolves around the fact that it is a low alcohol, sessionable, malt-forward ale that packs a lot of flavor into a fairly small package. The Maris Otter base gives an awesome bready, slightly toasty base, that is further enhanced with the addition of other melanoidin-rich specialty malts.

Another reason that I frequently rebrew this style stems from the fact that back in 2012, I managed to score a gold medal in the final round of the National Homebrew Competition with a Northern English Brown ale. Every year since, I’ve attempted to recreate that beer’s magic by rebrewing very similar recipes and entering them back into the competition. I haven’t yet been able to get this beer back into the final round, although luckily, it is still a delicious beer to have on hand. This recipe is much more toast and melanoidin-forward than what is typical for the style, but I’m still holding out hope that I’ll eventually get it back onto the medal stand.

English Brown Ale Recipe

Size: 3.25 gal
Efficiency: 62% (No Sparge)
Attenuation: 75%

Original Gravity: 1.051
Terminal Gravity: 1.013
Color: 17.49 SRM
Alcohol: 4.98% ABV (calculated)
Bitterness: 29.0 IBU

Malt Bill:
5 lbs. (66.7%) Crisp Maris Otter
1.5 lb. (20.0%) Weyermann Vienna Malt
8 oz. (6.7%) Crisp Crystal 77
6 oz. (5.0%) Briess Special Roast Malt
2 oz. (1.7%) Crisp Pale Chocolate Malt

Mash Profile:
149°F – 60m

Water Treatment:
Extremely Soft NYC Water
2 g. Gypsum (to mash)
4 g. Calcium Chloride (to mash)

28 g. East Kent Goldings (5.1% AA) – 60m

Kettle Additions:
0.5 ea. Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) – 15m
0.5 tsp. Wyeast Nutrient – 10m

Wyeast 1469 West Yorkshire Ale

Tasting Notes:

Judged as a BJCP 13B British Brown Ale

Aroma (8/12):
Up front are medium to medium-plus esters that are quite British in their character, reminiscent of berry, cherry, and perhaps just a whisper of banana. There is a very high toasted bread crust aroma, rich in melanoidin, which has a Grape Nuts cereal character. Beyond the toast, is a bit of burnt sugar and deep toffee that almost approaches the dark fruit / raisin end of the spectrum. The nose is all about heavy malt that is not particularly delicate.

Appearance (2/3):
The beer strikes a deep brown hue with reddish and copper highlights. The beer is generally clear, but does have some light haze. The beer has a big frothy head with plenty of persistence and lacing.

Flavor (10/20):
This beer is all about big toasty malt. There isn’t much sweetness other than just a touch of dark fruit, caramel, and toffee. This is perhaps a bit out of style from the BJCP guidelines. On the finish, a very slight touch of drying roast is apparent, complemented by a bit of dark grain acidic twang. The bitterness is firm but smooth, keeping in balance with any residual sweetness. The heavy toastiness lingers through the finish becoming borderline astringent.

Mouthfeel (1/5):
The beer has a medium body with medium-plus carbonation that may be a bit out of style. The acidic tang in the flavor slightly curls the back edges of my tongue.

Overall Impression (5/10):
This beer is intensely toasty and perhaps not as caramel-rich as the style guideline would dictate.The brash toast character detracts a bit from the smoothness I’d like to see in a style intended for sessionability. This is however a very characterful beer, especially considering the ABV of less than 5%. My tasting for the beer was completed only two weeks from brewday so perhaps it will mellow out with a bit more time.

Good (27/50)

Bonus: See how judges scored this English Brown Ale at the 2017 National Homebrew Competition First Round (NYC judging center).

Apricot Gueuze-style Review

Apricot Gueuze

The leftovers from a broader Gueuze-like blending session, transformed with apricot.

Over the course of three years, I brewed three different three-gallon batches of sour lambic-like beer that were ultimately further split into single-gallon vessels and fermented individually with a total of nine different mixed cultures. The end goal of this process was to select the best five gallons of beer and blend out a classic version of Belgian Gueuze-style beer.

While I was pretty happy with how the base blend turned out, I was left with an additional four gallons of beer that was less than stellar. The primary fault in these beers was that I dramatically over-hopped the early batches with roughly 1 oz. / gallon of aged Cascade hops. Even though these hops were declared to have 0% alpha acid by the vendor whom I purchased them from, they still managed to impart a fair amount of bitterness and astringency. I have since read accounts from other brewers, including Jester King, who relayed similar stories about the dosing rates of aged hops in their early spontaneous beer experiments. According to Jester King’s blog, they currently use approximately 1lb. / barrel (0.5 oz. / gallon) of aged hops in their spontaneous beers.

Rather than toss the beer outright, I opted to rack the best three gallons into a new vessel and have it go through a secondary fermentation on three pounds of apricot puree. This was allowed to ferment for another four months before being packaged and bottle conditioned.

Tasting Notes:

Judged as a BJCP 23F Fruit Lambic

Aroma (7/12):
Overripe, juicy apricot is the primary aroma component, although there are some low, funky Brett aromatics that are somewhat grassy and hay-like. For being such a complex aged beer, the nose is rather simple, but still inviting. Malt character is almost nonexistent though there is a touch of light crackery malt.

Appearance (2/3):
The beer pours a hazy gold with a bright white, tightly bubbled and persistent foam.

Flavor (8/20):
Juicy apricot flesh is supported and enhanced by a medium-plus lactic acidity and sourness. There is an unfortunate bitterness and slight astringency that comes off somewhat harsh against the acid. The finish has a touch of an odd, somewhat metallic flavor that is hard to put a descriptor on. Brett funk is pretty demure on the palate and only comes off as a bit of earthy grass with the slightest whisper of plastic. The malt manages to be a touch bready and soft.

Mouthfeel (1/5):
The beer has a medium body with fairly low levels of carbonation. More fizz would help lift the beer off the palate and, perhaps, allow a little more complexity to pop on the aroma. There is a tannic astringency that is not particularly pleasant.

Overall Impression (5/10):
Given that the origins of this beer was the rejected blending components from my gueuze blending session, I am happy that the beer retains a level of drinkability that wasn’t present in the individual blending components. The apricot has helped to soften the harsh bitterness and tannin from the original beers; although, not to the point where it isn’t a distraction on the palate. My hope is that as this beer continues to age, some of the harshness will mellow. Time will tell.

Good (23/50)

Bonus: See how judges scored this beer at the 2017 Homebrew Alley competition in NYC.