NOTE: In the 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines, the beers in the English Brown Ale category have been re-categorized. The closest equivalent to the 2008 Guidelines are:
These beers were brewed in various parts of England with water that would not brew a good pale ale. London's brown ales were brewed with water from the Chalky Downs, which was high in calcium chloride (Burton's water, which brewed fine pale ales, was high in calcium sulfate). No matter what they tried, the brewers in London could not make a decent pale ale. So, they brewed English Brown Ales instead. These beers tended to be rich, malty beers with very low hopping (hops were expensive) and low alcohol, perfect to quench the thirst of the miners after a long hard day working in the mines. The paler beers which became popular at the time were more expensive to make and thus were not as popular with the working class.
Before this period, all ales were brown due to the color of the malt used. Prior to using coke to fire the kilns, malts were kilned by burning wood, straw, or charcoal. The beer at this time was noted for its smoky flavor and muddy appearance. Straw was the preferred fuel as it made cleaner malts, but still not nearly as clean as those made with coke. These beers may have been an early form of porter. Brown Ale was often made as the third running from the mash of a stout. Because of the high temperatures of kilning, and re-condensation of moisture, brown malt was considered the universal malt in Britain. Brown malt was used to make beers in those days, but its use died out because it was less efficient than the paler malts which came along later.
British brewers often used sugars in brewing and some of the color of these beers may be attributed to the caramel sugar or dark invert sugars used. For homebrewers, kettle sugars are appropriate, especially raw, brown sugar such as turbinado or demerara. The yeasts used produced lots of fruity esters and the hops were usually either EKG or Fuggles.
In the UK today, brown ales are generally bottled. There are three versions recognized by the BJCP (at least back in 2008) were:
References: Information for this page was adapted from Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels, the article Brown Ale Makes a Comeback published in The Brewer International in October 2001 by Jaime Jurado.
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