The Session – Brown Ale

Long time reader, first time caller …er, contributor to the Session. My first foray to this gathering ofsession_logo beer bloggers is session #120, Brown Beer, hosted by Fatal Glass of Beer, who says:

let’s buck the trend and contemplate brown beer. This might be brown ale, or the aforementioned English bitter; it could be a malty Belgian brune, a dubbel or a tart oud bruin; even a German dunkel might qualify.

Away we go.

I can trace my connection to brown beer all the way to my good beer infancy. The beer that started it all for me was Bells Porter, which is a lovely deep brown beer. However, when I narrowed my brown beer experiences down, I kept returning to one singular beer that played a remarkable role in my formative years.

Sweet Nostalgia.
Samuel Smiths Nut Brown ale is a beer that satisfied and inspired me to keep going down this rabbit hole. It pushed my passion for darker beers to full throttle. I snagged their Taddy Porter next, shortly after that I went after Westmalle Dubbel followed closely by McEwan’s Scotch Ale and then Abita’s Turbodog, which led to … well, you get the idea. Brown beer was my life and life was grand. I drank them, I brewed them, I chased them. I still do.

But, why? I surely didn’t keep track of why when I was learning to love beer so I’m looking back through frosty windows, but I believe those brown beers gave me a sense of comfort, substance, flavor, and balance. I enjoyed the occasional IPA because tons of hops were (are) cool and fun, but the beers that really spoke to me were brown and malty with a chewy body. The browns looked like beer should, too. They transported me to a London pub or a German bier hall where good beer was just … normal.

Sam’s Nut Brown inspired me so much that the second batch of homebrew I ever crafted was a clone of this ale. I specifically bought Beer Captured (Jeff and Tess Szamatulski) because I saw it had a recipe for this glorious brew. That is a story in and of itself, really. See, I brewed this beer just a couple weeks before I shipped off out for the Navy and a new life far from home. I left before I was even able to taste the fruits of my labor. Luckily, I figured out that this was going to happen early enough that I left my parents very detailed directions so they could bottle and store it in the basement (they did a great job) until my first shore leave came nearly a year later. The beer was all that I could have ever hoped for. Its malty and semi-sweet profile begged for round after round. I was so proud of it that I took bottles with me to all the get-togethers I could during that visit home, polishing off those five gallons with ease.

But time marches on and the beer world today is not what it was when I first joined the revolution 12-ish years ago. I drink more IPAs than anyone really needs to these days- they’re inescapable. Much like many relationships, we never had a falling out, but we drifted apart. I’d say hello every now and then but mostly sought out the new and exciting barrel aged sour and didn’t have time for this steady ale. I honestly don’t remember the last time I brought home a bottle. So, as I write, I am also enjoying a fine pint of Nut Brown.*

She’s just as friendly as I remember. The nutty and toasted malts leading to a mild chocolate, toffee and raisin backbone. The lingering dry finish bringing me back for another taste. Her brown body and curvaceous ruby highlights under the dirty blonde head are as beautiful today as they’ve ever been. Lovely.

Enjoying this brown again made me curious for a couple other noteworthy browns of my beer youth. Being in the PNW these days, I don’t have access to many of the beers I cut my teeth on when living in the Midwest, but I was able to find a couple of entries that fit the nostalgia bill.

Nectar Nightcap
Rogue Hazelnut Brown : 6% – I don’t remember the circumstances surrounding my first encounter with this ale. I do remember that this brown opened my young beer world to the possibilities of ingredients other than malt, hop, water and yeast. I was in awe of this brown for some time after I discovered it. I bought more and made everyone try it’s hazelnut and toasted malt profile. Such a luxurious brown beer. It’s still quite enjoyable. The balanced hazelnut stands out without being a one trick pony. I haven’t had this in years but enjoyed getting reacquainted.

Easy top 3 Brown
Big Sky Moose Drool : 5.2% – This was a beer I had on my wish list for many years before finally getting to a state that served this malty delight. It was one of the first beers I HAD to have. So, when I finally stumbled upon a bottle I was in heaven. It was all I hoped for, and still is. Lightly roasted malts, chocolaty, toasted bread and deep dark fruits. A slightly sweet but also dry body and finish. A hearty and malty brown ale. I need to pick up more.

I didn’t expect my first contribution to the Session to be so full of nostalgia, but I’m not upset it turned out this way. Brown beers have always played a large role in my beer life. Porter has long been my favorite style followed by many malty, brown leaning beers. Dubbel, dunkle, stout, bock, etc. I sometimes have a difficult time remembering that good beer is good, even if it’s not new.

*the post was written while enjoying Samuel Smiths Nut Brown but edited and posted while enjoying a different brown hued beer, Negra Modelo. A tasty mainstream option. 

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Drinkability

Since today was a day off work for me I spent the first bit of it doing some reading of my favorite beer blogs and forums. RateBeer is always one of my first stops and stumbled across a post that had me thinking the rest of the day. It’s not that it was the most thought provoking topic (merely asking what makes a session beer a session beer), but it did make me realize that my tastes- well they are a changing. Out of my first two ‘good beers’ I ever had one was Stone’s Arrogant Bastard coming in at 7.2% abv. (the other, and actually first, was Bell’s Porter at 5.2%). I think that Bastard gave me a chip on my shoulder, thinking that if a beer like that got me into the scene than I was destined to be a big beer fanatic and that small beers weren’t up to par. The deeper I got the more I searched out strong stouts, barley wines, Imperial IPAs and the like. Anything over 8% was fine with me and If I came across a double digit abv then I was in heaven. To an extent I still do search out the big boys. I do believe they have more intense flavors, which is the main reason I love beer. But, finding a beer that is both tasty and easy drinking is more rewarding to me nowadays. I don’t stick to the definition that a session has to be less than 4% alcohol, I’ll go all the way to five or even five and a half. A good session beer is a thing of glory. Being able to sit at a pub with some pals downing pint after pint without getting too sloshed is a good feeling (so is waking up without a hangover). Originally I figured small beers had less flavor but I have been corrected time and time again. Not technically a session if we go by the 4% rule but easy and delicious anyhow is Samuel Smiths Oatmeal Stout. A stout as a session? You bet. Not only is it chock full of flavor (roasted malts, chocolate, oats, milk, vanilla, sweet malts, etc.) but it has a bit thinner body than many stouts and goes down real easy. At only 5% you can have a few in an evening and still make coherent sentences. The British seem to own the style, which from my understanding is because people tend to do most of their drinking and socializing at the pubs (whereas Americans socialize at home with a 12 pack and a couple buddies). Most of the milds and bitters that I’ve run across have a lower abv which makes them perfect session beers. I love porters (and stouts) and originally figured it would be hard to find a good session; wrong again. In line with the Sam Smiths there are plenty of other dark brews that are lower in abv.
Some of my favorites that are under 5.5%:
Fuller’s London Porter
Minoh Stout
Baird Black Velvet Dark Lager
Baird Cream Ale
Iveralmond Lia Fail
Paddock Wood Brambling Bitter
On the Web: Stonch’s Beer Blog: Session Beers (Looks like I’m just another one who has seen the light. Check out the rest of the blog, it’s one of my favorites)