Brekle’s Brown: A Brief History of Brown AleFebruary 2, 2012 Posted by Anchor Brewing at 9:00 pm | Category: Brewing Insights 6
Anchor Brewing’s Brekle’s Brown was first brewed in December 2010, but its name can be traced to Anchor’s pioneering brewer, Gottlieb Brekle, 140 years ago. The brewcraft lineage of Brekle’s Brown extends back for centuries. For fans of Brekle’s, and of brown ales in general, here are a few words about how we got here.
Brown Ale: The Dark Ages
The style of beer that was to become known as “brown ale” can be traced back to the English brewers of the early 1700s. Brewing had existed in England for several centuries, but the output was mostly for home or local consumption and varied widely.
By the 1720s there were dark beers being brewed in London that were called porters. Porter rapidly became extremely popular and many English brewers produced them. There was, however, a great deal of variation between them. Stouts were also brewed with great variation and many differed little from porter, depending on the brewer.
Usage of the term “brown ale,” or “brown beer,” came along in the 1740s but was used to describe these porters and stouts rather than a specific style of its own.
The invention of the drum malt roaster in 1817 by Daniel Wheeler changed brewing. Black patent malt was produced for the first time and was rapidly adopted by the brewers of porters and stouts. A distinction was made between beers brewed with this new black malt and those without as being a black beer or a brown beer.
It was around this time that the pale ale came about, and by 1850 had eclipsed porter and stout as the favorite beer of England. Brown ale slipped into obscurity, and by the beginning of the twentieth century had all but disappeared.
Brown Comes Back
In 1927, brown ale came back from the brink of extinction when Newcastle Breweries in Scotland brought out the bottled version of their now world-famous Newcastle Brown. Though Newcastle Brown as we know it probably bears little resemblance (other than color) to its ancestors, it has re-established the brown ale name and set the style foundation for similar products of today.
Newcastle’s intent was primarily to develop a product for the bottle beer trade rather than to resurrect brown ales as such, but they were wildly successful in both areas. So successful, that Newcastle Brown has become one of, if not the most, widely-sold bottled beer in the UK and is popular in the USA and other countries as well.
Of course, other British brewers now make brown ales as well, typically in one of two distinct styles: Northern or London. Northern brown ales, characterized by Newcastle, are in the lighter range of brown to deep amber in color, lightly hopped, lightly carbonated, and carry a flavor profile of slight caramel and malty sweetness with a matching aroma. These are sometimes called “nut brown ales”, but this is a color reference only since there are no nuts in the brew.
London brown ales are usually darker in color than their northern cousins, deep amber to very dark brown. They tend to be fruity in both flavor and aroma with a deep, malty sweetness. Full-bodied with low carbonation and even lower hop rates than the Northern style, London Browns have found a place of their own.
Brown Ale Today
The brown ale style, although not completely unknown, was a rarity in the USA until the homebrewing community brought it out of obscurity some time in the 1980s. Being homebrewers, they took liberties with the British style and developed a uniquely American version. The homebrewers in Texas arguably were the first, although some early craft brewers in California may deserve some credit as well. American brown ales were much hoppier, had all-malt recipes, and had higher ABV’s (alcohol by volume) than the traditional British versions.
There has been some evolution along the way, and now the hoppiest of the group are referred to as “Texas Style” brown ales with the American brown ale somewhat less hoppy and more balanced. Both varieties are now described in guidelines by the Association of Brewers (AOB), and the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP). Both have a higher ABV than British browns, use American hop varieties, and have all-malt recipes.
Our Brewmaster, Mark Carpenter, formulated Brekle’s Brown partially based on recipes from Anchor’s archives with a few twists of his own. Brekle’s is an all-malt ale with smooth flavor enhanced by the addition of a new hop variety called the Citra. Citra hops give Brekle’s a unique citrusy and floral flavor with a sweet aroma and a finish that is both earthy and rosy.
Originally intended to be a draft-only special project for San Francisco Beer Week 2011, Brekle’s Brown proved to be so popular that we continued to brew it on an occasional basis throughout the rest of that year. As demand increased, we began bottling it, first in a 22-ounce package and now in a 12-ounce, six-pack package.
Brekle’s Brown has now taken a place as a permanent, year-round product, complementing our line of fine beers. It’s a modern American take on a beer variety that’s been centuries in the making.