Beer of Q1 2023 – Brown British Beer

For the first quarter of 2023 we will look at BJCP 2021 Category 13, Brown British Beer. Instead of a single style, we opted for a category to give more options to members looking to brew for the beer of the quarter.

The sub-styles are 13A Dark Mild, 13B British Brown Ale, and 13C English Porter.

Zak Herner complied a survey of various Category 13 beers in a spreadsheet available here.
He was able to then come up with a high level summary of the category as follows:

  • Yeast: Lean towards British yeasts, British Ale II and London Ale are the most common. 
  • ABV: ABV is very low, 3% at the lowest and no higher than 5.9%. 
  • Hops: Willamette, EKG and Fuggles are most common.  Challenger, Northern Brewer are fairly common as well as noble hops.
  • Base Malts: Marris Otter and Golden Promise are most common base malts.
  • Specialty Malts: Munich I, Brown Malt, Pale Chocolate and Chocolate are common.  Various C malts C70-C90, DRC, Amber, Flaked Oats are somewhat common.

Also, take a look at our sample recipes in our recipe library.

Details on the styles are below.

13. Brown British Beer

While Dark Mild, Brown Ale, and English Porter may have long and storied histories, these guidelines describe the modern versions. They are grouped together for judging purposes only since they often have similar flavors and balance, not because of any implied common ancestry. The similar characteristics are low to moderate strength, dark color, generally malty balance, and British ancestry. These styles have no historic relationship to each other; especially, none of these styles evolved into any of the others, or was ever a component of another. The category name was never used historically to describe this grouping of beers; it is our name for the judging category. “Brown Beer” was a distinct and important historical product, and is not related to this category name.

13A. Dark Mild

Overall Impression: A dark, low-gravity, malt-focused British session ale readily suited to drinking in quantity. Refreshing, yet flavorful for its strength, with a wide range of dark malt or dark sugar expression.

Aroma: Low to moderate malt aroma, and may have some fruitiness. The malt expression can take on a wide range of character, which can include caramel, toffee, grainy, toasted, nutty, chocolate, or lightly roasted. Low earthy or floral hop aroma optional. Very low diacetyl optional.

Appearance: Copper to dark brown or mahogany color. Generally clear, although is traditionally unfiltered. Low to moderate off-white to tan head; retention may be poor.

Flavor: Generally a malty beer, although may have a very wide range of malt- and yeast-based flavors (e.g., malty, sweet, caramel, toffee, toast, nutty, chocolate, coffee, roast, fruit, licorice, plum, raisin) over a bready, biscuity, or toasty base. Can finish sweet to dry. Versions with darker malts may have a dry, roasted finish. Low to moderate bitterness, enough to provide some balance but not enough to overpower the malt in the balance. Moderate fruity esters optional. Low hop flavor optional. Low diacetyl optional.

Mouthfeel: Light to medium body. Generally low to medium-low carbonation. Roast-based versions may have a light astringency. Sweeter versions may seem to have a rather full mouthfeel for the gravity. Should not be flat, watery, or thin.

Comments: Most are low-gravity session beers around 3.2%, although some versions may be made in the stronger (4%+) range for export, festivals, seasonal or special occasions. Generally served on cask; session-strength bottled versions don’t often travel well. A wide range of interpretations are possible. Pale (medium amber to light brown) versions exist, but these are even more rare than dark milds; these guidelines only describe the modern dark version.

History: Historically, ‘mild’ was simply an unaged beer, and could be used as an adjective to distinguish between aged or more highly hopped keeping beers. Modern milds trace their roots to the weaker X-type ales of the 1800s, which started to get darker in the 1880s, but only after WWI did they become dark brown. In current usage, the term implies a lower-strength beer with less hop bitterness than bitters. The guidelines describe the modern British version. The term ‘mild’ is currently somewhat out of favor with consumers, and many breweries no longer use it. Increasingly rare. There is no historic connection or relationship between Mild and Porter.

Style Comparison: Some versions may seem like lower-gravity modern English Porters. Much less sweet than London Brown Ale.

Characteristic Ingredients: Pale British base malts (often fairly dextrinous), crystal malt, dark malts or dark sugar adjuncts, may also include adjuncts such as flaked maize, and may be colored with brewer’s caramel. Characterful British ale yeast. Any type of hops, since their character is muted and rarely is noticeable.

Vital Statistics:                        OG:  1.030 – 1.038

IBUs:  10 – 25                              FG:  1.008 – 1.013

SRM:  14 – 25                            ABV:  3.0 – 3.8%

Commercial Examples: Brain’s Dark, Greene King XX Mild, Hobson’s Champion Mild, Mighty Oak Oscar Wilde, Moorhouse Black Cat, Theakston Traditional Mild

Tags: session-strength, dark-color, top-fermented, british-isles, traditional-style, brown-ale-family, malty

13B. British Brown Ale

Overall Impression: A malty, caramelly, brown British ale without the roasted flavors of a Porter. Balanced and flavorful, but usually a little stronger than most average UK beers.

Aroma: Light, sweet malt aroma with toffee, nutty, or light chocolate notes, and a light to heavy caramel quality. A light but appealing floral or earthy hop aroma may also be noticed. A light fruity aroma may be evident, but should not dominate.

Appearance: Dark amber to dark reddish-brown color. Clear. Low to moderate off-white to light tan head.

Flavor: Gentle to moderate malt sweetness, with a light to heavy caramel character, and a medium to dry finish. Malt may also have a nutty, toasted, biscuity, toffee, or light chocolate character. Medium to medium-low bitterness. Malt-hop balance ranges from even to malt-focused. Low floral or earthy hop flavor optional. Low to moderate fruity esters optional.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light to medium body. Medium to medium-high carbonation.

Comments: A wide-ranging category with different interpretations possible, ranging from lighter-colored to hoppy to deeper, darker, and caramel-focused; however, none of the versions have strongly roasted flavors. A stronger Double Brown Ale was more popular in the past, but is very hard to find now. While London Brown Ales are marketed using the name Brown Ale, we list those as a different judging style due to the significant difference in balance (especially sweetness) and alcohol strength; that doesn’t mean that they aren’t in the same family, though.

History: Brown ale has a long history in Great Britain, although different products used that name at various times. Modern brown ale is a 20th century creation; it is not the same as historical products with the same name. A wide range of gravities were brewed, but modern brown ales are generally of the stronger (by current UK standards) interpretation. This style is based on the modern stronger British brown ales, not historical versions or the sweeter London Brown Ale described in the Historical Beer category. Predominantly but not exclusively a bottled product currently.

Characteristic Ingredients: British mild ale or pale ale malt base with caramel malts. May also have small amounts darker malts (e.g., chocolate) to provide color and the nutty character. English hop varieties are most authentic.

Style Comparison: More malty balance than British Bitters, with more malt flavors from darker grains. Stronger than a Dark Mild. Less roast than an English Porter. Stronger and much less sweet than London Brown Ale.

Vital Statistics:                        OG:  1.040 – 1.052

IBUs:  20 – 30                             FG:  1.008 – 1.013

SRM:  12 – 22                            ABV:  4.2 – 5.9%

Commercial Examples: AleSmith Nut Brown Ale, Cigar City Maduro Brown Ale, Maxim Double Maxim, Newcastle Brown Ale, Riggwelter Yorkshire Ale, Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale

Tags: standard-strength, amber-color, top-fermented, british-isles, traditional-style, brown-ale-family, malty

13C. English Porter

Simply called “Porter” in Britain, the name “English Porter” is used to differentiate it from other derivative porters described in these guidelines.

Overall Impression: A moderate-strength dark brown English ale with a restrained roasty, bitter character. May have a range of roasted flavors, generally without burnt qualities, and often has a malty chocolate and caramel profile.

Aroma: Moderate to moderately low bready, biscuity, and toasty malt aroma with mild roastiness, often like chocolate. Additional malt complexity may be present as caramel, nuts, toffee sweetness. May have up to a moderate level of floral or earthy hops. Moderate fruity esters optional, but desirable. Low diacetyl optional.

Appearance: Brown to dark brown in color, often with ruby highlights. Good clarity, although may be opaque. Moderate off-white to light tan head with good to fair retention.

Flavor: Moderate bready, biscuity, and toasty malt flavor with a mild to moderate chocolate roastiness, and often a significant caramel, nutty, or toffee character, possibly with lower levels of darker flavors like coffee or licorice. Should not be burnt or harshly roasted, although small amounts may contribute a bitter chocolate complexity. Up to moderate earthy or floral hop flavor optional. Low to moderate fruity esters. Medium-low to medium bitterness varies the balance from slightly malty to slightly bitter, with a fairly dry to slightly sweet finish. Moderately-low diacetyl optional.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light to medium body. Moderately-low to moderately-high carbonation. Light to moderate creamy texture.

Comments: This style description describes the modern version of English Porter, not every possible variation over time in every region where it existed. Historical re-creations should be entered in the 27 Historical Beer category, with an appropriate description describing the profile of the beer. Modern craft examples in the UK are bigger and hoppier.

History: Originating in London in the early 1700s, porter evolved as a more heavily hopped and aged (keeping) version of the Brown Beer popular at the time. It evolved many times based on various technological and ingredient developments (such as the invention of black malt in 1817, and large-scale industrial brewing), as well as consumer preferences, wars, and tax policy. It became a highly-popular, widely-exported style in the early 1800s before declining by the 1870s as it changed to a lower gravity, unaged beer. As gravities continued to decline in all UK beers in the first half of the 1900s, styles stopped being made (including porter, gone by the 1950s). The craft beer era led to its re-introduction in 1978.

The name is said to have been derived from its popularity with the London working class performing various load-carrying tasks of the day. Parent of various regional interpretations over time, and a predecessor to all stouts (which were originally called “stout porters”). There is no historic connection or relationship between Mild and Porter.

Characteristic Ingredients: Grists vary, but something producing a dark color is always involved. Chocolate or other roasted malts, caramel malt, brewing sugars, and the like are common. London-type porters often use brown malt as a characteristic flavor.

Style Comparison: Differs from American Porter in that it usually has softer, sweeter, and more caramelly flavors, lower gravities, and usually less alcohol; American Porter also usually has more hop character. More substance and roast than a British Brown Ale. Higher in gravity than a Dark Mild.

Vital Statistics:                        OG:  1.040 – 1.052

IBUs:  18 – 35                              FG:  1.008 – 1.014

SRM:  20 – 30                           ABV:  4.0 – 5.4%

Commercial Examples: Bateman’s Salem Porter, Burton Bridge Burton Porter, Fuller’s London Porter, Nethergate Old Growler Porter, RCH Old Slug Porter, Samuel Smith Taddy Porter

Tags: standard-strength, dark-color, top-fermented, british-isles, traditional-style, porter-family, malty, roasty