As American As Mom, the Flag, and...Beer

Friday, November 16, 2007

There are brown ales, and then there are brown ales. The Brits brew brown ales in the form of Mild, Southern (or London), and Northern. Most people are familar with Newcastle, which falls into the Northern category.

But then there's American Brown Ales. This is a really interesting style in that its origin is actually with American homebrewers. It's a style where homebrewers, back when homebrewing was made legal under the Carter Administration (in what some would say was his best act as President), tried to emulate the British style brown ales which were malty, sweet, mild and very pleasant beers. However, many of the most appropriate malts and hop varieties weren't yet available in the states, so they had to use the closest American approximations, which end up lending a different character to the beer altogether. Thus, a new style of Brown ale grew to be its own very distinct category of beer. Its roots are most assuredly present in the British varieties but it has grown to have that distinct American flavor that sets it apart from its cousins across the pond.

Today's selection is Sierra Nevada Brown Ale. And as most Sierra Nevada beers, this one is the quintessential American Brown Ale style of beer.

It poured a thick, creamy one-finger head, which left beautiful lacing all the way down the glass to the finish. It is a very clear beer, and showed-off some really eye-catching brassy hues.

Like its British cousins, you get a lovely nutty toasted malt nose with some roasted grain and brown sugar. But there it is, that thing that sets it apart, that lovely citrus scent only available in the best of American hop varieties.

This beer is smooth in every sense. There's a load of toasty malt sweetness up front. Caramel and brown sugar make an appaerance with just a hint of nuttiness. But then that citrusy hop leaps out from nowhere and adds an ample bitterness that you just don't get in the English styles. It's not overpowering at all, it's just very American. It finishes on a nice rounded toasted grain note.

Smooth and crisp, with a moderate body, makes this with an ideal session beer; enjoy one after another...after another...after another...

The difference in stykes between American and British isn't just in the more pronounced hops. You also don't always get some of the fruity esters you get in some of the English styles, nor some of that deep fruit like plums or prunes. There is way more interplay between hops and malts in the American style, but it is still very balanced. I still would not classify this style of beer as "hoppy" by any means, but compared to its British counterparts, it is.

Next time you crack this stunning beer, hoist one to the ingenuity of American homebrewers for being enterprising enough to come away having created a unique style of beer. Cheers!


Bob "Chief Beer Brewing Extravaganza Advocate" 10:55 AM  

I think this style is becoming my favorite. Lots of flavor without being too bitter. Nice and refreshing and tastes great pretty cold.

I really enjoy Michigan Brewing's version and will check out Sierra Nevada's take. I am surprised I haven't yet.

Good review as usual.

Oh, BTW, I am might be late to the party, but check out my take of this blog being rated at a post-grad reading level.

Bob "Chief Beer Brewing Extravaganza Advocate" 10:56 AM  

Oh, I have been wondering, is there any point to reviewing a light beer? Or are there too few good ones to bother?

Smitty 11:06 AM  

The only light beer I'd really consider is Sammy A light. If you have a suggestion, though, I will review one using the guidelines so I'm at least objective.

B Mac 11:11 AM  

I really like Sierra Nevada as a whole. Their beers often serve as an easy transition for people who are coming in from the proverbial cold of the Coors Light realm; a kind of Real Beer 101 course.

I think "quintessential" is a good way to put it, especially with the Brown Ale, the Porter, and the Pale Ale. I had my girlfriend and one of her female friends over to a little establishment a while ago, and had them trying some Sierra Nevada stuff. It is very easy to point to the different components of their beers and say, "that sweetish taste is malt" or "that citrusy-sourish bite is hops."

Plus, their beers are very versitile. You can enjoy one. Or you can enjoy thirteen. Too often, I partake in the latter.

steves 9:17 AM  

"It's a style where homebrewers, back when homebrewing was made legal under the Carter Administration (in what some would say was his best act as President)"

While I always thought that Carter was a decent man, I never thought he was a good president. There were some good points. His NSA, Zbigniew Brzezinski, did much to provoke the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which contributed to the end of the USSR. I would have to say that legalizing homebrewing ranks up with this.

Smitty 9:55 AM  

I would have to say that legalizing homebrewing ranks up with this.

At least. At the very very least.

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