Brown ales. Photo by Rodney Margison


Cooler weather always sends me looking for darker, maltier ales, especially when I am searching for a beer that pairs well with chili or a rich stew, and brown ales are a perfect fit. Brown ales are deep, malt-forward beers that are usually lightly hopped and moderate in alcohol content. English versions can take on bready or even nutty flavors, although chocolate and caramel usually dominate, with low to moderate sweetness.

They might have a hint of coffee taste from roasted malts, but deep roast bitterness is found more in porters, which sit nearby on the style spectrum. Aside from some aggressive American craft variations, brown ales are lightly hopped, usually with English hops that contribute subtle floral or earthy characteristics. Overall, brown ales are smooth, easy-to-drink beers that rely on subtle, well-blended flavors.

The beer that got me back on a brown ale kick is Cigar City Brewing’s Maduro Brown Ale, which borrows its name from the cigar style that exhibits deep, earthy flavors. This northern English-style ale pours a dark brown, slightly cloudy, with a full tan head that conveys aromas of roasted cocoa and espresso, with traces of caramel and cherries. The malty flavor is led by a dark chocolate taste, but without any notable bitterness from either the roasted malt or hops. The flavor has a slight sweetness, with a hint of cherry, but it finishes drier than it starts. Flaked oats in the recipe lead to a very smooth body, a perfect match for the ale’s rich, deep flavors.

Another tasty American version of this classic ale is Ellie’s Brown Ale from Avery Brewing. This one pours a mahogany brown, with a hint of translucent red around the edges of the glass. Its small tan head dissipates quickly but passes along a gentle roasted cocoa aroma with a little caramel, but without Maduro’s hint of espresso. The flavor follows the aroma’s profile, although as the beer warms in your glass, a bit more caramel flavor emerges to complement the dark chocolate roast. This beer is more carbonated and slightly brighter in taste, body, and finish than the Maduro, which seems a bit mellower to me.

My third pick is a very traditional English beer—Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale. It pours a deep copper color, with a thick head that sticks around and laces the sides of the glass. While the other ales exhibit roasted cocoa aromas and flavors, this one is all about caramel and toasted grain, with hints of pecan and floral hops. While the caramel taste brings some sweetness up front, the flavor dries out at the end, leaving a lingering taste of caramel malt and gentle fruitiness from an English ale strain used by Samuel Smith’s brewers for over a century.

You can try all three of these delicious, complex beers from Big Red Liquors, which offers curbside pickup. And keep an eye on our local brewers, especially Switchyard Brewing and Function Brewing, which both rotate through some tasty brown ales throughout the year.