A Tale Of Two Dogs: English Brown Ales and the Beginnings of My Beer Road
Most good road trips have two things that make them memorable and a blast – the first, yes, some planning, but secondly, some definite room for chance. One of the first stops along my road to better beer was no different. As I started out, I wanted something that wasn’t too terribly complex, or too much of an acquired, difficult to get-my-taste-buds-around taste. I knew to probably stay away from too much of a hoppy, overly bitter taste – this might be a tough way to go at first. I knew that I already cared for a somewhat toasted-malt characteristic, which came from my liking of some of the malty Oktoberfest style beers. I had read somewhere that brown ales sometimes exhibited those kinds of flavors, and might be a good place to start a trip into different styles of beers anyway, so away I went. The planning was done, and now my choice of which brown ale to try is where chance came into play. I think I will always remember the first brown ale I tried, and not just because it was a first along my road to better beer. It was also just very good – most of the reviews on beeradvocate.com are very positive, but I chose it not knowing this at all – all I thought was that the brewery had a good reputation, and that’s how I came to buy Smuttynose’s Old Brown Dog Ale. That night, with the ‘dog’ sitting by my side, I felt at home – the way you feel after coming in from the cold to a warm fire in a comfy place. Old Brown Dog is a malty beer lover’s dream, it turns out: it has great richness of sweet malt without at all being heavy. It tastes of things that since then, I have grown to look for in other beers – flavors of dark fruit; for example, flavors of plum and raisin, and it just tastes darn good. There is very little noticeable hop presence, which is one slight difference with the next brown ale that I tried – Avery Brewing’s Ellie’s Brown Ale – to me, there are a fair amount of similarities in flavor, delicious maltiness, the dark fruit flavors, but the Ellie’s has a bit more hoppyness to it for perhaps a more balanced taste. Both the Ellie’s and the Old Brown Dog Ale are generally categorized as “English” Brown Ales, in difference to American Brown Ales, which, like most beer style labels, can be somewhat loose in definition. There seems to be a couple things that lean that definition one way or another. One is that the categorization refers to only where the ingredients are grown. It seems to me, though, after doing some reading, that English Browns generally have less of a hop presence, so what you get is a beer that has a very malty character, which can be either complex or quite simple in complexity. The key is that they tend to revel in that delicious toasted malt flavor, and have barely detectable to little bitter element to them. It turns out that both of the examples I have given come pretty well respected, and were fairly easy to find. Someone could always look for labels with dogs on them – Both the Ellie’s Brown Ale and the Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale feature lovable brown dogs on the labels, which is common to Brown Ales. One article I read mentioned that this stems from an old English saying about going out to “walk the dog” which basically really meant “I’m going to the bar”. Certainly, there are several ways to start off down that road into trying different styles of beer, but this one worked for me. I don’t think it would be stretch to say that it would be a good one for just about anyone curious about different styles like I was at the time. These two English Browns were a good first stop on my road trip to better beer, and beer appreciation. Typically, they steer a bit clear of a hoppier, more bitter beer, which can be a difficult, bracing first try with beer. Instead, they can feature a delicious, sweeter, maltier, and nuttier flavor. Despite the darker color, they are light to medium in body and tend to be easy to drink, and at certain times of the year, such as in the cooler months, just seem to fit. A few examples to try: Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale, Avery Brewing Ellie’s Brown Ale, Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale, Bell’s Best Brown Ale.