Brewed For Battle: American Brown Ale

Categories: Brew Review

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Jonathan McNamara
Surly Bender, and Palo Santo Marron.
​At what point does one elevate from merely drinking beer to being a full-on beer snob? Answer: when you feel compelled to tell other people what to drink. And the inevitable result of this peculiar ailment is the beer argument.

In the spirit of all great beer-related discussions, we present Brewed For Battle; a new series of Chow Bella blog posts that pits a selection of brews from a given style up against each other and lets the taste buds of one layman battle them out. Multiple beers go in. One beer comes out the victor.

This week's battle: American Brown Ale

The brown ale was first developed in jolly old England in the early 20th century, a response to overly strong and challenging porters and the too-flavorless mild ale. Brown can be thought of as a happy medium between the two, though there's quite a bit of variation between different iterations of the style in Britain, especially along geographic lines -- brown ales in Northern England (think Newcastle) are generally lighter in color and less sweet than their Southern cousins.

American Brown Ales (much like Americans themselves) can be considered bigger, maltier, hoppier versions of Northern English Browns. The style originated with homebrewers and spread, its nutty, caramel and coffee flavors balanced by a hefty hop bitterness finding more and more favor with American drinkers. It's a style that's well suited to wood-aging or the addition of adjuncts such as coffee and chocolate.

Zach's Pick: Surly Bender
Surly, a brewery from Minnesota, is one of the leaders in the craft beer world in making the move from bottles to cans, which is only one of the reasons they rock. Another is Bender, their popular brown ale that defies traditional categories and flavors. Brewed with chocolate and oatmeal, Bender's 16-ounce can is packed with spicy hops and flavors of peanuts, almonds and toast. At just 5.5 percent ABV, I could drink it all the livelong day.

Jonathan's Pick: Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron
There's no getting around the fact that I love me some Dogfish Head beer. Have you had Sah'tea? 90 Minute? If not, you have drinking homework to do. Best get to studying.

One thing that all Dogfish brews have in common: high alcohol content. The Palo Santo Marron is no exception. Be aware that when you put one of these back, you're imbibing a drink that is twelve percent alcohol by volume. It taste like it too. There is a powerfully strong alcoholic tinge to the malty flavor. It's balanced out thanks to a little time spent aging in Palo Santo wood, but the beer novice may find it off-putting.

The Layman's Pick:
This week's layman is none other than New Times Assistant Art Director John Walters. Here's what he had to say about the brews:

"The Dogfish Head puts hair on your chest. It has a weird aftertaste I can't place, and I'm not too fond of it. The Surly was malty, with lots of coffee flavors. It would be good with ice cream.I feel like I could drink it on a cold day, but I couldn't drink a lot of it. Bender is a better, more forgiving beer."


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3 comments
dave
dave

How about Utopias? That's brown.

joek
joek

Sifgh. Your Brewed for Battle column is nice in concept, but terrible in execution. You don't seem to pick representative examples of the styles. Palo Santo? Really?? That's a specialty beer, not a true American brown. Then you go and match it against a Surly beer. If I'm not mistaken, Surly isn't even available in Arizona!! You've done that before; what's the point of including a beer that's only distributed in 3 Midwestern states? Fail!

Concerned Reader
Concerned Reader

What, don't you like any actual American Brown Ales? Neither of these are a very good representative -- you either had to cover up the taste with chocolate, or go for one of the overly sweet, overly strong Dogfish Head specialty beers. Both of these are tasty in their own way, but neither is really a good representative I would recommend to someone who was unfamiliar with the style..

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