Style & Taste
Dark ales can be remarkably complex. Much of the flavour of these beers (which include brown and mild ales) derives from the malt used, which means you can expect nutty, caramel and sometimes roasted flavours. Hops take a back seat, except when we’re talking about American versions which tend to have an assertive bitterness.
Brown ale is an interesting style in that so much of British beer is, well, brown. So what sets brown ale apart? It’s not clear-cut, but in this country at least, brown ales are more likely to be served from a bottle than on draught – as it is with Newcastle Brown Ale, the most famous example.
Brown ales have been in existence for many centuries, but the modern story begins in London at the start of the 20th century. This is when the sweet style (more common in the south) began. Newcastle Brown Ale was brewed for the first time in 1928; its great Sunderland rival, Double Maxim, appeared in 1938.
But Newcastle actually only represents one tradition – that of the North East, where brown ales are medium/strong (between 4% and 5% ABV) and boast a nutty, moderately bitter, caramel infused character. There is another tradition, though, of weaker, sweeter brown ales, with restrained chocolate and roast characteristics. Mann’s Brown Ale, at 2.8% ABV, represents the last of this thread. Brown ale made the leap across the Atlantic early during the United States’ craft beer revolution, perhaps due to the popularity of Sam Smiths’ Nut Brown Ale.
And then there’s mild, a beer sometimes associated with brown ale, although it has an entirely separate history. The meaning of mild has changed over the years, but it’s now generally a dark, low-ABV ale, often with roasted and chocolate characters. Until the 1960s it was Britain’s preferred beer, but it now exists only in a few strongholds, such as parts of the West Midlands.
It’s a beer that can wonderfully complement barbecued or roast meats, depending on the caramel and roast character of the beer itself. Mushrooms are a natural partner. Used in a red meat stew, it can be delicious.
Brown ale and mild have a down-to-earth reputation in the UK, so serving it in a pint glass seems natural. Traditionally, bottled Newcastle Brown Ale was poured into a half pint. Like most beers, however, it will benefit from a more elegant vessel, like a stemmed tulip glass.