Friday, 10 October 2008

Beer O'Clock: Brown Ale

Beer O'Clock comes to you this week from the SOBA pen of brewing magnate Stu:

For a country steeped in a tradition of “Brown O’Clock”, and with two main breweries competing for years in a battle of “brown against brown” (Double versus Lion), I am surprised that Brown Ale has not been pushed more in the craft beer market.

Brown ale might be looked upon by some as the big brother of mild ales, which I wrote here at Not PC around this time last year, and by others as the middle brother between that and porter, which I wrote about here a few months ago. It is bigger and hoppier than a mild without being as robust and roasty as a porter. The British-style versions are inclined to be malty with some hop, while the American versions (as regular readers will have come to expect) tend to be hoppy with some malt presence. The New Zealand versions I’ve tasted all lean towards the British-style, perhaps at the hoppier end.

New Zealand’s most easily found brown ale is probably Generation Ale, a British-style brown (ironically made with German malt). This brown ale was the first ale from Duncan family’s Founder’s Organic Brewery – a brewery more known for their Tall Blonde, Red Head and Long Black lager beers. When Generation Ale is fresh, preferably on tap in Nelson, it is a magnificent showcase of nutty, biscuity malt, with a subtle fruity smack of hops. Perfect with roast chicken.

Unfortunately I’ve only had it this fresh in the bottle a few times but one of them was my most recent experience – truly delicious. As it ages the malt character subsides and a grassy hop flavour comes to the fore. It then tends to taste like a hoppy “kiwi brown.” Founders Generation Ale is available in most good bottle stores, supermarkets or from The Beer Store (no, they are not paying me for the constant plugs – their service is just worth it).

A lesser-known craft brewed brown ale is Broomfield Brown from the Brew Moon Café in Amberley near Christchurch. I spot it occasionally in bottle stores but your best bet is to head straight to Beer Store (or pop into the café next time you are driving through Amberley, I’ve heard nothing but good reviews about this place and their beers have always been in very nice condition when I’ve sampled them).

Bigger than both of these, in alcohol terms and metaphorically, is the Mammoth from Pink Elephant Brewery in Blenheim. I wouldn’t call it brown ale, in either looks or taste, but the good folk at both RateBeer and Beer Store have placed it that category and it is most definitely worth a mention. Roger Pink is a mythical figure in the New Zealand brewing scene and a near cult figure amongst beer lovers (even beyond New Zealand). He is probably worth an entire Beer O’Clock trilogy in himself. He certainly brews beers as he likes them, rather than to a style that someone else has described, and he likes to place a little of his own personality in his beers and on his labels. He has been rewarded with several favourable mentions from the late Michael Jackson (acclaimed beer and whisky writer), which is no mean feat.

I’d place this beer between a strong bitter and a barley wine… try it and think about that yourself. If classifying it to a style is not your thing it’ll at least make a nice digestive after you’ve paired the above two beers with your Sunday roast. Sleep tight.

Slainte mhath. Stu

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