Brew Day: Bill’s Brown Ale (American Brown Ale)

Two years ago when I purchased my first homebrewing kit it came with a basic recipe for the first batch. I was given a choice between light, amber, and dark malt extract. I wasn’t entirely sure what the difference was, but since I liked darker beers I got the dark extract. In addition to the rest of the kit the initial recipe was the extract, a pound of medium British crystal malt, one ounce of Cascade hops, some gypsum for water adjustment, and a sachet of Munton’s yeast. The kit also came with Charlie Papazian’s Complete Joy of Homebrewing.

The instructions in the kit matched the instructions in the book for brewing a first extract batch. In the book Papazian said adding molasses to beer would make it taste like Old Peculier and suggested using 1/4 cup of molasses for priming at bottling. I love Old Peculier and wanted to make my first beer a little different so we primed with molasses and our first beer came out excellent!

After gaining some brewing experience we wanted to improve on that first batch. We changed very little to the original recipe. I steeped some honey malt along with the crystal, and added Willamette finishing hops to add flavor and aroma. I was fairly happy with how the beer came out. I entered it into a competition where it scored a 30 out of 50, in the “very good” range. What prevented it from scoring higher was that it lacked a roasty or nutty character that a great brown ale should have.

I had planned on brewing another American Brown Ale, but it took a backseat to experimenting with other styles. When I decided to brew a brown ale for the fall I started from scratch. I recently listened to John Palmer on the BeerSmith podcast talk about brewing simple recipes and less being more. I know from experience that throwing too many ingredients into a recipe that they will be unrecognizable. I wanted to use no more than four malts, while still getting the right color and flavor. I punted the crystal and honey malt from my last recipe and just used Carabrown malt. I also added a touch of roasted barley and black patent malt for color and the roasted flavor that had been lacking. As a nod to the last version I kept the same hops and hop schedule: Cascade at 60 minutes as Willamette at 10 minutes left in the boil.

The yeast provided an interesting dilemma. The Vermont Ale yeast I have been using works great in hoppy, light-bodied beers. I was concerned how it would work in a malt-forward beer like a brown ale. Last fall I used WLP008, the “Brewer Patriot” strain in my last run of American Ales. It is a relatively clean fermenting yeast, but doesn’t attenuate quite as much as more prominent American strains like Chico (S05, 1056, WLP001) making the finished beer a touch maltier. It also has a subtle tang or coppery flavor. I think it works perfectly in more balanced East Coast interpretations of American styles than beers from the West Coast that are all about the hops.

I had never used Brewer Patriot in anything darker than an America Amber ale. According to White Labs’ website this particular yeast does not work well in a brown ale. White Labs brews their own beers to showcase their yeasts and has a tasting room at the lab. As it turns out one of their beers is a Southern English Brown brewer with Brewer Patriot! If the yeast manufacturer is comfortable using this yeast in a brown ale, I figured I have nothing to worry about.

The beer was a partial mash. As my flagship fall beer I wanted to brew a standard 5 gallon batch. For the mash I milled my grain twice. After the first milling I adjusted the rollers to get a more fine crush. I hit all my temperatures during the mash. The only error I may have made was not cooling the wort enough. I still think I did enough to get a good cold break. I pitched a vial of fresh yeast. Ideally I would’ve done a yeast starter, but even with a gravity of 1.050 pitching a fresh vial should be fine and not stress the yeast too much for repitching.

The last owner of the old St. Louis Browns was Hall of Fame executive Bill Veeck. Veeck was the consummate showman who invented modern sports marketing. His most infamous publicity stunt while owning the Browns was signing a little person named Eddie Gaedel and sending him to bat as a pinch hitter. Predictably he worked a four pitch walk. What most people aren’t aware of is that stunt was part of a larger promotion sponsored by the Falstaff Brewery. This brown ale is a tribute to the former Browns, Indians, and White Sox owner.



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