Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Brown Ale 1920-1939

It's time to started kicking one of my favorite dead dogs again: the rubbish talked about Brown Ale.

To summarise St. Michael, Brown Ale came in two varieties:

- Southern Brown Ale, weak, sweet, dark brown, basically bottled Dark Mild that's been sweetened. It's typified by Mann's Brown Ale. About 3% ABV,
- Northern Brown Ale, stronger, paler. Newcastle Brown. Between 4.5 and 5% ABV.

Let's see how true this description was between the wars.

Brown Ale

Though first revived by Mann's around 1900, Brown Ale was only widely picked up by other breweries in the 1920's. It was only available in bottled form.

Here's a bunch of Brown Ales from the 1920's and 1930's, all from the South.

Surprisingly, the gravity of rose during the 1920's. While in 1926, it was in the range 1040-1044º, by 1932 it was 1052-1054º. Over the same period, other styles were more likely to have fallen in gravity.

Just a look at those gravities tells you that Brown Ale of the period could not possibly have been just a bottled version of Mild. No-one was brewing a Mild with a gravity over 1050º in the 1930's. All the examples in the table are from London breweries. Surely they should be in the weak Southern style? Well they aren't. These are all quite strong beers - the average gravity was around 1043 at the time.

I wonder what happened to Mann's Brown Ale? The 1932 version, at over 1054º, is one of the very strongest. How on earth did it end up under 3% ABV?

There's another indication that, at the time, Brown Ale had no connection with Mild. Whitbread and Barclay Perkins brewed it as a single gyle beer. It wasn't party-gyled with their Mild Ales. Their Brown Ales also had a distinctly different grist composition to the Milds and they were much more heavily-hopped. Colour, maybe they had that in common. Except that not all Milds were brown. Barclay Perkins produced amber and brown versions.

Let's take a closer look at Whitbread's DB Brown Ale and X Mild from 1933:

OK, both have a grist that's 70%-odd pale malt and both have around 75% attenuation. But that's about it as far as similarities go. The X has a fair bit of crystal, but no dark malts. The DB has a touch of chocolate. X is using the dark No. 3 sugar, DB Albion. The hopping is totally different, with DB using the same types of hop as the PA and IPA. It's much more heavily-hopped that the X, too (It has more hops than both PA and IPA as well.). The DB has a much higher gravity than X and was one of the strongest beers Whitbread brewed. Oh, they are a similar colour. I'll give you that one.

Does it look as if DB was a version of X? Not at all. Colour is about the only thing they really have in common. DB also doesn't look much like a sweet, weak beer, as Southern-style Brown Ales are supposed to be, either.

Still not convinced? Lets move on to Barclay Perkins. In 1936, their Mild Ales - X, XX and A - all had their brewing water treated in the same way: 2/3 oz. salt and 7/12 oz gypsum per barrel in the hot liquor back, 1/8 pint per barrel of bi sulphite lime added just before mashing, 3 ozs per barrel of salt in the copper. Water for their Brown Ale was treated quite differently: 1.5 ozs. salt and 4 ozs gypsum per barrel in the hot liquor back, 2 ozs per barrel of salt in the copper. That doesn't look very similar to me.


Oblivious said...

Hi Ron

Do you have any information of albion sugar and S8 sugar , could be like demerara, muscovado or are they just brewing sugars

Kristen England said...

I've found that nearly all sugar was of the syrup variety and color was based on number as it is today as follows:

No 1 - ~30EBC
No 2 - ~65EBC
No 3 - ~130EBC

It costs more money to make the syrup into a hard commodity.

There are many mentions of different treacles being used in logs.

That being said, 'Albion sugar' became a industry standard for what people called 'crystallized' white sugar. Albion plantation in Jamaica were one of the first to use and popularize vacuum pans in the making of crystalized sugar.

Garton had a patent on turning regular sugar into 'grape sugar' (read glucose) so most of the garton stuff are invert syrups.

Both muscavado and demerara sugars were used at that time but I've never seen them in brewing logs. They are much to expensive for these things I would assume. I have seen mention of something called 'sugar beer' where muscavado sugar alone was used and supposedly making a fine tasting product.

Have you seen anything Ron?

Oblivious said...

Hi Kristen,

Would Belgian candy syrup be the equivalent of the No.3 sugar?

Andrew Elliott said...


Thanks for the great post on Brown Ales... the *cough*bjcp guidelines*cough* echo what you quoted St. Michael of Jackson saying. I've always thought that information was a bit suspect (no disrespect intended). I wish we could get more variety of real English Brown Ale here other than the Newkie Brown.

Kristen -- Wow, that's a lot of great info. Would the "sugar beer" perhaps be similar to the beer for rum before it was distilled?

Oblivious -- as far as the sugar color, it depends on how long it was kept up at temperature. I'm sure there are different grades of Belgian Candi sugar as well. As an aside, I'm curious as to the sources of the sugars. I believe the Belgians use sugar beets, but I'm not sure where the English get theirs... Anyone?

Oblivious said...

Hi Andrew

I believe a good bit of its is cane sugar, but in the pure crystalline from there is very little difference.

There appears to be two versions of the Belgian dark syrup, dark and extra dark. I was interested because a lot of those brewing sugars aren't available out side of the industry where as the Belgian is