Only revived around 1900, Brown Ale became wildly popular in the middle of the century. It was one of the beers that boosted the popularity of bottled beer, especially in pubs.
Yet it varied immensely in nature. The distinction is often made between Northern and Southern Brown Ales. But it was more complex than that. Really what’s really meant is standard-strength and strong Brown Ales. I’d prefer to classify them and Single Brown Ale and Double Brown Ale. Because there are plenty of examples of weak versions being brewed in the North and strong ones in the South.
Brown Ale doesn’t appear at all in the brewing records of many breweries. For the simple reason that it wasn’t brewed as a distinct beer, but was just a bottled version of Dark Mild. With perhaps some tweaking in the primings.
The stronger type of Brown Ale was brewed as its own beer. Though the most famous – Newcastle Brown Ale – was a blend of two beers. One of the best Southern examples of a stronger Brown Ale, Whitbread Double Brown was sadly discontinued in the mid-1950s.
The importance of Brown Ale in the London market is highlighted by just how many analyses there are of it in the Whitbread Gravity Book.
|London Brown Ale under 1038º 1946 - 1952|
|Year||Brewer||Beer||Price per pint d||OG||FG||ABV||App. Atten-uation||colour|
|1946||Barclay Perkins||Doctor Brown Ale||13.5||1034.1||1011.3||2.95||66.86%||105|
|1952||Barclay Perkins||Doctor Brown Ale||19||1034||1010.5||3.04||69.12%||98|
|1952||Courage||Nut Brown Ale||19||1032.4||1008.2||3.14||74.69%||87|
|1946||Hammerton||Nut Brown Ale||24||1026.5||1003.8||2.95||85.66%||79|
|1950||Hammerton||Nut Brown Ale||17||1029.8||1006.9||2.97||76.85%||83|
|1950||Ind Coope||Nut Brown Ale||1029||1009.5||2.52||67.24%||75|
|1952||Ind Coope||Nut Brown Ale||19||1030.9||1011.7||2.48||62.14%||83|
|1946||Mann Crossman||Brown Ale||14||1034.4||1008.8||3.32||74.42%||84|
|1950||Mann Crossman||Brown Ale||18||1035.8||1013.3||2.91||62.85%||98|
|1952||Meux||Nut Brown Ale||19||1029.8||1009.1||2.68||69.46%||106|
|1948||South London Brewer Co.||SLB Brown Ale||16||1028||1011.1||2.18||60.36%||83|
|1946||Taylor Walker||Nut Brown Ale||17||1030.1||1007.6||2.92||74.75%||83|
|1952||Taylor Walker||Nut Brown Ale||19||1032.6||1011.7||2.70||64.11%||83|
|1950||Wenlock||Nut Brown Ale||15||1030.7||1012.5||2.35||59.28%||87|
|1952||Wenlock||Nut Brown Ale||19||1032.5||1012.5||2.58||61.54%||83|
|Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/002.|
A combination of low gravity and poor attenuation leaves only a couple over 3% ABV. The strongest is the granddaddy of all Brown Ales, Manns. Though it’s quite a bit weaker than pre-war, when it had an OG in the low 1040ºs and was almost 4% ABV.
There was a slight increase in gravity at the beginning of the 1950s. Where I have two analyses for the same brewery, you can see that the gravity of the later one is a point or two higher.
There seems to be a similar trend as amongst Mild Ales, where the London examples are darker and less well-attenuated than those from elsewhere.