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Three of a Kind – American Brown Ales!

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Jeremy Tonzi.  I’ve been writing about beer for a little while now over at http://jstreetbeer.com (shameless plug!)

It is with great pleasure that I’m joining in with the talented folks here at DCBeer.com (although I’m still in my probationary period… only five more months and I get health benefits!).  And, since it’s my first article, I wanted to bring something new.  So, I’m starting now, with what I hope will be an ongoing feature here at DCBeer.com.  I like to call it Three of a Kind.  I’ll be sampling (right! more like POUNDING!) three beers of the same style and then doing my best to compare and contrast them.  By the end, I’m hoping that you (the reader) will have a better idea of the basics of the style, and who (I think) does it the best (out of my tiny sample).  Also, since this is the Inaugural Three of a Kind, I’m adding two more beers and making it FIVE OF A KIND! (you’d get shot in the Old West for having that poker hand)

So, without further ado… THREE (five) OF A KIND!


For the first run, I had the good fortune of trying five brown ales.  I flipped to my handy dandy BJCP guidebook on my handy dandy smartphone and found this in the Impressions:

[The American Brown Ale] can be considered a bigger, maltier, hoppier interpretation of Northern English brown ale or a hoppier, less malty Brown Porter, often including the citrus-accented hop presence that is characteristic of American hop varieties.

Exciting, huh?  Well, let’s think about the American Brown Ale this way (since we don’t have a Northern English Brown or Brown Porter to compare to):  The American Brown Ale should be dark in color, a deep brown or amber.  It should have a malty sweet aroma, with mild hoppiness.  The flavor should be a strong malty sweetness with a balanced bitterness from the hops.  Simple enough?  On to the beer!

First up Avery’s Ellie’s Brown Ale:


The Ellie’s Brown Ale pours a dark brown color with no cloudiness.  There’s a mild hop aroma, with a slight maltiness.  The flavor is wonderful!  A malty, creamy, slightly bitter beer.   A nice sweet flavor that’s balanced ever so gently with a hoppy bitterness.  It leans a bit more toward the malty side than the bitter.  I definitely enjoyed the first (I’d give it an 8 out of 10), let’s see how the others fare.

Duck Rabbit Brown Ale:


The Duck Rabbit Brown pours an amber brown color, slightly lighter than the Avery.  It has a MUCH stronger hop aroma.  It’s quite floral, with a very slight malty scent mixed in.  The flavor was malty at the front, but then had a strong bitter hop finish.  It also had a much higher carbonation level than the others.  The Duck Rabbit leans toward the bitter hoppy side, which (to me, of course) didn’t seem to fit in well with the other browns.  I’d give it a 5 out of 10.

Brooklyn Brown Ale:


The Brooklyn Brown was a deep amber color (one could say it was brown, even).  It had a mild sweet malty aroma, but didn’t have anything overpowering.  A nice malty flavor with a mild caramel thrown in there for good measure.  It had a slightly bitter hop finish that counteracted the maltiness.  The bitterness almost seemed to negate the malt, and much of the flavor.  I’d give this guy a 6 out of 10.

Hook and Ladder Backdraft Brown:


The Backdraft Brown was nice deep amber color (you know… brown).  The aroma was similar to the Brooklyn:  mild malty scent.  The flavor was good.  The Backdraft surprised me a bit, in a good way.  A nice malty taste with a bit of caramel, balanced nicely with a mild bitterness.  It had a bit of a lingering bitterness at the finish.  7 out of 10 for the Backdraft.

Smuttynose Old Brown Dog:


This one I would have considered the favorite going in.  I’ve enjoyed the Old Brown Dog in the past, but hadn’t had the chance to compare it with other browns.  The Smuttynose poured an amber color, almost caramel, which was surprisingly light for a brown.  It had a nice mild malty aroma, nothing overpowering.  As for the taste, it had a malty front, a bit of caramel, with a mild bitterness that maintained the balance.  It finished nice and clean with little aftertaste.  I’d give it an 8 out of 10.

All in all, it was a great time tasting some great browns.  Tallying up my experience, I think I would give the winning nod to the Avery Ellie’s Brown, slightly edging out the Smuttynose Old Brown Dog.  The Duck Rabbit fell behind with its overpowering hoppiness.  But, as usually, it’s all about what you (the reader) like in the end.  So get out to your local craft beer bar (I sampled these at RFD in Chinatown) and try something!  Perhaps a tasty Ellie’s Brown?

Luckily, most of these are pretty easy to find in the area. Brooklyn Brown can be found almost everywhere quality beers are sold. The other four may be a bit less ubiquitous. Be sure to check out our Find Good Beer Guides for the craft beer bar or store in your area.

What’s your favorite American Brown Ale? What’s so good about it? How does it stack up against these five? Where do you buy it in the area? Let us know in the comments along with which style you’d like to see for the next Three of a Kind!

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