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Final Gravity reading
Final Gravity reading

Brewing an American Brown Ale

Grain bill #1/2: US 2-row Pale malt, Crystal 40L malt, Chocolate malt
Grain bill #1/2:
– US 2-row Pale malt
– Crystal 40L malt
– Chocolate malt

Previously in this series of articles on How to brew different Styles of Beer? we covered Brewing a Russian Imperial Stout, this time the Beer Style comes from the ‘Dark American Beer’ category in the BJCP 2015 Guidelines and is the style of an American Brown Ale.

In the following sections we are going to examine different aspects of this style such as its background, the style guidelines, ingredients used, sample recipes, brewing process, and finally the outcome of brewing a batch of this beer.


According to the BJCP Guidelines this style is derived from English Brown Ales but with more hops and Pete’s Wicked Ale being one of the first and best known examples.

Grain bill #2/2: Melanoidin malt, Crystal 60L malt
Grain bill #2/2:
– Melanoidin malt
– Crystal 60L malt

The modern English Brown Ale is a 20th century creation as a bottled product e.g. Newcastle Brown, Mann’s Brown Ale. Prior to this a wide range of gravities were brewed, but modern brown ales are generally of the stronger interpretation.

Commercial examples of this style include Big Sky Moose Drool Brown Ale, Cigar City Maduro Brown Ale, Bell’s Best Brown, Smuttynose Old
Brown Dog Ale, Brooklyn Brown Ale, Lost Coast Downtown Brown, and Avery Ellie’s Brown Ale.


In the BJCP 2008 Style Guidelines the American Brown Ale was part of the American Ales category along with American Pale Ale and American Amber Ale. Now this style is in Dark American Beer but the American Pale Ale has been replaced by California Common:

BJCP 2015 BJCP 2008
Category 19: Dark American Beer
10: American Ale
Styles 10A: American Pale Ale
19A: American Amber Ale 10B: American Amber Ale
19B: California Common
19C: American Brown Ale 10C: American Brown Ale

In the new guidelines the vital statistics of the American Brown Ale are as follows:

  • Original Gravity (OG) = 1.045 – 1.060
  • Final Gravity (FG) = 1.010 – 1.016
  • Alcohol By Volume (ABV) = 4.3 – 6.2%
  • Bitterness (IBUs) = 20 – 30
  • Color (SRM) = 18-35

The only change from the 2008 guidelines is a drop of 10 points in the upper end of the bitterness range.


Horizon, Cascade & Centennial hops
Horizon, Cascade & Centennial hops

According to the BJCP 2015 Guidelines the following are characteristic ingredients used in the brewing of an American Brown Ale:

  • Malts: Well-modified pale malt, plus crystal and darker malts (typically chocolate).
  • Hops: American hops are typical, but continental or New World hops can also be used.
  • Yeast: Not specified but you would normally expect an American Ale yeast to be used.
  • Water: Not specified.
  • Additions: Not specified.


Below are some recipes for 5 gallon batches of an American Brown Ale from leading authors in the homebrewing community together with some analysis on how they comply with the style guidelines:

– Big Brown Ale –

Wyeast 1056 American Ale yeast
Wyeast 1056 American Ale yeast

Source: Zymurgy (Sep/Oct 2014 issue)
Author: Brian Linder

Ingredients (6 gal batch):

  • 9.6 Lb US 2-row Pale malt
  • 1.8 Lb Munich 10L malt
  • 0.6 Lb Crystal 60L malt
  • 0.6 Lb Chocolate malt
  • 0.3 oz Cascade whole hops (bittering – 60 mins)
  • 0.3 oz Cascade whole hops (bittering – 30 mins)
  • 1.0 oz Wilamette pellet hops (flavoring – 15 mins)
  • 0.5 oz Cascade whole hops (aroma – 5 mins)
  • 0.3 oz Wilamette pellet hops (aroma – 1 min)
  • 0.3 oz Cascade whole hops (aroma – 1 min)
  • Wyeast 1056 American Ale yeast


  • Mash @ 145 deg F (63 deg C) for 30 mins
  • Raise to 158 def (70 deg C) for 40 mins
  • Sparge @ 170 deg F (77 deg C)
  • Boil for 60 mins
  • Ferment @ 68 deg F (20 deg C) for 7 days in primary
  • Ferment @ 65 deg F (18 deg C) for 14 days in secondary


  • OG: 1.062
  • FG: 1.014
  • ABV: 6.3%
  • IBU: n/a
  • SRM: n/a


  • Malts: The base and specialty malts are all pretty much in style though the choice of Munich is not specifically mentioned within the guidelines whilst the others are.
  • Hops: These are both American hops varieties.
  • Yeast: A clean fermenting American Ale yeast is as expected.
  • Statistics: The Starting Gravity is 2 points above the relevant range though the Finishing Gravity is within style. The alcohol content is 0.1% above the appropriate range. Bitterness and color values are not specified.

– Dirty Brown Water –

Mash recirculation
Mash recirculation

Source: Brewing Classic Styles
Author: Jamil Zainasheff & John J. Palmer


  • 10 Lb American 2-row Pale malt
  • 0.5 Lb Crystal 40L malt
  • 0.5 Lb Chocolate malt (420L)
  • 0.25 Lb Crystal 60L malt
  • 0.25 Lb Victory malt
  • 0.45 oz Horizon hops (bittering – 60 mins)
  • 1.0 oz Amarillo hops (flavoring – 15 mins)
  • 1.75 oz Amarillo hops (aroma – 0 mins)
  • White Labs California Ale (WLP001) or Wyeast 1056 American Ale yeast


  • Mash @ 152 deg F (67 deg C) for 90 mins
  • Boil for 60 mins
  • Ferment @ 67 deg F
  • Carbonate to 2-2.5 volumes


  • OG: 1.048
  • FG: 1.011
  • ABV: 4.9%
  • IBU: 34
  • SRM: 20


  • Malts: The base and specialty malts are all pretty much in style though the choice of Victory is not specifically mentioned within the guidelines whilst the others are.
  • Hops: These are both American hops varieties.
  • Yeast: Clean fermenting American Ale yeasts as expected.
  • Statistics: Both the Starting and Finishing Gravities are towards the lower end of the ranges but within style as is the alcohol content. Bitterness is slightly high but within style for the 2008 guidelines that were applicable when the recipe was formulated. Color is within style.

– Pete’s Wicked Ale –

Mash recirculation
Mash recirculation

Source: Clone Brews
Author: Tess & Mark Szamatulski


  • 9.75 Lb American 2-row Pale malt
  • 8 oz American Crystal 60L malt
  • 4 oz American Chocolate malt
  • 0.75 oz Brewer’s Gold hops (bittering – 90 mins)
  • 0.5 oz East Kent Goldings (flavoring – 15 mins)
  • 1.0 oz Cascade hops (dry hop)
  • Wyeast 1028 London Ale or Wyeast 1056 American Ale yeast


  • Mash @ 151 deg F (66.2 deg C) for 90 mins
  • Boil for 90 mins
  • Ferment @ 68 – 72 deg F


  • OG: 1.053 – 1.054
  • FG: 1.012 – 1.013
  • ABV: 5.2%
  • IBU: 30
  • SRM: 27


  • Malts: The base and specialty malts are all within style.
  • Hops: Brewer’s Gold and Cascade are American hops though EKG (East Kent Goldings) is an English variety and although to style it may not be the most appropriate choice stylistically.
  • Yeast: The American Ale yeast would seem a more prudent choice over the English Ale yeast.
  • Statistics: The gravities, alcohol content and color are all within style and the bitterness is at the top of the range.


Post-boil wort
Post-boil wort

The recipe chosen for brewing this batch of American Brown Ale is the Dirty Brown Water with the main reasons being:

  • Big Brown Ale had a slightly high Starting Gravity and alcohol content.
  • Dirty Brown Water is within style providing the bitterness is adjusted from 2008 to 2015 BJCP style guidelines.
  • Pete’s Wicked Ale is within style though the choice of East Kent Goldings in the hopping regime might be questionable.

Below is the actual recipe that I went with:

  • 12.5 Lb US 2-row Pale malt
  • 8 oz Crystal 40L
  • 8 oz Chocolate malt
  • 4 oz Melanoidin malt
  • 4 oz Crystal 60L malt
  • 0.55 oz Horizion hops (bittering – 60 mins)
  • 1.0 oz Cascade hops (flavoring – 15 mins)
  • 1.5 oz Centennial hops (aroma – 0 mins)
  • Wyeast 1056 American Ale yeast
Carboy of wort
Carboy of wort

The recipe was modified with some of the quantities to adjust the IBUs and also the following due to availability of ingredients:

  • Melanoidin malt substituted for Biscuit malt.
  • Cascade & Centennial hops substituted for Amarillo hops.

The 5 gallon batch of beer was brewed following these steps:

  • Charcoal filtering the borough water and leaving it to stand overnight in order to vent off the chlorine.
  • Measuring out and milling the grains, also measuring out the hops and Irish Moss.
  • Sterilizing the fermentation equipment.
  • Heating the strike water to 154 deg F before mashing-in.
  • Mashing for 90 mins at 152 deg F for the Saccharification rest so the starches convert into sugars (pH 5.4).
  • Raising the temperature to 168 deg F to mash-out for 10 mins to stop enzymatic activity i.e. halt the conversion of starches to sugars.
  • Removing the grain bag.
  • Boiling for 10 mins to allow time for the hot break to clear.
  • Continue boiling for 45 mins with the bittering hop addition.
  • Add flavoring hop addition and Irish Moss at 15 mins to help clear the beer.
  • Add aroma hop addition at flame-out.
  • A yeast starter was prepared comprising of 8 oz of DME (Dry Malt Extract) in two liters of water and placed in a flask on a stir plate together with one packet of yeast.
  • Yeast nutrient was added to the wort once it had been cooled.
  • Wort was aerated with Oxygen (60 secs) via a diffusing stone connected to an O2 tank with a regulator.
  • Yeast starter was decanted prior to pitching into the wort so that most of the spent wort did not go into the beer.
  • Primary fermentation was at 68 deg F for ten days in a temperature controlled freezer.
  • The beer was racked off the trub (sediment) into the secondary fermenter and held at 68 deg F for a further week before cold crashing.
  • Beer will be force carbonated to 2.3 volumes of CO2 after cooling the beer to 36 deg F.


Active fermentation
Active fermentation

According to the style guidelines an American Brown Ale should have the following characteristics:

  • Appearance: Light to very dark brown color. Clear. Low to moderate off-white to light tan head.
  • Aroma: Moderate malty-sweet to malty-rich aroma with chocolate, caramel, nutty, and/or toasty qualities. Hop aroma is typically low to moderate, of almost any variety that complements the malt. Some interpretations of the style may feature a stronger hop aroma, an American or New World hop character (citrusy, fruity, tropical, etc.), and/or a fresh dry-hopped aroma (all are optional). Fruity esters are moderate to very low. The dark malt character is more robust than other brown ales, yet stops short of being overly porter-like. The malt and hops are generally balanced.
  • Flavor: Medium to moderately-high malty-sweet or malty-rich flavor with chocolate, caramel, nutty, and/or toasty malt complexity, with medium to medium-high bitterness. The medium to medium-dry finish provides an aftertaste having both malt and hops. Hop flavor can be light to moderate, and may optionally have a citrusy, fruity, or tropical character, although any hop flavor that complements the malt is acceptable. Very low to moderate fruity esters.
  • Mouth-feel: Medium to medium-full body. More bitter versions may have a dry, resiny impression. Moderate to moderately-high carbonation.
  • Overall: A malty but hoppy beer frequently with chocolate and caramel flavors. The hop flavor and aroma complements and enhances the malt rather than clashing with it.

How did my batch of American Brown Ale turn out?

Moving beer from Primary to Secondary
Moving beer from Primary to Secondary

The brew day went smoothly though on the numbers I was targeting a Starting Gravity of 1.053 but hit 1.047 (still just within style) so the efficiency did not turn out so good. Recently I have raised this with brewing colleagues and they suggest finer milling of the grist as a BIAB (Brew In The Bag) system has the bag to act as a filter and this will help with the efficiency due to a greater surface area in the grist.

The fermentation attenuated well which helped with the alcohol content though this was still 0.5% below what I was targeting.

Here are the actual vital statistics:

  • OG: 1.047
  • FG: 1.010
  • ABV: 4.86%
  • Bitterness: 29.3 IBUs*
  • Color: 24.3 SRM*
Sampler of the finished beer
Sampler of the finished beer

* calculated via BeerSmith software.

The tasting notes are as follows:

A reddy/brown in color with a slight haze and cream head. A nutty aroma and flavor is both nutty and roasty with some slight bitterness. Carbonation is medium-to-low with a medium mouth-feel.

What’s Next?

In my next article in this series I will be examining Brewing a Clone Beer which is in the ‘Specialty Beer’ category so please check back for that article to be published.

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