Saturday, May 11, 2013

Brooklyn Brown Ale Review - Revisiting Old Favorites

I'm listening to Cream this morning as I'm typing this.  When I lived in Cincinnati, back in the day, Saturday mornings were about getting in the 4-Runner, running some errands in the sunshine, and popping some Cream in the CD player. Man, I forgot how great their overamped music is.  "Strange Brew" is one of the best greatest hits comps you'll find for any band; if it were an album it would be an all-time classic.  But from the very first bass notes on "Badge" through "Spoonful" at the end, every icky thump from Jack Bruce's bass and every airy-but-gritty riff from Clapton is a treat.

Of course, this all made me think about beer.  Brooklyn Brown Ale, that is.

I went to the Empty Bottle the other day to see Robbie Fulks play some countrified licks on guitar and to meet some pals. The Empty is one of the best rock music clubs around and always gets great acts. For a music club their beer selection is pretty killer: they feature a lot of craft stuff and a good mix of local and out-of-town brews.  I couldn't decide on what I wanted, but wanted a bottle instead of a draught, so I opted for a Brooklyn Brown. Had this been 7-8 years ago, Brooklyn Brown would have been among my top choices.  Hops would change all of that.  But back in 2004, Brooklyn Lager had changed my beer landscape, and when I first tried Brooklyn Brown in 2005, at the place of my pal, Dave in North Carolina, who couldn't find Brooklyn Lager at the local Piggly Wiggly, I was solidly on the train to Brooklyn.  I'll never forget the serenity of sipping it out of that frosty mug on the back deck in 90-degree September Carolina heat.  Fast forwarding to present times, after having gone years without a Brooklyn Brown, I was curious how my palate would receive it.

Since my palate has grown, I've found this beer to be watery in the recent past.  But lighter beers such as this do better in bottles because the flavors are all concentrated on your tongue, you can't smell these beers, it's harder to detect how watery they are, and they're probably arriving to you colder than if on tap.  So I chose a bottle for this.  It fit the bill.  The near-shock my palate experienced from the lack of hops in this beer was instantly sated by a mellow, calming nuttiness.  A healthy amount of carbonation gave it some modicum of backbone. The finish was thin but pleasantly so, in an ephemeral way.

Brown ales are the bastard Jon-Snow-from-Game-of-Thrones child of the beer industry.  They can be formidable in their own way but are largely forgotten.  They're too mild to appeal to the hopheads that shun them. They lack the complexity fawned over by the Belgian tipplers.  Yet, almost every brewer makes one. And some are made with great care, almost delicacy, like Half Acre's or Flossmoor Station's.  Once, I found these subtle Brooklyn Brown qualities to be greatly appealing.  Then I chased hops and things weren't the same.  But, Brooklyn Brewery is a far bigger operation these days, and now makes the Brown and their once-game-changing Lager on an industrial scale.  Neither beer tastes the same; but is it the beers that have changed or my perception?  If I tried these beers for the first time today, after having had nothing but macros my whole life until now, would I be as charged by them today as I was back then?  Maybe it's we craft beer lovers who are at fault for the brown's status decline.  Perhaps our chase of the extreme in huge hops and massive roasted malts and big alcohols has dulled our senses regarding the modest, subtle qualities of a brown ale.  Beer for thought.

But why get fussy with beer when you're watching some old dude in starched Wranglers and a big ass buckle doing the boot scoot boogie with his woman, while the rest of the crowd looks total Nashville Network.  Next time you're in a country bar, reach for that Brooklyn Brown. Enjoying a beer is very much about your current environment.

2.9 of 5 stars.

1 comment:

BeerShaun said...

Excellent writeup! I recently had a wonderful toasty Alesmith Nutbrown ale. real toasted hazelnuts, a toffee malt backbone and a clean crisp effervescence made it a truly noble brown ale. I think, kind of like lagers, they need to exude the quality of the ingredients and the subtle balance to make them great since you won't have a sledgehammer of hops, alcohol, or barrel aged flavors to hit you in the face. Long live Brown Ales!