Recently I posted an introduction to Block Three Brewing in St. Jacobs and their inaugural King St. Saison beer. Today we’ll take a look at their second offering, the Sugar Bush Brown ale, the name hinting at the addition of local maple syrup to give it a bit of a twist.
I love brown ales. Plenty of body and flavour, and very social, but not overly fussy. (Yes, some brewers consider them boring and unchallenging. So be it.) I was pretty happy that the first of Block Three’s offerings I got to sample was a brown ale, though we had to cut ourselves off from Derek’s generous pours, given we hadn’t had lunch yet…
The saison is a traditionally Belgian style of beer, whereas brown ales are traditionally English. Also, whereas saison was never really a majorly commercial beer, brewers have been making brown ales in the UK for centuries. They’ve specifically been called “brown ales” by brewers there since the 1600s.
These days brown ales span a considerable range of geographies, malt profiles, and degrees of hoppiness, but originally they were mild ales, lightly hopped, and brewed entirely with brown malt. In the northern UK, the brown ales tend to be stronger and drier, whereas in the south they are milder and sweeter. As with so many styles, in North America brewers have made this style their own, so American brown ales can vary widely in flavours and colours.
These days brown ales tend to fall under one of three profiles: sweet, nutty, or hoppy. The former two are the more likely profiles found in the UK, and the latter is newer and largely the purview of American brewers, particularly homebrewers, among whom strong hopping has been very trendy in recent years. Additionally, North American hops varieties tend to impart strong flavours and aromas.
The “mildness” refers to the lower amount of alcohol in the beers, and even today in the UK it’s not uncommon for “real ales” to be under 4% ABV. Sugar Bush Brown is a bit more of an American style ale, and clocks in at 4.8% ABV.
Brown ales are fairly dark in colour, ranging from rich chestnut to a dark chocolate brown. So it shouldn’t surprise you that chocolate malt is often used in the brewing. Crystal malt is also common. You might expect the darkness to be accompanied by bitterness, but this isn’t the case. The Sugar Bush Brown is smooth and milder in flavour than the colour might lead you to expect, lacking either heavy hopping or heavily roasted flavours. This style of beer is meant to be drunk easily, often several at a time with one’s mates.
Brown ales and mild ales are often fairly similar, and like mild ales brown ales can be fairly sweet, though not in the way that many fruity summer seasonals are sweet. However, if you sample the Sugar Bush Brown expecting to get a strong hit of maple syrup, you might be surprised.
Yeasts typically consume most of the sugars they’re provided, so adjuncts like maple syrup are more likely to end up imparting other flavours rather than sweetness. Look for those homey characteristics to linger on the tongue rather than explode up front. (Brewers can add more maple syrup at bottling time to intensify the maple flavours.)
Brown ales will often have some of the richer notes of stouts or porters that are imparted with the more darkly roasted malts. However, these flavours are not present nearly as intensely. Most commonly, the roast of the malt will impart some or all of three delicious Cs: caramel, cocoa, and coffee. Nutty characteristics appear when toasted malts are used in brewing. The Sugar Bush Brown’s dominant characteristics are toasty and nutty, especially in aroma, with those cocoa and coffee flavours.
To what meal would a Sugar Bush Brown ale be a tasty accompaniment? As with many beers, barbeque is a good choice, as are roasted meats. Cheeses would pair well, too, particularly aged ones or those with strong characteristics like blues. Smoked meats and cheeses would also pair well, as would roasted root veggies. Really, brown ales are the perfect accompaniment to fall foods.
Block Three will be back open this Friday, October 11th, with beers available, and don’t miss their Blocktoberfest launch party next Friday on October 18th.