Reviews and events

The Session 120: Brown Beer


For this month’s Session topic, Joe Tindall who writes at The Fatal Glass of Beer has nominated a tricky subject to blog about. I say tricky, because in the discourse of modern beer ‘Brown’ has become a inexplicably maligned descriptor, and brown ale as a style is often overlooked or derided.

Brown is what your parents drank. Brown is dull and lifeless. Brown is  unfashionable, and comes in clear bottles, from brands that no longer exist as independent entities, so passé that they’ve become a joke even amongst the communities that they sprouted from. However, Brown ales are also flavourful, rich, moreish, and despite the negatives, are still one of the most satisfying styles around, even more so when brewed with care and creativity.

My original intention for this post was to find a couple of the classics, and drink them side by side with some newer examples. I quickly realised that it would be a pointless task, mainly because the likes of Newcastle Brown and Mann’s have been reduced to pointlessness by a indifferent beer market and the financial pressures of supermarket discounting.

Also, as most contemporary brown ales available are jazzed up and trend-driven, a comparison would be uneven. So instead of digging up the time capsule and finding nothing but a mouldy newspaper and a badly spelled letter, I picked up two bottles that I thought would be at distant ends of the modern Brown ale scale.


Blackjack Brewery are one of Manchester’s new wave of railway arch Brewers, nestled up in the Green Quarter on the edge of the city centre. The River is a Farmhouse Brown that is billed as ‘far from ‘brown’ as it gets’. There is certainly a extreme funk in the air as I pop the cap, and a small gush of foam – the yeast in the bottle has certainly been working away – but the liveliness still sprays out a nutty aroma that screams brown ale.

To taste, I’m getting a lot of banana esters and also a sweet toasty cocoa. The yeasty, brett-like funk gives it an edge that seems a little strange, almost distracting at first, but as a counterpoint it works. I would have liked a bit more spice, perhaps, but it’s a good concept and pretty well executed too.


Odyssey Brew Co are a new, but increasingly lauded brewery hidden away in deep countryside between Hereford and Worcester. They’ve attracted a lot of attention for their range of aggressively flavoursome beer, and this imperial oatmeal stout fits in with that ethos.

My bottle is full of vanilla, coffee and chocolate, and is thick, with a sharp boozy finish – almost akin to a bourbon aged stout. However there is also that characteristic brownness underneath, with lots of sticky caramel and a gentle bitterness. My only criticism would be that on the finish the vanilla slightly overpowers the other flavours.

To be honest, my previous Odyssey experiences didn’t leave me reeling with excitement, but this beer shows why they’ve got a lot of praise. A real hefty pudding of a beer.

With these two beers, and others I’ve tried recently – North Brewing Co’s Bulkhead and Magic Rock’s The Stooge, both excellent from cask – there is clearly life in the style amongst UK brewers, even if the parameters of the style are being ever more stretched. 

Standard
Opinion and rants

Session #113 – Mass Observation 

I’m in a pub in the centre of Leeds, it’s full with a post-work/pre-party crowd and we’ve been lucky to get a seat in a side room.

Pretty much everyone is drinking, except for a few children, who are mostly hitting each other with balloon animals. The kids are cackling with laughter and their, admittedly hilarious, parents.

There’s a range of macro lagers, a few handpumps with decent if traditional micro choices, and Lagunitas, Freedom and Adnams keg beers on. There is a lot of people drinking from branded Peroni glasses, but a lot of freshly sparkled pints and a lot of people sharing bottles of wine.

Good choices of food on the menu, but in my side room there is only the family eating, egg and chips, cheesy chips and chippy chip chips. There is also a couple of people with crisps, which I think they brought themselves. My wife is almost apoplectic that there are no pork scratchings.

Most people are Chatting, playing with the kids, hardly anyone on their phones, except for us. Weirdos.

Conversation is mainly about a local event, which we’re going to shortly, Brexit, Work, their drinks, training dogs, and the pros and cons of online grocery shopping.

I wouldn’t hesitate to describe this pub as traditional, in the best way – lots of glass partitions, cornicing, tiled flooring, thick, fancy wooden tables, but also with more modern twists. Our room is also decorated with a number of prints of film posters, but the arty alternatives, not the ones actually used for promotion.

In the room I’m in there is one TV but it is turned off, suspect it’s just used for Rugby/Football matches.

There are real flowers in small vases on the table, nothing too unusual, nice light fittings, press button bells on the walls for service – I’ve tried it, no one came

Just one smoker outside, no vapers that I can see. No darts or pool table, but I know there is a wide range of board games in the other room, which are no doubt in use.

People here are dressed well, one is a dead ringer for Blossom (remember that?), conversation is loud but not raucous, there is background music at a present but not listenable volume. I think tomorrow never knows by the Beatles has just finished.

Our first glasses have just been collected, although mine had a small amount of a beer that I was saving, as it’s far better than what I’m currently drinking.

All I can smell now is delicious chips. Hungry beyond belief.

This is a pub with a mixed crowd, a wide range of beer, people actually talking to each other and a lot to look at and admire. An old Tetley’s house, there’s a faint whiff of former glories – as there should be given it’s proximity to the now-obliterated brewery. As we leave we walk through the site en route to our next destination. Just the two buildings remain, a office for what’s left of Carlsberg’s Leeds operations, and the iconic Art Deco brewery headquarters, now an art gallery funded by Carlsberg, possibly from guilt.

Standard