Dark Milds and Browns

Dark Mild

DarkAlesMild-VolunteerDark, as well as Pale, Milds are called Session Ales due to their low alcoholic content - they can be enjoyed during a full session in a British pub. This doesn't mean they are wimpy beers; in fact they are more popular now in Britain than they have been at any time since war rationing ended in the early 1950s. They are most popular in the west and southwest of England.

The style originated as a weaker and cheaper version of the porters of the mid 1800s. It became popular during the heat of summer among those doing the sweatiest jobs. Less alcohol (and less £) meant it could be enjoyed in larger quantity.

Generally, Caramel or Roasted malt is used to give these beers and Brown Ales their color and taste although some brewers achieve this (or augment it) by letting the wort have a long boil time to caramelize the malt in the kettle.

Hopping rates are generally low so as not to overwhelm the malt character.

Native Territory: Southern England.

Color (SRM): Deep copper to brown. Sometimes a red tint. (12 - 25).

Head: Head is not a big matter in British ales. Cask conditioned ales are notably low in head, just the foam created by the dispense.

Aromas: Malt. Bread. Toast. Usually no hop aroma.

Flavors: Mainly malt. Some hop bitterness. Some have a bit of fruitiness or a bready, toasted, or even chocolate flavor.

Finish: Quick and clean.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied. Little carbonation.

Carbonation: Low - especially when served in Cask Conditioned form.

Alcohol: 3.0 - 4.0% ABV.

Bitterness (IBU): Subdued. (10 - 25 IBU).

Serving: Pint or half-pint English straight-side glass or handled mug. Usually served at a fairly warm 45°F or higher.

Malts: Pale, Caramel, Roast. May have sugar adjunct.

Hops: East Kent Goldings. Fuggles.

Yeast: English Ale Yeast.

Related Styles:

Pale Mild - which serves the same function in a brewer's repertoire but has less caramel malts.
Southern Brown - Sweeter and almost as low alcohol.

Notes: Due to low alcohol and hopping rates, Milds often do not store well in the bottle.


Bob's Pick:  Brains Dark - Cardiff, Wales regional brewery - Quite dark and full with hoppy dry finish. Chocolate, crystal, and brown malts. Cask conditioned in pubs and bottle conditioned in stores. 3.5%

Rare Gems: Logo-BankTop-DarkMild

Bank Top Dark Mild - Manchester, England regional brewery - Strong burnt toffee. Roast. Still fairly sweet. Very complex. Cask Conditioned only. 4.0%.

Dragonmead Crusader Dark Mild - Detroit, MI brewpub - Some bittersweet chocolate. Bready, sweet, and a touch of roast. 3.8%

Ridley Pride of Cheltenham - Chelmsford, Essex, England regional brewery - Even though Ridley has no milds in their portfolio they brew this for the Jolly Brewmaster pub in Cheltenham. 3.9%.

Wizard Black Magic - Whichford, Warwickshire, England brewpub - Chocolatey. Heading toward a stout. 4.3%

Martha's Exchange Mona Lisa Mild Ale - Nashua, NH brewpub - Nice malty taste. Yum. Color and some character of a Southern Brown.

Widely Available (please realize this was written in 2005): Logo-Gales-Festival

Gales Festival Mild - London megabrewery (Fullers) - Deep brown/red. Some roasty/smokey aroma.  Fruity sweet start and a tart, dry finish. Usually found in bottles. 4.8%

Goose Island PMD Mild - Chicago regional brewery - Bready and firm. Some chocolate and caramel. Available in cask conditioned form sometimes at their Chicago pubs. 3.8%

Highgate Dark Mild - Walsall, West Midlands, England regional brewery - A touch of roastiness. Great tasting rich ale. Fuggles, Goldings, and Progress hops. Usually served in cask conditioned form. 3.4%

Moorhouse Black Cat - Burnley, Lancashire, England regional brewery - Very deep brown/red. Tan head. Hints of chocolate, licorice, and wood. 3.4%

Theakston Traditional Mild - Masham, North Yorkshire, England regional brewery - Bitter, sharp, dark.  Dry finish from all Fuggles hops. 3.5%

Typical 5-gallon (US) recipe

5.5 lb Maris Otter Pale malt
.1 lb Chocolate malt
.25 lb Crystal 55L malt
.1 lb Black Patent malt

Adjuncts, Fruit, Spices: .4 lb Cane sugar

Hops: .75 oz Fuggle hops at start of boil

Yeast: London Ale yeast

Mash: Infusion

Boil time: 60 minutes

OG / FG: 1034 / 1010

Northern Brown

DarkAlesNorthernBrown-KeithAtFleeseWhich is Northern Brown and which is Southern Brown? The classic Nut Brown Ale is a northern brown. It's crisper, lighter colored, lighter bodied, and more translucent than it's Southern cousin. The most famous Brown Ale in the world, Newcastle Brown, is a Northern Brown - in fact that's why it's called Northern Brown - Newcastle is "up north".

In fact, the two styles are very different, connected only by name and the basic grain bill - Pale, Caramel, and Chocolate Malts are used in both.

Northerns are easy-drinking beers, rather thinner bodied than Southerns, not heavy or alcoholic, historically the working-man's thirst quencher before Stella and Carlsberg took over the lager taps throughout England.

The roots of Brown Ale go back to the Middle Ages when a barrel of malt produced several different beers - first running through the mash producing a stout, the second a brown, then a small beer (see the discussion of Small Beer for a modern-day example). Malt at that time was made over an open wood or coal fire and was much darker than today's Pale Malt. The result in this case, was a dark beer called a Brown Ale we would recognize now more as a Porter. Sometimes the Small Beer and the Brown Ale were blended to produce a lighter-colored and less alcoholic brew that was the forerunner of Northern Brown.

In the early 1800s pale malts allowed lighter-colored ales and glass drinkware demanded ales of more clarity. In London and in the Northeast Brown Ales retained their popularity while Pale Ales became dominant in the west and the south. London brewers made a darker, sweeter, and lower-strength beer which became a Southern Brown. In the Northeast, Browns were stronger, lighter-colored, and crisper. These distinctions still exist.

  • Nut Brown ales are names such seemingly whenever there's a nutty presence imparted by the malt.

  • Honey Brown ales are popular with US brewpubs. This adds more honey taste to augment the caramel than more sweetness.

Native Territory: Northern England.

Color (SRM): Transparent brown with maybe some reddish tone. (12 - 24).

Head: White and frothy.

Aromas: Not very aromatic. Sweet malt. Nut. Toffee. Some buttery notes due to diacetyl.

Flavors: Light malt with some nuttiness. Maybe a bit sweet. Maybe some toffee or toasted.

Finish: Dry although not heavy with hop bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Light to medium.

Carbonation: One of the most heavily carbonated of British Ales.

Alcohol: 4.2 - 5.2% ABV.

Bitterness (IBU): Mild. (20 - 30 IBU).

Serving: Pint or half-pint English straight-side glass or handled mug. Serve cool, rather than room temperature - 45°F or a bit less. Northern Brown ales are very rarely seen in Cask Conditioned form.

Malts: Pale Malt base with some Caramel Malt and a small amount of Chocolate Malt adds color and nut flavor.

Hops: Fuggles, East Kent Goldings, Northern Brewer.

Yeast: Usually a "house" yeast that is a variety of London Ale Yeast.

Related Styles

American Brown Ale - Somewhat hoppier and thicker.

Southern Brown Ale - Darker, sweeter, less alcoholic.

Bob's Pick:


Goose Island Nut Brown Ale - Chicago brewpub chain and regional brewery - While Newcastle and especially Sam Smith's are regarded as the "style guidelines", they are widely different and Goose Island's entry is a good mid-point. 5.2%

When on tap at the brewpub it's deeper than the bottled variety - almost cordovan. Very carbonated.

Rare Gems:


CooperSmith's Pub & Brewing Not Brown Ale - Fort Collins, CO - Translucent reddish brown. Crystal malt comes through with caramel and coffee hints. Not sweet. Excellent. 5.0%

Deep Water Grille / South Shore Brewery Nut Brown Ale - Ashland, WI brewpub - Actually a fairly hearty ale. Lightish in color. Malty but not sweet.

John Harvard's Nut Brown - Manchester, CT brewpub chain -  Seems cold and crisp. Solid brown. Light but with body. Northern Brewer hops.

Legend Brewing Brown Ale - Richmond, VA - Brown Cask Conditioned - Caramel and roasted. Tetnang and Mt. Hood hops. Newcastle Brown with more malt flavor. 6.0%

Wild River Brewing and Pizza Nut Brown Ale - Grant's Pass, OR brewpub chain - Good malted barley taste with a tinge of chocolate. Not sweet. 3.8%

Woodstock Inn Pig's Ear Brown Ale - North Woodstock, NH brewpub and microbrewery -  Good nut brown style. Slight sweet aftertaste. Lots of malt and well balanced.

Widely Available:


Newcastle Brown Ale - Gateshead, Tyne & Wear, England megabrewery (Scottish & Newcastle) - Lots of butterscotch character. Reddish brown. Delicate and easy drinking. 4.7%

Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale - Burton upon Trent, Yorkshire, England megabrewery - Darker end of the range but still very transparent. Comparatively hoppy. Some butter notes. 5.0%

Lost Coast Brewery - Downtown Brown - Hearty end of style. Looks and feels almost like a Mild Ale. 5.0%

Walnut Brewery Restaurant - Old Elk Brown Ale - Excellent dry, malty, earthy, and fairly strong. Unusually uses Munich and Chocolate malts, Willamette hops.

Arcadia Brewing Company - Nut Brown - Northern brown with a darker than style color. Hints of nuts, raisins, and chocolate. 5.6%

Typical 5-gallon (US) recipe

4 lb Maris Otter Pale malt
4 lb English Amber malt
1 lb Crystal 55L malt
.5 lb Chocolate malt

Adjuncts, Fruit, Spices: None

1 oz Styrian Goldings hops at start of boil
1 oz Fuggles hops at end of boil

Yeast: British Ale yeast

Mash: Infusion

Boil time: 45 minutes

OG / FG: 1045 / 1011

Newcastle Brown is undoubtedly the best known example of a Northern Brown. Brewed first in 1927 in Newcastle by a fellow named Jim Porter. "Newkie" Brown is available worldwide in bottled form. It is actually still made by blending two separate beers. Today it's the most popular bottled English bottled beer worldwide.

The huge conglomerate, Scottish and Newcastle, applied for a Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée in 2000 so no other beer could be called a Newcastle Brown unless it was brewed in Newcastle - thus preventing the name from becoming a style of its own.

Southern Brown

DarkAlesSouthernBrown-FatCatSouthern Browns (London style) are darker and more opaque than Northern Browns (more discussion above). They're also sweeter and usually lower in alcohol. The grain bill is possibly the same but brewing techniques are very different.

Southerns are made with a less-complete fermentation from a slightly less strong wort. This gives a sweeter finished beer because of the residual sugars (that were not turned into alcohol). It also makes it a less alcoholic beer of course.

(Repeat from the Northern Brown comments) In the early 1800s pale malts allowed lighter-colored ales and glass drinkware demanded ales of more clarity. In London and in the Northeast Brown Ales retained their popularity while Pale Ales became dominant in the west and the south. London brewers made a darker, sweeter, and lower-strength beer which became a Southern Brown. In the Northeast, Browns were stronger, lighter-colored, and crisper. These distinctions still exist.

Native Territory: London, England.

Color (SRM): Dark brown - almost opaque. (15 - 35).

Head: White but not usually thick.

Aromas: Malty sweet. Toffee. Caramel. No hop presence.

Flavors: Fruity. Dark plummy fruits. Notably a lack of roastiness.

Finish: Fairly long lasting sweetness.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied. Sugars left in the beer from brewing add to the thickness.

Carbonation: Fairly low carbonation.

Alcohol: 3.2 - 4.5% ABV.

Bitterness (IBU): Very low hopping. (12 - 20 IBU).

Serving: Pint or half-pint English straight-side glass or handled mug. Usually served at a fairly warm 45°F or higher. Very rarely found in cask conditioned form.

Malts: Pale Malt base with some Caramel Malt and a small amount of Chocolate Malt. Occasionally with a bit of Roasted Malt. Honey Malt.

Hops: Fuggles. East Kent Goldings.

Yeast: London Ale Yeast.

Related Styles:

Dark Mild - Less strong, as a session ale.

Porter - More strong. The family really ranges from Dark Mild, Southern Brown, to Porter.

Northern Brown - Lighter brown. More alcoholic. Less sweet.

Irish Red Ale - Similar and a bit sweeter.

Logo-Ridley-TollyCobboldBob's Pick:  Ridley's Tolly Cobbold Original - Bury St. Edmunds, Essex, England megabrewery (Greene King) - Fruit aroma. Toffee and anise notes on the tongue. Some bitter creeps into the finish with the lingering sweetness. 3.8%

It was Tolly Cobbold's flagship beer in the mid 1700s and revived by the brewery in 1979. The brewery was sold to Ridleys in 2002 which was itself sold to Green King in 2005. Now a seasonal and hard to find. Always served in cask conditioned form.

Rare Gems:


Rock Bottom Molly's Titanic Brown - Denver brewpub - Smooth dark brown. Crystal Munich Chocolate malts. Willamette and Mt. Hood hops.

Milwaukee Ale House - Brown Session Ale - Milwaukee brewpub - It left stepped rings on the back side of the glass as we supped. Really thick. A seasonal not brewed every year.

Westbury Midnight Mash - Westbury, Wiltshire, England microbrewery - Deep mahogany. Ivory head. Fruity. Dry lingering finish. Always cask conditioned. 5.0%

Barley John's Southern Brown Ale - New Brighton, MN brewpub - Deep brown with a fluffy head. Caramel, bready and earthy flavors. Pure Fuggles and East Kent Goldings. A seasonal beer. 5.3%

Widely Available:  Whoops, sorry. None.

Typical 5-gallon (US) recipe

5 lb Pale malt
.6 lb Chocolate malt
.4 lb Crystal 20L malt
.4 lb Crystal 60L malt
.2 lb Roasted malt

Adjuncts: .4 lb Dark brown sugar

.75 oz Fuggle hops at start of boil
.5 oz East Kent Goldings at end of boil

Yeast: London Ale yeast

Mash: Infusion

Boil time: 60 minutes

OG / FG: 1038 / 1015


Mann's Brown Ale - Always called a Southern Brown but it was really pretty thin and light giving a crisp feel. Biscuit, fruity malt. There really wasn't much alcohol either at 2.8%. This beer was marketed by Ushers and contract brewed by Burtonwood and then Young's. With Young's closing in 2005 it is no longer available.

American Brown Ale

AmericanBrown-GlassWhile copying British styles and modifying them to North American ingredients and tastes brewers couldn't resist the Brown Ales. In this case they've created a style more popular than it was back in the old country. As with other styles, they've added more grains, alcohol, and hops. The result is close to a Northern Brown Ale but not quite. There's still Caramel Malt giving a sweet richness and a roastiness. More grain means a thicker body, but still not as thick as a Southern Brown Ale though. And, of course, hoppier.

This is one style that can be attributed to homebrewers rather than commercial breweries. It was featured in 5-gallon batches across the continent while Pete Solsberg first bottled Pete's Wicked Ale in 1986.

A variant very popular in the US is a Honey Brown Ale that has a sweet note.RoundEdge-TR[20]

Native Territory: Homebrewers and brewpubs all over North America.

Color (SRM): Dark amber to medium brown through a big range of depth-of-color. (18 - 30).

Head: White or tan. Substantial.

Aromas: Caramel malt. Sweet chocolate.

Flavors: Sweet dark malt. Maybe a touch of chocolate. Toasty. Roasty. Toffee. Nut. Hop bitterness that might be citric.

Finish: Dry finish with no sweet aftertaste.

Mouthfeel: Medium to full body.

Carbonation: Moderate. Often with an ivory or tan head.

Alcohol: Strong versions may have alcoholic warmth. 4.5 - 6.5% ABV.

Bitterness (IBU): Fairly low but enough or more to balance the caramel sweetness. (20 - 50 IBU).

Serving: Pint or half-pint English straight-side glass or a pilsner glass. Serve cool but not cold - 45°F.

Malts: Pale Malt. Crystal Malt. Chocolate Malt.

Hops: Centennial. Chinook. Cluster. Willamette. Maybe Cascade in moderation. UK hops are also often used. Sometimes also Noble hops such as Perle or Hallertau.

Yeast: American Ale Yeast.

Logo-FlossmoorStation-NutBrown[4]Bob's Pick:  Flossmoor Station Pullman Nut Brown Flossmoor, IL brewpub and regional brewery - Made with toasted oats and molasses for the "nut" in the equation.

Rare Gems:


75th Street Possum Trot Brown Ale - Kansas City, MO brewpub - Cluster and Cascade hops. Thick, rich, almost porterish. Toasty and sweet.

Church Brew Works Bell Tower Brown - Pittsburgh brewpub - Deep, sweet, and malty.

Widely Available:


Avery Elie's Brown Ale - Boulder, CO regional brewery - A great looking brown ale with a complex maltiness. Very elegant and drinkable at the same time.

Bell's Best Brown - Kalamazoo, MI regional brewery - Big tan head. Some roast, caramel, and chocolate aroma and taste.

Brooklyn Brown Ale Contract brewed at FX Matt, Utica, NY megabrewery - Deep brown color in a beer that is less chocolate/toffee/roast etc. than most American Brown Ales but still distinctly American rather than a Southern Brown.

Pete's Wicked Ale - Contract brewed at FX Matt, Utica, NY megabrewery - Dark color. Deep caramel. Subdued fruity aromatic hop aroma. Now has disappeared.

Typical 5-gallon (US) recipe:

8 lb Pale malt
2 lb Munich malt
1 lb malted wheat
.2 lb Chocolate malt
.1 lb roasted barley

Adjuncts, Fruit, Spices: None

1 oz Cascade hops at start of boil
.5 oz Cascade hops at end of boil
.5 Hallertau hops at end of boil

Yeast: American Ale yeast

Mash: Infusion

Boil time: 90 minutes

OG / FG: 1048 / 1012

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