Office brew: 'Brewcastle' Newcastle brown ale

Brown ale doesn’t have the most glamorous reputation in the beer world; a traditional English style, most often found in pubs that smell of complacency or, worse still, in Newcastle.


Brown ale doesn’t have the most glamorous reputation in the beer world; a traditional English style, most often found in pubs that smell of complacency or, worse still, in Newcastle. Even the name doesn’t exactly ring with the strident innovation of the craft movement: “What colour is this ale? Brown. That’ll do then”.

But brown ale has enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years, whether it’s in the hands of American brewers (who spent 20-plus years showing us how we should be brewing our own traditional styles before we caught on) or innovative home-grown outfits like Crate and Magic Rock.

As a hat-tip to our teenage drinking mistakes though, we decided to do something a little different. Our challenge to Edinburgh’s Brewstore (who once again kindly provided both advice and ingredients for this brew) was to create something “a lot like Newcastle Brown Ale, but nice”.

This brew’s malt bill is smaller and lighter in colour than some of the sacks of dark grain I’ve seen colleagues lugging around. As it’s a relatively low-abv, sweet, darkish style, there’s plenty of medium-toasted caramel malt in there, to provide colour and some unfermentable sugars, but no really dark, bitter grains. The hops we’ve chosen are similarly mild: Pearl for bittering and Saaz for aroma.

Mashing in gets off to a good start, and soon the office kitchen is even warmer, and full of thick, sweet malty air. We leave the Grainfather recirculating the wort through the grain, making sure we get the most possible enzyme action and sugar from the malt, and set our watches for one hour.

When we return, the wort is a deep reddish brown; darker than our reference bottle of newky brown, but very much lighter than a porter. It smells great. Now it’s time to sparge; pouring more warm water through the grain to wash out any residual sugar and bring the volume of wort up to 28 litres.

As a hat-tip to our teenage drinking mistakes though, we decided to do something a little different

The boil itself is 90 minutes, slightly longer than the 60 minutes we’ve used for previous brews. This is because our recipe uses quite a high proportion of pilsner malts, which can create a lot of DMS – the chemical that causes butter popcorn-like off flavours – and a longer boil can help mitigate this.

The whole-cone Pearl goes in first, 30 minutes into the boil, immediately releasing a blast of fruity, resinous hop aroma. This is followed 30 minutes later by another good pile of Saaz. By the time the boil is done, the whole office smells of malt and fresh hops, which fortunately everyone enjoys.

While the boil is finishing, we take care to make sure everything is properly sterilised. My last office brew – a clone of Cloudwater and Brewdog’s legendary DIPA collab – picked up an infection along the way, resulting in off flavours and over-carbonated (okay, exploding) bottles. This brew has gone much more smoothly so far, but I don’t want to take any chances after the boil.

Running the wort through the cooling coil, it goes into the fermenter at very nearly the right temperature for our British ale yeast, so we only need to wait a couple of hours before it’s ready to pitch. The next morning, at the time of writing, our carboy is already bubbling away vigorously with a nice thick kreuzen formed on the surface.

This is only our seventh brew, but it’s amazing how much we’ve learned since I attempted my DIPA back in February. We’re not exactly a well-oiled machine yet, but every success and every mistake has taught us valuable lessons and we seem to be turning out more beers that we actually want to take home and drink. I hope my brown ale experiment is one of the successes!

Last Month's Brews - The Verdicts

Rob's Farmhouse Saison

It worked, I have a farmhouse saison. It’s drinkable, although extremely boozey at around 9% abv. The biggest problem with the taste is it’s incredibly unbalanced; it’s a shame considering so much effort went into it.

During the 10 week fermentation, I made two major mistakes. The first was, leaving the heatbelt on over the weekend. When I took the temperate on Monday morning, it had been sitting at 32 degrees celsius which was around 7 degrees too high. This produced a lot of fruity esters, and when I say a lot I mean too many. All balance in the flavour of the beer was lost at this point.

The second was, in my excited homebrew virgin mindstate, swirling the contents of the carboid around with the idea it would get the yeast going. Essentially, all I managed to do was aerate it quickly.

I’d quite like to come up with a variation of Mikkeller’s Breakfast Stout next brew, but it would be great to get the saison right first and make a success of it.

Bryce's Black IPAngel

Officially, I think that the Black IPAngel is the best thing I’ve ever done. Unofficially, it may be the best thing that anyone has ever done. It turned out perfectly.

Not being able to wait, I tasted my beer after one, two and three weeks of fermentation, with it getting better and better every time. As I write this now, after four weeks of fermenting, the beer is everything I had hoped; toasty, hoppy, lively and sweet. I must say, the Brewstore have done a fantastic job with making this recipe.

The beer has been passed around all of my colleagues who have thankfully met it with raised eyebrows and approving nods. This is a lot more than my pessimistic mind was expecting (grimaces, piss-taking, pitchforks). So far, it has a 100% satisfaction rating, which is good! After all, they wouldn’t lie to me... right?

If you’re thinking of giving beer brewing a shot, do it. Do it now. It’s an experience I would recommend to anybody. Cheers!

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