Session Beer Day is April 7th, 2016. While brewers are encouraged to push the boundaries in order to develop new styles that fit the “session” definition there are plenty of classic styles that already make the cut. Besides, it’s National Beer Day as well so everyone should feel included.
This year I decided to make one of my American Brown Ale recipes to mark the occasion.
There are varying opinions on what exactly makes a session beer. However, in general, two elements are emphasized:
- ABV % (generally less than 4.5%, though some argue less than 4%)
- “Drinkability”; the beer’s flavour is not so overpowering so as to cause the drinker to give up after one pint with pallet fatigue
I don’t want to get into physiology too much here (though I likely will at a later date, in another post) but the basic idea is that: when drinking a lower alcohol percentage beer, a person drinking at a “normal pace” will clear the alcohol from a the beer at a rate fast enough so as to not become intoxicated. Now by no means should anyone use this as an excuse to drink and drive. The science is not perfect and everyone will have their own rate of alcohol absorption and metabolism. Rather, I like to think of a session beer as one that you could have at a barbecue or at a social gathering where you think you may want to have more than one, but maintain a level of sobriety, and not worry about being hung over the next day. Sometimes you just want beer as a beverage because you’re thirsty and it’s delicious.
I applaud brewers for breaking new ground in the quest to provide lower alcohol beers to those who seek them but one doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel in order to make a beer under 4.5%, or even 4%, abv. Several styles already fit this classification, including:
- Cream Ale
- American Wheat and Blonde
- English Bitters, Milds and Browns
- Scottish Heavy
- Irish Red Ales and Stouts
- Berliner Weisse
- and many more…
One style that caught my eye which was just on the cusp of being sessionable was American Brown Ale. The style generally has a wide range of interpretation, so much so that BJCP has tried to tighten up its definition and force highly hopped versions into the new specialty “Brown IPA” category. We will be doing a full analysis of the style guidelines and recipe design for American Brown Ale in the near future but here are some key important aspects:
BJCP states [pdf] that the overall impression of an American Brown Ale is that it should be:
A malty but hoppy beer frequently with chocolate and caramel flavors. The hop flavor and aroma complements and enhances the malt rather than clashing with it.
When compared to other styles we are told that:
[American Brown Ale contains] More chocolate and caramel type flavors than American Pale or Amber Ales, typically with less prominent bitterness in the balance. Less bitterness, alcohol, and hop character than Brown IPAs. More bitter and generally hoppier than English Brown Ales, with a richer malt presence, usually higher alcohol, and American/New World hop character.
For my recipe I knew I would want to include
- A moderate amount of chocolate malt (~5-6%) for colour and flavor.
- A darker caramel malt such as Crystal 80 for rich caramel flavours, without getting into the dark fruits that a heavily roasted crystal like 120 would provide
- Some light roasted malt to bring in a toasted quality and add depth to the overall malt profile
I also had to consider that since I was making a lower ABV% beer that I may wish to
- Add a little dark roasted malt to get my colour into range
- Mash at a higher temperature to prevent the wort from being too fermentable and finish too dry
- Add some body enhancing grains such as oats and carapils to counteract the thin malt bill
The malt bill can be simplified. You don’t need to use two types of chocolate malt, for example. That’s just something I picked up after reading about how to clone Black Butte porter. I liked the results and decided to keep it up.
I went with Cascade and Mt Hood for my recipe. Lots of other hops would sub in nicely as well. Personally I’d like to try it again with some Ahtanum and Willamette. For my tastes I like an American Brown Ale to have hops that are floral and earthy with some citrus.
The same goes with the yeast. Lots of options will work. I happened to have some US-05 on hand but White Labs 001 would work well, as would any “Chico” yeast. I’m excited to try this with White Labs 007 as well.
One note on the recipe: if you really like your caramel (I don’t), eliminate the C20 and add it to the C80 quantity. Like with any recipe, make adjustments to suit your own palate. Enjoy!
“Session” American Brown Ale Recipe (Rev. 1)
|Batch Size||Boil Time||IBU||SRM||Est. OG||Est. FG||ABV|
|5.5 gal||60 min||25.9 IBUs||22.7 SRM||1.045||1.010||4.5 %|
|Pale Malt, Maris Otter||7 lbs||78.87|
|Amber Malt||4 oz||2.82|
|Caramel/Crystal Malt - 20L||4 oz||2.82|
|Caramel/Crystal Malt - 80L||4 oz||2.82|
|Carapils (Briess)||4 oz||2.82|
|Chocolate Malt (Thomas Fawcett)||4 oz||2.82|
|Oats, Flaked (Briess)||4 oz||2.82|
|Pale Chocolate||4 oz||2.82|
|Carafa Special III (Weyermann)||2 oz||1.41|
|Cascade||0.25 oz||60 min||First Wort||Pellet||7.1|
|Mt. Hood||0.25 oz||60 min||First Wort||Pellet||5.8|
|Cascade||0.5 oz||15 min||Boil||Pellet||6.9|
|Mt. Hood||0.5 oz||15 min||Boil||Pellet||5.8|
|Cascade||0.5 oz||0 min||Aroma||Pellet||6.9|
|Mt. Hood||0.5 oz||0 min||Aroma||Pellet||5.8|
|Cascade||0.5 oz||5 days||Dry Hop||Pellet||6.9|
|Mt. Hood||0.5 oz||5 days||Dry Hop||Pellet||5.8|
|Whirlfloc Tablet||1.00 Items||10 min||Boil||Fining|
|Yeast Nutrient||0.50 tsp||10 min||Boil||Other|
|Safale American (US-05)||DCL/Fermentis||78%||59°F - 75°F|
|Mash Step||154.4°F||60 min|
|Mash Step||169°F||10 min|
|Zero minute hop additions are actually “pseudo-whirlpool additions” (I don’t have a whirlpool setup in my kettle). Essentially I add these hops once the wort reaches 85C/185F to allow for oil extraction with minimal hop isomerization. After a 20 minute stand the wort was chilled and the yeast pitched. The fermenter sat in a room with an ambient temperature around 18C/64F for one week before adding the dry hops. It was then allowed to sit for another three days before cold crashing for 48 hours and being transferred to the keg.|
|Download this recipe's BeerXML file|