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General Category => General Homebrew Discussion => Topic started by: pweis909 on February 18, 2012, 07:09:26 PM

Title: American Brown Style Guidelines
Post by: pweis909 on February 18, 2012, 07:09:26 PM
I recently got score sheets back for an American Brown, filled out by 2 BJCP judges (including 1 national-level judge). My scores were OK, 33 and 34. Both judges found no major flaws but noted that my beer was pretty malt forward and that hops were a bit muted, so maybe a little out of balance for style (my interpretation of their comments; neither said "out of balance").

One judge commented that I should use more centennial and cascade hops and the other commented that it needed to be more citrusy in the finish. To me, these last two comments seem like an overinterpretation of the guidelines, which emphasize that citrusy character is optional. I'm curious if guidelines for the style are mutating a bit, and that citrusy character is becoming increasingly expected. Any BJCP experts have thoughts on that?

I want to emphasize that I'm not whining about my scores and am just curious if the style target might be shifting towards increasing citrus character. I accept that hop perception might have been lower than optimal. I actually wanted this beer a little more bitter and citrusy and have some ideas for addressing that next time around. I think I need to either use more hops or add them loosely instead of in hop sacks (I'll try this next).
Title: Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
Post by: tygo on February 18, 2012, 07:28:03 PM
I'm interested in hearing the responses to this question as well.  I've been working on a recipe for an American brown and I'll be shooting for a more malt forward beer without too much forward citrus.  I'm going to brew it that way no matter what since that's the flavor profile I think I personally will most enjoy, but I'm curious how it might be perceived in competition.
Title: Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
Post by: jlap on February 18, 2012, 07:48:55 PM
I'm a BJCP certified judge and have judged this category a few times in competition.  I now often request not to judge ABA for exactly the reason that you raise.  Many judges have the impression that ABA should be like the "Texas Brown" - in other words pretty hop forward.  They key in on American hop flavor/aroma and if they don't find it they believe that it's missing an essential element.  Although the guidelines clearly say that you can use UK hops or the American flavor/aroma can be low this doesn't seem to persuade many of the folks I've judged with.  It's one of those examples where the judges expectations and the style guidelines are often not well aligned.

If you want to do well in competition, you probably need moderate American hop flavor and aroma to satisfy some judges.  But don't go too far and make this beer like a Brown IPA which is out of style no matter who you talk to.

The other problem lies in the fact that none of the the classic examples that I've been able to try are hop forward.  Smuttynose Old Brown Dog?  Tasty beer but hops?  Personally I don't prefer the combination of citrus hops with roasted grains so I always try to stand up for the more balanced or malty examples that are well done.  I haven't had great success convincing others.
Title: Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
Post by: pweis909 on February 18, 2012, 09:54:38 PM
@jlap --The example I am most familiar with is Moose Drool, which is not citrusy either. Thanks for your insights from your own judging experience.
Title: Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
Post by: mabrungard on February 18, 2012, 11:01:45 PM
Funny this subject came up.  I just judged Best of Show with Gordon Strong and Sandy Cockerham at the All American Ale competition in Cincy.  Sadly, the best beer at the competition was a very nice Robust Porter.  Too bad it wasn't an American Brown Ale as it was entered. 

There is strong overlap between those two styles with the largest differentiator being the degree of roast character.  Both have substantial malt presence and can have varying degrees of hop flavor and aroma.  That hop flavor and aroma may have citrusy components. 

In my experience and preference, I must admit that the guidelines do present some confusion as to which is which.  I'd say that another differentiator that an Am Brown brewer should pay heed to is that the beer should finish with malt AND hop in the aftertaste.  That hop character may not be the classic American C hop character, but there had better be enough hop in there to let the drinker know that this was a hoppy ale and not so much a roasty ale. 

I hope this helps guide your taste perceptions and recipe adjustments.     
Title: Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
Post by: barliman on February 19, 2012, 03:10:38 PM
I have come to the same conclusion as you Peter.  I recently entered a Moose Drool clone as an American Brown ale in a competition (it was either the NHC or UMMO).  Both judges liked it, but said that it wasn't hoppy enough.  I was disappointed because Moose Drool is a classic example of the style (I believe it's even mentioned as an example of the style in the style guidelines) and it only scored in the mid to low 30s.  Oh well, lesson learned. 

J
Title: Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
Post by: mightybrewmouse on February 20, 2012, 02:17:13 AM
This is an enlightening thread. I have been wondering whether to enter my brew as an American Brown Ale, as I think it has a good hoppy/malty finish. The trouble is it's hopped with Earthy hops, and so I've been debating whether it would be a waste to enter it given the "C" hop expectation. I'm tempted to enter it, anyway, to see whether I get the same response as the OP did.

Title: Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
Post by: thomasbarnes on February 21, 2012, 10:44:39 AM
The things I look for in an ABA are:

Somewhat dry, but complex, American malt body with a fair bit of light to medium toast notes - nuts, bread crust, biscuits and crackers - with very restrained dark roast - light chocolate, cocoa powder.

Neutral yeast character, with restrained "tree fruit" esters - maybe some apple, pear, or fresh plum or cherry. If they're up in the moderate range, they should reinforce the hops, not the malt.

The beer can have some heft to the body, but it should be dextrinous fullness rather than underattenuated sweetness.

Malt to hop balance can go either way, but should be reasonably well balanced. Too much hop bitter will clash with the dark malts and give the impression of astringency; it's a real trick to brew a good hoppy dark beer. Thinner body and high hop bitterness turns the beer into a "Texas Brown Ale"/"Brown IPA." Fuller, sweeter body and lower hop bitter turns it more towards a Brown or Robust Porter.

On top of the hop bitter and malt complexity, there should also be some late hop character. It's usually citrusy and piny, but doesn't need to be. Too many judges forget that.

BJCP Style guidelines specify low to moderate hop aroma and flavor, but I think that lower hopping levels tend to throw the beer towards being a porter unless the brewer works hard to get a lot of "brown ale" character into the beer and brings up the hop bitterness.

On the other hand, I think that too much hop flavor and aroma also tends to clash with the dark malts, so it shouldn't be too over the top. But you still need a some late hopping to remind the judges that the beer is a brown ale, not a porter.

Since I'm sort of on the East Coast, I see more balanced versions, and for commercial examples I think of Brooklyn Brown Ale, Smuttynose Old Brown Dog and Avery Ellie’s Brown Ale (Yes, the 2008 BJCP Guidelines turned it into a Northern English Brown, but I think that the Guidelines committee got a bad bottle.)

For more aggressive "West Coast" versions, I think of Clown Shoes Brown Angel, but it's a bit high in alcohol for the style at 7% ABV.

Commercially, I think that the trend was towards more balanced versions, but now it's swinging back towards more aggressively hopped beers. That might also be the case for HB, but I haven't brewed or tasted an ABA recently - it's the rarest of the American ales.

As to Peter's beer, my ignorant guess is that the judges got a fair bit of bitter and citrusy hops in the flavor, but it didn't carry into the aroma, or vice-versa. Judges often like to aroma and flavor to be similar in intensity. In particular, it sucks when a beer has an amazing bouquet but the flavor doesn't follow through.
Title: Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
Post by: tomsawyer on February 21, 2012, 08:03:31 PM
Having a slightly narrower, more focused scope than whats in the BJCP guidelines is understandable when it comes to judging some of the categories.  Its an American Brown after all, how else are you going to distinguish it from a Northern English Brown?  By a slightly more malty character?  A few extra IBUs of hops?  Sometimes the guidelines are so broad as to be of little use.  Besides, a lot of times the score isn't just the sum of the parts.  They were finding reasons for their conclusion that the beer was very good but maybe not excellent.  Take the individual comments with however many grains of salt you want, but don't assume your beer should have scored higher.  and if you're brewing strictly for competition, don't fight the guidelines.  When it says some is typical, that means its probably better to go that route than not.

PS hope that wasn't too blunt, I do see your point of view.
Title: Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
Post by: pweis909 on February 22, 2012, 04:58:13 AM
ThomasBarnes, thanks for your take on the style. Your detailed commentary will help me if I ever decide to brew this style expressly as a competition entry.

Tomsawyer, thanks for your thoughts on the difficulties of judging styles where there is overlap with other styles. I do appreciate that judges must look for reasons to rank one example over another. This was sort of where my original question was going (let me reiterate that I wasn't complaining about the scores). When style guidelines overlap, as they often do, is it fair to assume that judges will emphasize the non-overlapping part of a styles's spectrum? If so, it really changes what the competition is about. It's not about brewing the best beer that fits the American Brown Ale guidelines, but brewing the best American Brown Ale that is also distinctive enough to not also fit the other guidelines that happen to overlap with ABA. Maybe that is the best competition strategy?
Title: Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
Post by: tomsawyer on February 22, 2012, 01:28:02 PM
I'm not thinking about whether the beer fits another style actegory unless it is really out of place.  I wouldn't have said "better entered as Northern English brown" for a non=C hopped ABA.  But like your judges I would have been looking for some C-hops, even though the style guidelines do allow alternatives.  I'd see in the guidelines that this is allowed but it would probably affect my perception of the beer regardless.  If the beer were outstanding I'd find reasons not to ding it, if it were average I'd possibly make the comment.

Pretty subjective stuff, I know.  Its where I'm at in judging, I haven't tried every calibration beer just days prior to a comp.  In fact I usually don't know what I'm juding for more than a few days prior to the event, and I've been switched on occasion.
Title: Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
Post by: veldy on February 22, 2012, 03:57:41 PM
Brooklyn Brown Ale is an American Brown, but is malty at the finish and uses American Cs.  I bet it wouldn't pass muster in competition due to the fact that the Cs are not pronounced.  Yet, it is a favorite of mine.  Frankly, it is possible to make a beer that fits both the English Northern Brown and American Brown profiles and is probably why judges trend to judge the way they do.  My version uses American Northern Brewer and Fuggle, but all English grains and 1098 British yeast, and I consider it an English Northern, yet it is a near clone of Brooklyn Brown.

Sent from my DROID RAZR using Tapatalk
Title: Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
Post by: tomsawyer on February 22, 2012, 11:13:41 PM
If someone submitted a brown with the malt flavors of Brooklyn Brown, I'd be giving it 40+ regardless of the hopping level/character.
Title: Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
Post by: dannyjed on February 23, 2012, 12:22:45 AM
After reading this thread, it never really occured to me that an American Brown Ale should have citrus hop flavor/aroma.  I'm still learning about stlye guidelines.  In my own recipe, I have always used EKG and Williamete as flavor and aroma hops and I really like the results.  However, last weekend I used Cascade for flavor and aroma to see if I like it any better.  Just when I think I have a recipe nailed down I have to go and change it  :'(   Damn this beer ADD.
Title: Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
Post by: dmtaylor on February 23, 2012, 02:50:36 AM
It seems that in reality, American Brown Ale is broad enough that it can be whatever you want it to be, but like so many other American styles, if you are entering it into competition and you get the average intelligence BJCP judge, they want it to be hopped like an IPA.  This nation is fricking hop crazy to the point of insanity and non-sensical.

In the end, make what you like, and competitions be damned if they don't score it higher because they prefer more hops.  Occasionally, you might bump into a malthead like me.  You can hope and pray, but odds are against it in the USA.
Title: Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
Post by: thomasbarnes on February 23, 2012, 04:33:32 AM
In the end, make what you like, and competitions be damned if they don't score it higher because they prefer more hops.  Occasionally, you might bump into a malthead like me.  You can hope and pray, but odds are against it in the USA.

Not necessarily. I'm a malt-head.

I can appreciate hops for what they are, but on a gut level I still go for malt.

Malt is food. Hops are what you put into food so that it doesn't go bad.
Title: Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
Post by: dmtaylor on February 23, 2012, 12:30:14 PM
I think Americans are taking hops to a whole new level.  To me, beer is and should be a malt-based beverage.  But Americans everywhere are saying, nah, I want more hops.  This reminds me of the old Wendy's commercials..... it's as if hops have evolved to become the giant bun of the burger, and I'm constantly screaming the question, "Where's the malt?!?  Where's the malt!?!  I don't think there's anybody back there...."
Title: Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
Post by: tomsawyer on February 23, 2012, 01:17:11 PM
My average to below average sense as a judge certainly doesn't tell me a brown ale should be hopped like an IPA.  But an ABA should have some hop character, and I look for a citrus note.  To me its the reason there is an ABA style.  A little higher gravity doesn't work for me as a source of a new style.
Title: Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
Post by: anthony on February 23, 2012, 04:20:28 PM
There are a number of subcategories like this in the BJCP guidelines where many judges associate the entire subcategory with a specific classic example. Fundamentally, that doesn't mean that an American Brown with Williamette or EKG is any less American Brown than the same one with Cascade/Amarillo.

But the key to winning ribbons in subcategories like these is to make it easier on the judges. You want to make a base beer that is recognizable by every BJCP judge (certified to grand master) as an American Brown versus relying on a more experienced judge in the flight to explain to the other judges, "Actually, American Brown typically/optionally may have those hops but it isn't strictly required."

Once you have that unmistakable base beer developed (and assuming you have sound brewing practices, non-infected, etc.), your beer is going to float into the top 10% of a flight just by that fact alone. Then you work on the subtle details that will push the beer into best of show contention because if by some miracle your Williamette American Brown floats into the best of show otherwise, you may not find an advocate to wax poetically to all the other best of show judges about it, and it will be eliminated fairly early.

These things are just the nature of brewing for competition versus brewing for your own enjoyment or even brewing for the enjoyment of others.
Title: Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
Post by: weithman5 on February 23, 2012, 04:56:02 PM
I think Americans are taking hops to a whole new level.  To me, beer is and should be a malt-based beverage.  But Americans everywhere are saying, nah, I want more hops.  This reminds me of the old Wendy's commercials..... it's as if hops have evolved to become the giant bun of the burger, and I'm constantly screaming the question, "Where's the malt?!?  Where's the malt!?!  I don't think there's anybody back there...."

i agree. i really love the malt forward beers.  i do appreciate a hoppy beer on occasion but that is just for something different.   now i want to go get a vanilla malted milkshake but i gave up treats for lent.
Title: Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
Post by: gmac on February 24, 2012, 03:54:29 AM
I'd be interested to see how a beer did if you brewed a good APA.  Dropped in a few drops of sinamar and bottled it as an AAA, put in a some more and called it an ABA.  To me a beer style should be dictated by more than just a bit different colour (see CDA...) but I'm no beer judge. I have a good beer that I was going to enter as an AAA but it's not citrusy.  I'll probably do it anyway and see what happens but it does frustrate me a bit.
Title: Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
Post by: tomsawyer on February 24, 2012, 01:12:14 PM
I'd be interested to see how a beer did if you brewed a good APA.  Dropped in a few drops of sinamar and bottled it as an AAA, put in a some more and called it an ABA.  To me a beer style should be dictated by more than just a bit different colour (see CDA...) but I'm no beer judge. I have a good beer that I was going to enter as an AAA but it's not citrusy.  I'll probably do it anyway and see what happens but it does frustrate me a bit.
It'd probably do poorly.  Nobody says an ABA has to be really hoppy, we are just saying that "American" has come to mean citrus hops.  They should still be used at the appropriate rates for the style.  Yes the ABA an be as high as 40IBU and an APA can be as low as 30IBU, but it doesn't mean they'll do well in comps at these levels.
Title: Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
Post by: dmtaylor on February 24, 2012, 02:26:40 PM
...To me a beer style should be dictated by more than just a bit different colour (see CDA...) but I'm no beer judge.

I agree 1000%.  And I am a beer judge.  Not that it matters.
Title: Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
Post by: udubdawg on February 24, 2012, 04:28:26 PM
I would say you could expand this discussion to include American Stout.

Question:  How would perfect clones of Deschutes Obsidian Stout or Rogue Shakespeare Stout fair in competition as American Stout?
I think the feedback on these "classic examples" would very often include that they needed hops... 

Agree?  Disagree?

cheers--
--Michael
Title: Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
Post by: tomsawyer on February 24, 2012, 05:09:22 PM
Not Rogue, they lay on the hops.  I think Shakespeare is something like 60IBU.  I might ding it for that.

I'm not sure how much weight a judge would give to the classic examples part of the guidelines.
Title: Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
Post by: brewmanator on February 24, 2012, 05:37:11 PM
I would say you could expand this discussion to include American Stout.

Question:  How would perfect clones of Deschutes Obsidian Stout or Rogue Shakespeare Stout fair in competition as American Stout?
I think the feedback on these "classic examples" would very often include that they needed hops... 

Agree?  Disagree?

cheers--
--Michael

http://www.homebrewersassociation.org/pages/zymurgy/commercial-calibration/Brewery/22/shakespeare-stout

Only DH mentioned low hop character as an issue...

As far as American brown ales go.  We got a silver medal with an Am Brown in last year's NHC.  It was hopped with Willamette and Mt Hood and scored in the mid to high 30s in each round, but somehow rose to the top during the mini-BOS rounds.  Don't cave in to the American citrus hop bias for this style!  You can make an award winning American brown without them.
Title: Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
Post by: udubdawg on February 24, 2012, 05:49:06 PM
I would say you could expand this discussion to include American Stout.

Question:  How would perfect clones of Deschutes Obsidian Stout or Rogue Shakespeare Stout fair in competition as American Stout?
I think the feedback on these "classic examples" would very often include that they needed hops... 


http://www.homebrewersassociation.org/pages/zymurgy/commercial-calibration/Brewery/22/shakespeare-stout

Only DH mentioned low hop character as an issue...


Hmm, well, I guess my response would be that I said "very often"...and not very often will 4 Grandmaster Judges evaluate your American Brown/Stout in a competition...
and on a side note, I clearly need to get some fresher bottles of Shakespeare Stout so I can get some of these hops. A date, a date!  My kingdom for a bottling date! 

cheers--
--Michael
Title: Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
Post by: thomasbarnes on February 28, 2012, 02:25:12 AM
I think Americans are taking hops to a whole new level.  To me, beer is and should be a malt-based beverage.

I think that this is because American malts tend to be drier and "breadier" than continental malts. Also, most American beer drinkers are coming to craft beer having first experienced thin-bodied, effervescent, rather dry light lagers. Lots of hops on top of relatively low malt flavor is less of a transition than chewy, sweet, multi-layered malt character. Also, to be honest, a sweetish, malt-forward style beer isn't something you want to drink as a "lawnmower beer" on a hot day, and for most of the U.S. it gets damned hot for much of the year.

Even so, I don't get the American love affair with citrusy and piney hops. I go for the English and Noble types myself.

Even though the ABA guidelines say as much, many judges just see "American" in the name and assume that means that the beer should taste like a West Coast double IPA. That's wrong and it's lazy judging. Instead, it's more about the yeast and malt character and the balance of malt to hops.

But, as Anthony said, if you're brewing for competition, you want to make a beer which the average judge will recognize as being distinctly American. Also, typically ABA tend to get judged last in the American Ale category. That means that many judges will be mentally comparing ABA to American Pale Ales whether they realized it or not.

In a world with more perfect BJCP style guidelines, APA would be its own category given its popularity. ABA and American Amber would be off in their own little niche, perhaps combined with the English Brown Ales.
Title: Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
Post by: mabrungard on February 28, 2012, 02:45:42 PM
We just had the discussion of where ABAs should be judged in the flight of American Ales in our last Central Indiana Alliance (CIA) of Beer Judges meeting.  We came to the conclusion that ABA should be judged first.  They are typically less aggressively hopped and the roast level is typically insignificant.  In comparison to the hopping levels in American Pales, Ambers, and IPAs, they are more likely to be LESS indelible and leave the palate more available for further tasting.

It is fully understandable why a judge would assume that an American Brown Ale should have the hop character that is REQUIRED of every other American Ale style.  The allowance for that character to not be present in the style guidelines is an anachronism.  In my opinion, that allowance spreads this style too far and this suggests that another style division may need to be considered for hoppy brown ales that do not present American hop character.   Its clear that a hoppy brown ale is not going to fit in one of the English Brown categories and another style is needed.  Since that beer would not coordinate with the hallmark character of the American Ale category, it seems to me that this style could fall in the English Brown Ale category.  Brown Bitter or some other name comes to mind.
Title: Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
Post by: jmcamerlengo on February 28, 2012, 03:36:20 PM
We just had the discussion of where ABAs should be judged in the flight of American Ales in our last Central Indiana Alliance (CIA) of Beer Judges meeting.  We came to the conclusion that ABA should be judged first.  They are typically less aggressively hopped and the roast level is typically insignificant.  In comparison to the hopping levels in American Pales, Ambers, and IPAs, they are more likely to be LESS indelible and leave the palate more available for further tasting.

It is fully understandable why a judge would assume that an American Brown Ale should have the hop character that is REQUIRED of every other American Ale style.  The allowance for that character to not be present in the style guidelines is an anachronism.  In my opinion, that allowance spreads this style too far and this suggests that another style division may need to be considered for hoppy brown ales that do not present American hop character.   Its clear that a hoppy brown ale is not going to fit in one of the English Brown categories and another style is needed.  Since that beer would not coordinate with the hallmark character of the American Ale category, it seems to me that this style could fall in the English Brown Ale category.  Brown Bitter or some other name comes to mind.

I agree COMPLETELY.