Author Topic: American Brown Style Guidelines  (Read 3997 times)

Offline pweis909

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American Brown Style Guidelines
« on: February 18, 2012, 12:09:26 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).

Offline tygo

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Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
« Reply #1 on: February 18, 2012, 12:28:03 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.
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Offline jlap

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Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
« Reply #2 on: February 18, 2012, 12:48:55 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.

Offline pweis909

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Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
« Reply #3 on: February 18, 2012, 02:54:38 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.

Offline mabrungard

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Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
« Reply #4 on: February 18, 2012, 04:01:45 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.     
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Offline barliman

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Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
« Reply #5 on: February 19, 2012, 08:10:38 AM »
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. 

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Offline mightybrewmouse

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Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
« Reply #6 on: February 19, 2012, 07:17:13 PM »
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.


Offline thomasbarnes

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Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
« Reply #7 on: February 21, 2012, 03:44:39 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.

Offline tomsawyer

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Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
« Reply #8 on: February 21, 2012, 01:03:31 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.
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Offline pweis909

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Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
« Reply #9 on: February 21, 2012, 09:58:13 PM »
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?

Offline tomsawyer

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Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
« Reply #10 on: February 22, 2012, 06:28:02 AM »
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.
Lennie
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Offline veldy

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Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
« Reply #11 on: February 22, 2012, 08:57:41 AM »
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.

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Offline tomsawyer

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Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
« Reply #12 on: February 22, 2012, 04:13:41 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.
Lennie
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Offline dannyjed

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Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
« Reply #13 on: February 22, 2012, 05:22:45 PM »
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.
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Offline dmtaylor

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Re: American Brown Style Guidelines
« Reply #14 on: February 22, 2012, 07:50:36 PM »
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.
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