[Sca-cooks] Brown Ale - was, Re: newbee cook attempting feast for the first timeindecember

Phil Troy / G. Tacitus Adamantius adamantius1 at verizon.net
Sat Jun 6 23:46:46 PDT 2009

On Jun 7, 2009, at 1:18 AM, Terry Decker wrote:

>>>> Do we have any strong evidence for the existence of dark malts in  
>>>> period? I'm pretty sure Digby and Plat never specify what kind of  
>>>> malt to use, or how to make it, and Markham tells how to make it,  
>>>> but never says anything (that I can recall) about roasting it; as  
>>>> far as I know, what he's using is raw, white malt.
>> At our event today, I noticed that one A&S entry was a lovely brown  
>> ale. I asked about roasted malts and was told they have roasted  
>> malt "as long as there have been ovens".  That's not proof thought.
>> Ranvaig
> Markham actually addresses this in his chapter on malt.  The malt is  
> dried to be light in color and sweet and he warns against  
> overcooking the malt (apparently a common problem), which may equate  
> to what we think of as roasting.

Possibly, except for Markham, some of whose (and even more so other  
sources') brews includes some unmalted grains and sometimes even  
things like beans, it appears that his desire for  [I think the  
expression is] "white and clear" malt is an expression of the desire  
for minimal enzyme destruction. A lot of this stuff doesn't convert to  
sugars on its own without help from the malt.

And he does call his process drying and refers to a gentle fire. Now,  
one could make the argument that this is evidence that some people did  
roast their malt brown, but I'm not sure this possibility constitutes  
the basis for a style name.

> A couple of other sources I looked at made a point that roasted malt  
> is used in producing porter and stout.  From the phrasing, it  
> suggested to me that brown ale might not use roasted malt.

The really dark malts, such as the chocolate and back patent varieties  
(note that these names themselves are certainly modern) are indeed  
used for porters and stouts (usually in conjunction with other, paler  
malts; the really dark stuff is usually pretty much enzyme-free), but  
most sources seem to agree that porters and stouts are probably no  
earlier than the 18th century.

But there are other malts that are roasted to some degree, enough to  
give them some color, without being quite so dark: Vienna, Munich (a  
fave of mine), and even English pale malt come to mind as examples.

I think the closest modern commercial malt product to Markham's white  
and clear malt is Pilsener malt. And most of us know what color  
Pilsener is.

>  A brewer's website provided some other information that light malt  
> is used in the preparation of most brown ales; http://www.beersmith.com/blog/2008/07/09/brown-ale-recipes-brewing-styles/ 
>  . The site also makes the point that what we refer to as "brown  
> ale" may have just been "ale" prior to formal usage of the term  
> "brown ale" beginning the early 18th Century.  While this make  
> linguistic sense, I'm hesitant to wholly accept the explanation  
> without references to support the logic.

Well, why change the terminology to include the qualifier at that  
point, then, if the beer hadn't changed? The only thing I can think of  
is that "brown" might be used not to distinguish that form of ale from  
lighter brews, but from the new, darker ones (which are almost black).

I'd just like to see some specific references to brown ale in period,  
or to instructions to actively and positively roast the malt until it  
has changed color to some extent. Otherwise I can't help thinking this  
may be one of those imposed, misinformed archaicisms, like calling a  
subdivision of a medieval feast a remove... it may have seemed like a  
great idea until somebody actually sat down and did that homework.


"Most men worry about their own bellies, and other people's souls,  
when we all ought to worry about our own souls, and other people's  
			-- Rabbi Israel Salanter

More information about the Sca-cooks mailing list