Homebrew Recipe: Wheaty Brown

Illustration by David Witt

This recipe appears in Michael Dawson’s book, “Mashmaker: A Citizen-Brewer’s Guide to Making Great Beer at Home.” Learn more at mashmakerbook.com.

Poor, unloved brown ale. It’s not IPA, so almost by default nobody cares. It doesn’t have the cultural cachet of Irish stout or Scottish ales. It’s not mild or bitter, so the session beer trend seems to have overlooked it.

This month, let’s embrace khaki. Let’s make a strength out of standard gravity and malty brownness. Let’s face English-style yeast character, a full body, and caramel flavors, and turn in instead of turn away.

Let’s also load it up with a truckload of wheat for a milkshake texture and a collar of foam that could float a quarter.

Going by the Numbers

A sweet and caramelly southern-style English brown ale will be our general roadmap, but a good bit bigger. We’ll aim for a deep garnet-mahogany (20 SRM) beer with about 5–5.5% ABV from an original gravity of 1.055 or so. A modest hopping level of around 25 IBU will stay in the background, behind the array of malts we’ll recruit for color and flavor.

What Makes It Tick

Southern English browns are sometimes described as a little bit stronger, bottled version of dark mild, or a weaker, paler sweet stout—sweet and caramelly-fruity from a combo of low hopping rates, high final gravity, and low carbonation. Crystal or caramel malts, plus some wheat are commonly incorporated. So we’ll do all that, just more of it.

Especially more wheat—a higher-than-normal proportion in the grist will play up any bready, doughy aromas and flavors that may be contributed by the yeast strain (more on this later). Since wheat as a grain is so high in protein, its biggest impact will be on body and mouthfeel—think of the fluffy, billowy texture of a hefeweizen, and the impressive rocky head of cauliflower-like froth that tops it. That physical and visual sensation grafted onto the substantial flavors and color of a brown ale… trendiness sounds overrated.

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