Beer Man

A GABF Sweep for Colorado Reinvigorates Boring Old Brown Ales

Brown. It's not a sexy word or a sexy color, and to most craft-beer drinkers, brown ales typically signify a boring beverage. But brown turned into gold, silver and bronze earlier this month when Colorado breweries swept the American-style Brown category at the Great American Beer Festival.

In other words, brown is on the rebound.

Telluride Brewing, which already owns gold medals for its Face Down Brown at both the 2012 World Beer Cup and GABF, won another gold this year. Diebolt Brewing, which opened in September 2013, took silver. And Upslope Brewing in Boulder, which won a 2012 silver at GABF for its Brown Ale, took bronze.

See also: Hats and Beards and the People of the 33rd Annual Great American Beer Festival

"I think people are turned off by beers that are named after a color, and it's usually not the first beer I have if I go to a taproom," acknowledges Upslope head brewer Sam Scruby. "But ours is super-versatile -- I always call it our best food beer. And it's not as heavy as people think it is, so it won't fill you up. It shouldn't be overlooked."

"The brown is kind of one of those styles that got a little bit left behind. You don't see tons of them out there," says Jack Diebolt of Diebolt Brewing.

"A lot of the original beer styles have kind of lost their identity. There has been a big arms race in craft brewing where people are trying to one-up each other with their beers," Diebolt adds, explaining that the original styles were like stones tossed into a pool and that they changed over time as the ripples went out from there and brewers tried new things. "But for us, we didn't want to get caught up in that. We just wanted to go back to the first stone."

The Brewers Association, which hosts GABF, describes the American-Style Brown Ale as being colored a deep copper to very dark brown with a medium amount of "roasted malt caramel-like and chocolate-like" flavors and aroma, a lower hop aroma, and a medium to high amount of hop bitterness.

English-Style brown ales are described in a similar fashion, although with a more biscuit-like or toasted character from the malt and a much lower hop bitterness.

In 2013, both City Star Brewing in Berthoud and a Colorado outlet of Rock Bottom medaled for this style; in fact, Rock Bottom won medals in this category from 2010 through 2013.

Interestingly, both Diebolt and Telluride lead brewer Sam Enders describe their beers as being crossovers between the two styles.

"A lot of people thinks browns are dull. But we are all hop-heads here, so we wanted to make a brown that we would drink," Enders says, adding that brewery owner Chris Fish created the recipe with English malts and American hops. "And he knocked it out of the park on the first try."

"We were actually shooting for an English brown," adds Diebolt, who would like to do a collaboration brown ale with both Telluride and Upslope to celebrate their wins. "It's sort of a hybrid, but done with more flair and more hops."

All three brown ales are year-round offerings from their respective breweries.

"The goal next year is to beat those guys in Telluride," Scruby says with a laugh.

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes