• “Nut Brown” Not as Nutty as you Think.


    Before I say anything in support of the claim I just made in the headline, I have evidence to share. The first is a series of beer reviews and tasting notes of brown ales from various sources. Take note of the words I put in bold.

    Here’s one I found while doing beer media recon:
    Ithaca Nut Brown Ale
    “Creamy dark chocolate and coffee flavors fade to rich, roasted nuts and sweet caramel. Floral notes and lemon sourness suggest a zippy beer, but while it’s well-balanced, the carbonation is mild and the body is thin.

    From the same story
    Cigar City Bolita Double Nut Brown
    “The aroma is intense, with notes of hazelnut, dark chocolate, bread dough, and caramel. The intense and powerful flavor lingers in a long finish; sweet toffee, coconut, macadamia, and coffee swirl around with a mild herbal bitterness and fruity tartness. The mouthfeel is creamy, and some alcohol is apparent. This beer succeeds by being pretty good at everything.

    From the Bros on Beeradvocate

    Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale
    “Taste: Smooth with a creamy textured mouth feel coming from the medium body. Sweet up front then leaning more towards dryish nutty finish.”

    From Samuel Smith’s web site
    Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale
    “best barley malt, yeast and aromatic hops; fermented in ‘stone Yorkshire squares’ to create a relatively dry ale with rich nutty colour and palate of beech nuts, almonds and walnuts.

    Part of a review from a Beeradvocate member
    Newcastle Brown Ale
    “T: Sweet brown ale with a good nutty background. Hints of coca powder and toasted malts.”

    From an article I found on the Chicago Tribune web site
    “The template for many American craft breweries’ brown ales is Newcastle Brown Ale, a well-balanced, reddish-brown beer with sweet caramel and toffee notes and a dry, nutty character.”

    Now, for some quick notes. Let’s look at the malt bill for Goose Island’s Nut Brown Ale: “Two-Row, Caramel, Wheat, Dark Chocolate, Victory.”

    And the malt bill for Tommyknocker’s Maple Nut Brown Ale: Two-row, munich, 75 crystal, 150 crystal, cara-pils, chocolate.

    And finally, Ithaca’s Nut Brown Ale malt bill: Two-Row Pale, Munich, British Amber, Crystal, and Chocolate

    You see these malts quite often in a variety of beers. Flavor descriptors I frequently see for these malts are “Caramel, toasty, bready” that sort of thing. But never “nutty,” that is, unless they appear in a beer called “Nut Brown.” Then, suddenly, they’re nutty.

    I honestly believe the gentlemen that have reviewed these beers, as well as many others that have reviewed a brown ale (myself included), are tasting things that are not in any of these beers. Furthermore, I don’t think anyone would taste nutty flavors in these beers if the word “Nut” did not appear in their titles. If it were simply “Samuel Smith Brown Ale” or “Ithaca Brown Ale,” I wonder how different the reviews would be. Though I suppose that doesn’t apply to the reviews of Newcastle.

    You’ll be wanting my reasons for thinking this. I have two.

    The first is found in the breakdown of the term “Nut Brown Ale.” Insert a hyphen between “Nut” and “Brown.” That will give you the compound adjective of “Nut-brown,” which then describes “Ale.” “Brown,” in its adjective form, of course means “of the color brown,” and it’s helped along by the word “nut” to specify what kind of brown we’re talking about. So no matter what way you slice it, “nut brown” is meant to describe the color of the “ale.” Not the flavor. It’s not “Brown Nut Ale,” it’s “Nut Brown Ale.” Though I guess that wouldn’t make much of a difference.

    The second reason is far less matter of fact than the first. Let’s say a brewery made a pale, straw gold, sparkly looking beer and called it “Captain Whosisbrew’s Lemon Nectar,” but there were no lemons in the brew. I have a sneaking suspicion that if it were the subject of a panel review, a fair amount of the reviews would mention they were tasting lemon zest, citrus or the like. I do believe there’s something to the idea that hearing a word or seeing a color will make you taste something that isn’t there. It really isn’t too absurd when you think about it. If you saw the words “Nut” or “Chocolate” printed on a beer label would you not expect to taste nuts or chocolate even though both of those words can describe color?

    I do acknowledge that everyone is capable of tasting something different, but you would have a hard time convincing me that the word “Nut” in “Nut Brown Ale” doesn’t nudge people into thinking nonexistent nutty flavors are in the beer they’re drinking. So just remember, Nut Brown = Color. Not flavor. And if you’re particularly curious, try to track down the brewing spec of the beer you’re drinking. Some American-made nut browns, such as this one, are brewed with nut extracts. So “nutty” nut browns are out there. But they’re certainly in the minority.

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