This week’s Canada’s Craft Beer post comes from our Eastern Canada craft beer guy, David Ort, as he looks at brown ales as a possible contender for a great summer beer.

Canada's Craft Beer - Brown Ales: a Dark Horse Summer Beer | Food Bloggers of Canada

With their orange slices and added spices, wheat beers get most of the play in the summer beer rotation. Low-proof pale ales and crisp, juicy saisons also do their best to quench hot weather thirst. Brace yourselves for possible controversy: I think brown ales are a dark horse candidate to join this group of the integral beers of summer.

Sure, they aren't light and spritzy, but they do have one key element in their favour. British-style brown ales are, without exception, the very best beer to pair with grilled red meat. That's not just my personal preference talking, I can also back the assertion up with a bit of flavor science.

The first principle at work is that the proteins in grilled meat are transformed by the same reaction that darkens the proteins and sugar in dark barley malt. Namely, the Maillard reaction is at work any time food acquires a dark, flavourful exterior as it is heated to about 300°F.

A sip of brown ale combined with a bite of steak brings the two sets of similar flavours together and automatic comparison helps us appreciate the full depth of subtle differences. Furthermore, beer gets a boost from the salt in the food, and the food flavours are brightened by the alcohol in the steak.

Black Oak Nut Brown

In a dimpled pint mug, Black Oak’s Nut Brown is a medium mahogany brown with a cap of tan foam. Toasted brown bread, toffee, and roasted walnuts all feature in the aroma. Subtle elements of bitterness from both hops and roasted malt feature in the flavour. This been has a smooth, creamy mouth feel.

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ABV 5% Available in ON

Gahan Iron Bridge Brown Ale

Canada's Craft Beer - Brown Ales: a Dark Horse Summer Beer | Food Bloggers of Canada

This brown ale from PEI Brewing Company,  is a clear, dark brown to chestnut-red at the edges. Its aroma features dark chocolate, prunes and other dried, dark fruit, and a roasted maltiness. The flavour adds a subtle nuttiness to these elements, plus a touch of hop bitterness for balance.

Iron Bridge was formerly known as Iron Horse Brown Ale. The name was changed to avoid confusion with the Ironhorse Strong Malt by Pacific Western. As well, the beer has been relabelled as Colonel John Hamilton Gray Brown Ale – to honour the chairman of the Charlottetown Conference – for the commemorative Fathers’ Mix Pack.

ABV 6% Available in PEI, NB, NS, and ON

Summer cookouts are by no means the only arena in which brown ale is a champion. Once that dreaded day arrives when we cover our grills for their winter rest we can put brown ales to good use beside pot roasts and other meat braises. The style also stands ably on its own. In its spiritual home of northeastern England it was popular as a quitting-time refresher for factory workers.

David Ort writes about food, travel, and craft beer for various online and print publications. His first book, The Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook, is in bookstores and available for purchase online. For more of his thoughts on all things edible and potable follow him on Twitter or get in touch with him at

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