Back in Brown

They say Texan homebrewers invented brown ale. (At least, the modern version.) Knowing their reputation, we don’t doubt it. It’s the hardest style to make, in our opinion — not too sweet, not too dry, not too roasted… It needs an experienced hand.

Makes sense too that the folks at Anchor perfected it.

Anchor’s beers are always more about the body than the kick. Rich, even chewy, but light on the booze and damn easy to drink. The brewery has been around longer than anyone else, and Mark Carpenter has been brewing there almost from the beginning (he started in 1971). We wanted to know how he toys with a new style—or how someone so deep in a groove of classic, balanced beers shakes things up. Turns out, it’s a lot like how we do it: find a new hop, dust off an old recipe, and play around.

It started on a trip to Yakima. Mark was picking up some hops, and scoping out the fields for anything new. A hop grower named Gene Probasco had a new aroma hop called Citra that, after ten years of testing, was finally being released. Citra has a really delicate, mango-y smell, and hops like that don’t come around too often, these days. “Usually, growers work on disease-resistant hops, or on bittering hops,” Mark told us. “They’ll put themselves out of business with all those crazy high-alpha-acid hops. You’ll only need one cone to bitter a whole barrel of beer.” But a new aroma hop? That was interesting.

Breweries like Sierra Nevada got hip to Citras too, and were pouring bales of them into double IPAs, like Sierra’s Torpedo. That’s not for Anchor. Their hoppiest beer, Liberty Ale, is delicious, but mild. (The first dry-hopped beer in the country, drinkers called it way too hoppy when it came out in 1975.) “I’m not into using too many hops,” Mark said. “And I didn’t want to do a pale.” They already had Humming Ale, which showcased the trendy Nelson Sauvin hop. So Mark dug through the Anchor archives and found a brown.

In 1984, ’85, and ’86, Anchor’s famous Christmas Ale was actually a brown ale. (The current spiced version of the Christmas Ale was a recent change. Mark didn’t think it would last.) It was a perfect pair: mild enough to let even a dash of Citra shine though, but deep enough to balance the hop’s tropical high notes. He named it Brekle’s, after Anchor’s first brewer in 1871. New hop, old recipe, older name: another iconic beer from Anchor.