A few months ago at the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival, I sat in the shade to wolf down some barbecue, momentarily pausing from my usual scurry between beer tents. I happened to be sitting with a handful of other beer writers from around the country, and as is our wont, we started talking shop. “If you could only drink five beer styles for the rest of your life, what would they be?” one of my fellow writers asked.
Most of our responses were similar. We couldn’t live without German pilsners, or saisons, or pale ales, or stouts. Some of us had a surprising fifth choice that spoke to our personal affections: barrel-aged stouts, or fruit beers, or hefeweizens. I drew some sideways looks with my fifth pick: Nut browns.
The not-very-sexily named style is of British origin, and has less hop character than American brown ales. I like nut browns because they’re full of caramel and bready malt flavors, but without the roast of a porter or stout. They’re spiritual cousins to American amber ales, perhaps: Smooth, malt-centric, not too boozy or hoppy. The best nut browns showcase a range of malt flavors: toffee, caramel, bread crust, slight nuttiness. They’re like a liquid version of really delicious brown bread.
Alas, nut browns aren’t a dime a dozen here in the States, but one British-brewed example is widely available: Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale. It’s considered one of the archetypes of the style, for good reason: It weaves the hallmark hazelnut flavor in between deeper bass notes of sesame seed and toasted rye bread, with the brewery’s house yeast strain adding a raisin-like aroma to the beer. For all that richness, it’s not overly heavy, though it has a creaminess that makes it feel more substantial than its 5% ABV.
This is a great beer alongside plenty of foods (malt-centric brown beers tend to be a sure bet, pairing-wise). Its toasty notes would be especially great alongside any type of peanut sauce-based dish, and its caramel and toffee make it appropriate even with dessert. You could pair it successfully with steak, roasted chicken, and smoked or fruit-flavored cheeses, just to name a few others. But I think this would really sing alongside sweet-tangy barbecue like pulled pork or ribs. If backyard barbecue is in your future, a few nut brown ales should be, too. As of just over a month ago, this beer is available in cans for the first time—making it even more backyard-friendly.
While I’m as loathe as anyone to admit that summer is nearly finished, but this beer has helped console me. At least we’re headed in the direction of nut brown season.
Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale is available year-round in all 50 states and select international locations. Find the distributor that carriers it in your area here.
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