What Can Brown Do For You Today? Battle Brown Ale

What Can Brown Do For You Today? Battle Brown Ale
Dave Lieberman

After confessing in an earlier article that I am a dévoté of Newcastle, I repeated it on my Facebook page, and there was this moment of palpable, stunned silence, followed by a stream of suggestions both common and esoteric. Since I am never one to turn down an opportunity to drink and get paid for it, the following is a comparison of the famous Geordie brew with its most common competitor, Mission St. Brown Ale by Firestone Walker Steinhaus Brewing.

The first bottle of each was skunked. (Damn it.) After driving back to TJ's, cursing a blue streak and calmly--calmly, I say--talking to management, I got a replacement of the Mission St., then replaced the Newcastle at the liquor store I purchased it at with slightly more discussion. (It should come as no shock that a small-time liquor store would be less interested in replacing beer than Trader Joe's.)

Both were poured 15 minutes from refrigerator-cold, in an approximation of cask temperature.

What Can Brown Do For You Today? Battle Brown Ale
Dave Lieberman

To look at the beers once poured into glasses, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference with a casual look. Held up to a light bulb, the Mission St. was more ruby and had a tanner head (though it lightened as it shrank); the Newcastle head was whiter but fuller for the same pour.

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The scent was the same; the color was nearly the same. The taste, however, was quite different. There was a strange flatness on the "crest" of the Mission St., a strange disappearance of flavor, whereas the Newcastle tasted "brown" the whole way through the sip. The alcohol was more pronounced in the Mission St. (which is 5.7% ABV to Newcastle's 4.7% ABV), whereas the Newcastle tasted nuttier. Neither had strong hops nor cloying sweetness.

Most people I've talked to who've had both talked about Mission St. being a better value due to its low price. While it is a low price--a bomber (22 fl. oz. / 650 mL) is $1.99--the large bottle of Newcastle (18.6 fl. oz. / 550 mL) was only $2.69. Though that's more expensive by nearly 60%, I don't feel the Newcastle was a bad bargain, and I didn't exactly shop around; I just went to the nearest corner liquor store.

Would I drink both? Absolutely. Would I make a special trip to Trader Joe's to buy Mission St. Brown Ale over Newcastle Brown Ale, which I can buy from practically any liquor store in the county? No.

Let me close by asking--nay, beseeching--the local Orange County Bräumeister and Bräumeisterinnen to please, please, please make a brown ale. The Bruery's Black Orchard was as close as I've found in OC; if anyone knows any differently, let me know. I'd love to have a local option.


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