While pumpkin ales and Oktoberfests get all the shine during autumn, the lowly brown ale gets left out. No one is fawning over brown ales on Instagram, nor waiting in line for hours to secure the latest brown ale release. So how do you redeem this oft-overlooked style?
Well, if you are Indiana-based Upland Brewing Company, you spice it up (literally) and barrel-age it with some souring lambic yeast. The result is Darken, a barrel-aged sour brown ale with “nearly the entire spice rack...including star anise, ginger, grains of paradise, black pepper, and coriander.” They had me at sour brown ale, but I’m interested to see if all those spices add anything or muddy the waters.
Darken pours, well, dark. It looks more like a stout than a brown ale in the glass with a deep, dark brown hue. The aroma belies the brown ale base and heavy handed spice additions. It’s pretty subtle, and nearly all of the aroma present is a light tartness with just a hint of the spices.
While the aroma may not give away the spice addition, one sip announces their presence. There is a lot going on Darken. The spices are ever present but not overwhelming, accentuating a robust, charry base beer. The sour qualities in Darken never hit the level of puckering my mouth with more of a slow rise and fall than any sort of potent peak. In the end though, it’s that full-bodied brown ale base that shines on each sip.
In short, Darken is beautifully crafted, elevating the humble brown ale to new heights. With Darken, Upland showed that no style should be ignored—at least not when it comes from this Midwest brewer.