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Belt’s Beer Garden: Brown and Out

Black Hog’s Granola Brown Ale & Mt. Carmel’s Nut Brown Ale

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This week I take a departure from the normal hoppy brews that I usually feature to showcase a few brown ales...one of the best brews for this fall weather we’re starting to get up here.

First up, a New England brewery that combines granola and beer.

Black Hog is one of Connecticut’s newest breweries, opening back in 2014 in Oxford - a small town of about 13,000 people located 15 miles northwest of New Haven. The owners come from families where food and drinks are the main focus and their favorite way to celebrate special occasions was a pig roast…a black, Berkshire hog being the breed of choice.

Currently, they’re only available in the northeast – Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island – and in Washington, D.C..

Today I have one of their most popular brews and a winner of a gold medal at the 2016 World Beer Cup, their Granola Brown Ale – a brown ale made with a plethora of oatmeal and malts (nine varieties in total), grains, and three different hops.

A six-pack of cans runs $11, which is a smidge more than usual but nothing too bad. Each 12-ounce can has a decent 5.7% ABV and a mere 18 IBU.

It poured a very dark brown, nearly black color (don’t let the picture above fool you, as it was much lighter when the sun hit it) with just under a finger of eggshell white head topping it off. Very, very quickly the bubbles disperse and, in less than a minute, I was left with a mere dusting across the top and nothing else.

On the nose this was a very sweet-smelling brown ale and certainly had all the fixings you’d find in a granola bar. The malts gave off a slightly roasted nut aroma while the grains put forth a sweet caramel scent. There were hints of coffee and a dash of hops that put forth some light stone fruit aromas.

My first swig began with a semi watery mouthfeel and a small sting of carbonation before the flavors began to pop up.

It was smooth and sweet up front and very much like a blended, liquified granola bar. Lightly roasted peanuts and bready grains led the way. I could even taste some raisins somehow…maybe my mind just filled in the gaps.

After a moment or two a strong coffee flavor came forward with a surprisingly bitter twinge; not like that hoppy bite in most beers but rather like I had just had a sip of black coffee.

Finally, as everything was nearing a close, there was another burst of sugary-sweetness with a hint of citrus (most likely from the hops). Just a dash of tangerine and orange poked their heads out behind the malts before retreating again as Granola Brown came to an end.

And this brown ale ended rather cleanly, there was no real aftertaste just some of that coffee ground bitterness that lingered for a few moments after each sip.

It’s almost like this was a complete breakfast in one beer…a granola bar, coffee, and some fruit with nearly 6% alcohol…what a way to start off the day. It was certainly a very solid brown ale and I can see why so many people dig it!

Next up, an Ohio brewery’s take on a nut brown.

Mt. Carmel is Cincinnati, Ohio’s oldest running brewery and get their name from the neighborhood they started in. Beginning back in 2005, they offer five year-round brews in addition to a handful of seasonal and other specialty brews. Right now, you can find them throughout Ohio and in northern Kentucky.

Today I have one of their five staple beers, their Nut Brown Ale – which clocks in at a very solid 6% ABV and has 38 IBU. A six-pack of bottles runs the usual $10.

The beer poured a dark mahogany color with hints of amber peaking through when the light hits it. About a finger of mostly tan head flowed upwards but, relatively quickly, faded down into just a slight accumulation around the edge of the glass.

It certainly smelled like a nutty brown ale. Roasted hazelnut dominated the scent but was not alone, as hints of a coffee-like bitterness and a sweeter maple syrup characteristic lingered not too far behind the hazelnut aroma.

My first swig started with a surprisingly strong fizz of carbonation from the beer. It was surprisingly thin and had a somewhat watery mouthfeel to it.

Once the carbonation had started to fade, the flavors began to swarm. But it wasn’t dominated by the hazelnut like the smell had been.

Instead, the maple syrup sweetness starts it all out before the nutty qualities begin to mix their way in to the taste. And, soon after, the two main ingredients are merged in to a surprisingly tasty balance of sweet and earthy flavors.

Midway through, some of those coffee notes break through and add a gritty bitterness to the beer that the malts try to erase with flavors of caramel and toffee…but it doesn’t quite work and, although it’s not too severe, the 38 IBU are somewhat noticeable here.

As the flavors begin to run their course, this brown ale ends with some stickiness (probably from the maple syrup qualities) and a low-level bitter hum that sits at the back of the tongue for a few moments before finally faded away like the rest of the flavors.

All in all, this was a nice and balanced brown ale. The hazelnuts stood out but were complimented nicely by that maple sweetness.

Fall is the perfect time of year for an easy drinking brown ale, and Mt. Carmel has created that with this one. While I’m not a huge fan of the style myself, I do enjoy what they have crafted here and those that do like brown ales will certainly like this one!