The brown ale market is enormous. Of course, the lion’s share goes to the ubiquitous Newcastle Brown, although Vaux Double Maxim and Manns Brown Ale do quite well, too, and some northern regionals also dabble in this sector. But it’s surprising that even more brewers haven’t seen the potential of this style of beer.
Wye Valley is the latest to try its hand by launching Dorothy Goodbody’s Blissful Brown Ale. Dorothy Goodbody, as most readers will know, does not actually exist.
She’s just a seductive blonde dreamt up to adorn the pump clips of the brewery’s seasonal ales and has also become the pin-up girl of the company’s bottle labels.
At the risk of sounding camp, I declare that I’m a friend of Dorothy. I enjoy her Summer Ale; her Country Ale is a terrific strong brew and her Wholesome Stout simply one of the best. With great anticipation I awaited the arrival of her bottle of brown.
Being bottle conditioned, I knew the beer would taste fresh and complex, but I wondered what style of brown ale Jimmy Swan, Wye Valley’s brewer, had chosen to follow.
Would it be the sweet, soft southern style epitomised by Manns or the harder-edged, stronger northern type of brown that first saw the light of day on Tyneside?Third Way
It turned out to be a cross between the two, or perhaps even, to borrow a political idea, a third way. Dorothy’s Brown is up there with Newcastle’s Broon in strength but has the softness of mouthfeel and generosity of malt sweetness you’d relate more to the southern take on the style.
But what really sets the beer apart are the hops – not too bitter, as that would be stylistically out of character, but lavish and extravagant in another way. Four strains are used – Target, Fuggle, Challenger and Golding – and they contrive to produce a deep, juicy fruitiness.
Blackcurrant, in particular, shines through, a vibrant, colourful contrast to the smooth, nutty, lightly toffee-like malt that forms the foundation of the beer.
That succulent berry note continues even into the dry finish, despite the growing presence of roasted grain and a developing bitterness that puts early sweetness in its place and contrives to make you reach for another glass.
If I’m being picky, then I’d say the beer drinks a bit thin for its strength, but otherwise it’s a pleasure of a beer, clean, tasty and surprisingly delicate for a brown ale.
Blissful? That’s not a bad description.