New Texas Brown Ale Has NorCal Homebrew Roots

I know what you’re thinking, “Texas Brown Ale? Who dreamed up that ridiculous sounding beer style?” Well, it’s origins stretch back to San Rafael, it evolved in Texas and eventually became what we know today as the American Brown Ale. You can now try a Texas version thanks to a newly released collaboration beer from Bear Republic Brewing, Fat Head’s and Stone Brewing called TBA. Bottles of it started hitting the shelves yesterday in select locations.

According to Internet lore, a homebrew shop in San Rafael called Great Fermentations spawned a new brown ale in the 1980’s. The proprietors, Jay Conner & Byron Burch, were simply bored with the traditional English-style and jacked up the crystal and chocolate malt, and like all good California brewers, pumped it full of Cascade hops. Apparently the results were delicious, but the category busting beer didn’t get any respect from the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) until it arrived in Texas.

That’s where homebrewer Scott Birdwell, founder of the Houston Foam Rangers club, created a new category for the hoppy brown ale in the Dixie Cup Homebrew Competition. It was dubbed the California Dark category. Birdwell saw how popular the recipe was when he visited Conner and Burch in San Rafael during a convention. West Coast brews were also getting a lot of attention at the time and he saw the need for another area of competition.

Shortly thereafter, the AHA took notice of the beer style, but decided to call it the Texas Brown Ale. According to Birdwell the beer “Obviously struck a note with homebrewers all over the country as this proved to be a popular style, and eventually the name evolved into American Brown Ale.”

As for the Bear Republic, Fat Head’s and Stone TBA, it apparently “incorporates a few new twists,” such as molasses and brown sugar. That was Richard Norgrove’s contribution, brewmaster at Bear Republic, who said, “Everyone got to add elements they feel are special to them for the beer style.” Their finished product topped out at 7.1% ABV and 81 IBU’s. It incorporated Pale 2–Row, Crystal 60, Toasted Wheat, Victory, and Chocolate Malt along with Bravo, Brewer’s Gold, Cascade, and Columbus hops.

Here’s a well-produced video about the collaboration:

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