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Classic Beer of the Month October 2015: Manns Brown Ale

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Manns Brown Ale, 2.8%

Brown ale is one of the forgotten greats of the beer world. Those of us who cut our drinking teeth before the 1990s will remember seeing little bottles of this dark nectar sitting on shelves behind the bars of many pubs.

Manns Brown AleCustomers liked to drink them as a change from, or to mix with, draught beers, perhaps adding a bit of life to a somewhat flat pint.

Then came the great upheaval in the beer market, when thousands of pubs that once belonged to national breweries ended up in the pockets of pub groups.

The umbilical cord that connected pubs to breweries was, in many cases, instantly severed, and small-run beers such as brown ale, that existed only because the brewers had guaranteed outlets for them, slipped away.

Of course, the decline had set in years before as customers gradually lost interest in brown ale, along with mild, during the 1960s, aided by the brewers' disinclination to promote them. Names such as Whitbread's Forest Brown and Bass Toby Brown had little future.

One of the great rivals to these brands is still with us, however, although it has needed the kiss of life on a couple of occasions to keep its heart beating.

London Roots

Manns Brown Ale was first brewed in 1902. Its home was Whitechapel, London, but over time it became associated with the south of England in general, as the typical 'southern' brown ale. Its lower alcohol and sweeter taste marked it out from the more robust northern equivalents such as Vaux Double Maxim and Newcastle Brown Ale.

Manns was swallowed up by Watney's in 1958 and the beer was subsequently brewed elsewhere in the Watney (later Grand Metropolitan) empire, most notably at Ushers of Trowbridge, Wiltshire.

With the exit of Grand Metropolitan from the brewing industry, the Ushers brewery became independent for a while but then the axe fell in 2000. Manns Brown Ale was homeless.

Happily, it was rescued by the beer marketing business Refresh UK, which commissioned it to be brewed by Thomas Hardy in Burtonwood. With Refresh selling up to Marston's in 2008, Manns is resident today in Burton-on-Trent.

I'm sure Marston's wouldn't claim it to be one of their biggest sellers, but it survives and is always worth checking out.

Dark ruby in colour, the beer is quite slender in body, as you would expect from the modest 2.8% alcohol, but it's not short of flavour.

Caramel and bitter chocolate notes are derived from the crystal and black malts used in the mash tun, and there's a distinct sugary character. Hops and roasted grains build to provide a touch more bitterness in the finish.

It makes a great gluggable option when you don't want much alcohol and can't bear the thought of a soft drink.

Brown ale is in a better state today than it's been for many a year, thanks to the revivalist instincts of the new generation of brewers and the clever twist that US brewers have given to the style, courtesy of those fruity American hops.

But there's still room in my store cupboard for a bottle or two of good old Manns. It's a shame that pub shelves are no longer as accommodating.

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