Perhaps it’s left to us, the Dining section’s tasting panel, to rescue brown ales from marketing torpidity and reveal the vitality within, for these beers are anything but dull. Yes, they are quiet, subtle and even self-effacing. More important, they are delicious, and they especially shine with food....Eric Asimov, the Times' beer guy, knows how to write. If only he knew beer. I don't mind so much that of the 18 beers he assembled, only one is from the West Coast, or that it finished a tepid tenth in the taste-off. I don't even mind that he included, strangely, altbiers in the tasting. What I really mind is the overall failure to offer any kind of context for these decisions or the ultimate preferences. As a reader, how is anyone supposed to evaluate the difference between Avery's Ellie's Brown ("Brisk, with rich malt aromas. Fruit, mineral and bitter hop flavors") and Sam Smith's Nut Brown ("Strong malty aroma, with dry, brisk flavors that linger"). Both are brisk and richly/strongly malty.
As with great character actors who are so easy to take for granted, you have to pay close attention to brown ales to appreciate their virtue. They have roles to play — quenching thirst, facilitating conversation, sharpening the appetite — and they do it well. If by chance you notice the fine, almost sweet maltiness of the aroma, and the brisk, dry, mineral quality of the flavors, even better. More likely, it’s the absence of these qualities in a poor example that stands out, conveying the sense of something missing.
I might not have bothered mentioning all of this, but I have a bottle of the Beertown Brown, BridgePort's latest, in the fridge awaiting review. I'll try to do better in my review than "brisk."