There are three major styles of brown ale, according to Brew Your Own Magazine and the Beer Judge Certification Program: The sweet Southern English Brown Ale, the nutty Northern English Brown Ale, and the hoppier American Brown Ale. Some brewers, such as Samuel Smith even refer to the second style as “Nut Brown Ale.” The Boston Beer Company’s Sam Adams Hazel Brown clearly harkens to that tradition.
The beer pours a deep mahogany color and clear, with a big frothy white head that dwindles. What lingers leaves some lacing down the glass. The first scent and the strongest flavor are of hazelnuts. The nut flavor is so strong it makes one think of flavored coffee (although the beer tastes much less artificial). The beer is not actually made with nuts, but the nuttiness is so strong and clear, you might find yourself double checking the label to be sure. Other than the nut flavors, there’s some caramel sweetness and some apple cider tartness. The finish is roasty (with a little chocolate) but not too dry. Hops don’t make too strong a statement, adding some leafiness and a bit of lemon pucker. The overall flavor is a bit like Smuttynose Brewing's Old Brown Dog.
There are lots of hop-heavy IPA’s or super-roasty stouts on the market, but brown ales tend to aim for balance. This one however puts one flavor clearly forward. Hazel Brown is a really interesting take on the Nut Brown style and might go over well with nut-lovers or coffee drinkers.