Two weeks after their 800-pound canning line was stolen last summer, the brewers at Davenport’s Great River Brewery welcomed Charlene to their team. Hauled from Colorado on a rental truck, Charlene is the brewery’s new canning machine. While speaking over the phone with Great River brewer Paul Krutzfeldt last month, I could hear Charlene rumbling in the background, perhaps canning February’s beer of the month: Farmer Brown Ale.
This is nothing like the ubiquitous English brown ale that is sold in clear bottles at most grocery and convenient stores. No sir. And, while it has been a long time since I last drank a Newcastle, the two brews don’t compare. Farmer Brown Ale is brown ale to the extreme. In fact, it puts some stouts to shame.
Available in 16-ounce cans, Farmer Brown Ale is perfect for serving in an imperial (20-ounce) pint glass. (A regular, “shaker” pint glass will do, but it is a touch too small for an ideal pour.) When I first tasted Farmer Brown Ale from a can, its color and smell made me wonder if the folks at Great River had mistakenly canned their regular stout. Nope. The beer is a luscious, deep brown color that is almost black. A finger or more of creamy, buttery tan-colored head will dissipate slowly and leave an uneven thin ring around the edge.
The smell is rich and malty. Along with a general nuttiness (Great River considers it an “American Nut Brown Ale”), there are aromas of roasted malts, coffee, molasses, brown sugar, toffee, caramel and dark fruit. The mouthfeel is smooth and creamy, almost reminiscent of an oatmeal stout. Though the taste does not feature as much roasted bitterness as the smell, it is still quite toasty, and flavors of brown sugar, molasses, toffee, caramel and cherry licorice blend together nicely. The comparatively high ABV is well-masked, though hints of alcohol do emerge as the beer warms.