March 1, 2012

The history of Texas Brown Ales

DeFalcos in the Eighties

Brad Kraus (left) & Scott Birdwell (right) in front of the original location in the mid-late 80's

In the course of discussing an opportunity for local homebrewers to come up with their own variation of the HB 660 Brown Ale, I’ve been enlightened about the origin of our own American brown ale style.  Scott Birdwell, owner of DeFalco’s Home Wine and Beer Supplies in Houston since 1978, played an integral part in founding the Houston Foam Rangers homebrew club in 1981. Scott had the following to say about Texas brown ales:

The history of Texas Brown Ales goes back to the early 80′s when I was attending a convention in San Rafael, California.  I was visiting Jay Conner & Byron Burch, owners of a homebrew shop, Great Fermentations.  They had a flyer for recipe for Purple Passion Dark Ale with John Bull Dark Malt Extract, crystal & chocolate malts, and a ton of hops.  This was a popular recipe with their customers and did well in local and regional homebrew competitions, but got slammed in the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) & HWBTA Nationals for not meeting the style guidelines for “Brown Ales” (assumed to be British brown ales).

It was true that these beers didn’t conform to traditional brown ale standards; they were too dark and too bitter.  But, man, they were popular on the West Coast, becoming increasingly popular on the Gulf Coast, and were damn good beers!  The Houston homebrew club, The Foam Rangers, were in the infancy of the Dixie Cup Homebrew Competition at that time and I decided to include a category for these brews.

The competition already had a category called “No Commercial Comparisons,” in which the entries didn’t meet commercial standards (at least the commercial beers available at that time).  We decided to call the new category “California Dark” in deference to our friends on the West Coast.  The category was an immediate success, even if we weren’t overwhelmed with entries like we were in 1990 when we were the first to recognize “American Pale Ale” as a separate style.

The AHA immediately picked up on the California Dark category, but curiously decided to name the style “Texas Brown Ale” in deference to us (nice, but we weren’t the brewing innovators — just the competition innovators).  Obviously this 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.”  This is probably an appropriate name given its widespread popularity.  These days I consider “Texas Brown Ales” to be “extreme” American Brown Ales: O.G. at least 1.060 and 40 IBU’s, but that may just be me.


  1. Ben Mercier says:

    To us, here up North, the TX. Brown Ale has been some kind of a myth for a couple of years. I’ve heard about through some home brewer friends and decided to brew my interpretation of the style. It’s been since a favorite at our brewery. The the last 5 years, there is not a single day without the inevitable “just what is a Texas Brown Ale?”


    Montreal (Canada)

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