When I think of brown ales, Newcastle usually comes to mind. I immediately assume that a brown is going to be overly sweet, have little to no hop aroma or bite, and have just enough dark malt additions to color the beer without giving it much roasted flavor. Well let me tell you about a brown beyond my expectations that destroys these preconceptions. Founders Sumatra Mountain Brown is the pinnacle of brown ales and shows just how complex this style can be.
Not to state the obvious, but this imperial brown pours a deep, dark brown. However, if you hold it to the light, you’ll see the orange of a setting sun shimmering. The desert-khaki head is so pillowy you might assume the presence of nitrogen, but it’s just carbonation. The aroma is heavy coffee with underlying scents of raisin, plum, and dark malts.
The body of the beer is creamy and on the heavy side of medium. Frothy and smooth, Sumatra Mountain coats the tongue and gives the taste-buds ample time to pick up its flavors. After an initial light burn from the carbonation, the tip of the tongue reveals caramel, chocolate, and cherry notes. As the beer travels backwards, the chocolate blends with coffee in a reminder of my favorite overnight ride pick-me-up; chocolate covered espresso beans. The chocolate fades, and the coffee becomes more prominent on the back of the tongue as a bit of alcohol heat from this 9% imperial intermingles with the hop contribution. The hop flavor seems to indicate a use of noble/European hops over piney or citrusy West Coast varieties.
This beer is listed by Founders as a 4 pack May-June specialty release which is a shame as it is a great cold-weather sipper. That’s why I was stoked to see it just get tapped at a local growler station. I happily carried out 64oz of this beer in my new Growlerwerks uKeg.* The uKeg will keep beer carbonated and fresh for weeks, and having a beer like this on tap at home is great for smaller pours when I have enough self-restraint to use a small glass. However, the deliciousness of this beer means that is no easy task, and that growler is going to need refilled soon.
If you like coffee and chocolate this is a beer for you. Or if, like me, you assume you’re not a fan of brown ales, give this one a chance to prove you wrong.
Aroma (coffee dominate with dark fruit)…8/10
Flavor (chocolate, coffee, and a nice hop balance)…9/10
Style-appropriateness (no Imperial Brown guidelines, but definitely not a typical brown)…N/A
*Like this beer, the uKeg is anything but typical. It’s great if you are one to travel with your growler or are looking for a way to keep beer from your favorite local brewery or growler station fresh longer. I’m excited to get a lot of uses out of this growler and will tell you all about it later.
Alex writes a beer review every other Friday. Two weeks ago he reviewed Bell’s Expedition Stout: A Monumental Journey for Your Senses