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Tuesday, November 25, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 22.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Beer Here: Limited Asylum Imperial Brown Ale from Ale Asylum
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Credit:Robin Shepard

Ale Asylum has been on a wild ride since moving to its new location nearly a year-and-a-half ago. In that time, the brewery has increased its production by more than 45%, and its beers are now found throughout Wisconsin, save a few northern counties. Ale Asylum also just announced it would be sending beers like Hopalicious, Ambergeddon, Bedlam! and Madtown Nutbrown to Chicago and other Illinois markets.

What really excites Ale Asylum fans, though, are brewmaster Dean Coffey's "Limited Asylum" series special releases. These are often one-off batches that begin as ideas from the brewers who work at Ale Asylum. Previous ones have been experimental brews featuring unique ingredients, like hop varieties that the brewery hadn't used before. Some Limited Asylum releases have even come from homebrew recipes from staffers. The latest one is Imperial Brown Ale, a beer that Coffey describes as "off the chart for the style."


What is it? Limited Asylum Imperial Brown Ale from Ale Asylum of Madison, Wisconsin.

Style: The brown ale is a style known for solid malty flavor with light but firm sweetness and roasted biscuit-to-nutty caramel background tones. It has little or no hop aroma or flavor. They are medium-bodied beers, copper to dark brown in color. The brown ale style has been around for a long time, and is thought to have evolved from its darker cousin, the porter.

Occasionally you'll come across brewers who distinguish between Southern English Brown Ale and Northern English Brown Ale. The southern version is usually a little sweeter and lighter than the northern beer, which is rich and known more for a nutty maltiness. The Nut Brown Ale, such as Ale Asylum's Madtown Nutbrown Ale, is another variant, and features a dark amber (nutty-brown) color and light biscuit-caramel maltiness, which lends a perception of nutty flavor.

Using the work "imperial" as an adjective to describe a beer usually means it's richer, more flavorful, fuller-bodied, and stronger. Brown ales are commonly 4.0%-5.5% ABV. Limited Asylum Imperial Brown Ale finishes at 8.2% ABV.

Background: Imperial Brown Ale is a beer that Dean Coffey developed himself. "It's not a beer that I've heard offered much around here, so I said let's try it," he explains. His imperial brown is made with seven malts, among them Munich, crystal and chocolate, which combine to give a smooth sweetness to the core flavors. All those grains also lend rich texture and considerable alcohol strength. For those familiar with Madtown Nutbrown, this imperial version is made with about twice the amount of malt. "It's a little deceiving because there's enough malty sweetness that you don't notice the alcohol strength," says Coffey.

"It's a traditional English nut brown with the volume turned way up," he adds. In a nod to those traditions, Coffey uses a light amount of English bittering hops. "They add a little balance, but in this beer the hops are really a background player to the malt," Coffee explains. He ferments the beer with an English ale yeast.

Inspiration for making Imperial Brown Ale came after Coffey considered several other options for the brewery's next Limited Asylum release. Beers that become part of the series are meant to appeal to craft beer hunters who are always looking for something new and different. "I was considering all these different styles -- a blonde ale, session IPA and double IPA -- and finally just said, why not an imperial brown? No one local is doing one right now," Coffey says.

Limited Asylum Imperial Brown Ale is only served in the Ale Asylum tasting room. Just 30 barrels were made, with no promise to make it again. It sells for $5/glass and $15/growler (refill).

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: Malty, a firm caramel and biscuit nose with a light roastedness.
  • Appearance: Deep brown color. Some haze. Medium rocky, tan-colored head.
  • Texture: Full-bodied, round and smooth.
  • Taste: Firm malty flavor of caramel and chocolate, with a hint of bready-nuttiness that seems to hide in the roastedness, all of which stays in balance and in the background.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: Lingering maltiness with just a subtle dryness in the end.

Glassware: Ale Asylum serves its Imperial Brown Ale in the basic bar pint glass. However, if you take home a growler, it's a big malty beer that deserves to be served in a hearty glass. I prefer it in a heavy clear mug with thick glass, which allows the beer to slowly warm, bringing out the sweetness of the malts.

Pairs well with: The beer's malty sweetness and light toasted biscuit tones pair well with entrees of modest, not overly sweet, flavors, such as those found in dishes that feature roasted meats and vegetables. From the Ale Asylum menu, this beer is fantastic with the tasting room's Sweet Potato-Bacon-Mushroom Soup (among the rotating daily specials). For a nice malty-nutty match, try a pint with the Toasted Walnut and Goat Cheese pizza (the #8).

Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four)

The Consensus: Ale Asylum Imperial Brown Ale has not received enough ratings to be evaluated at Beer Advocate or RateBeer.

The Verdict: Limited Asylum Imperial Brown Ale is a wonderfully rich malty beer with lots of sweet caramel tones. I really like its smooth, round mouthfeel, nutty-brown color and the light biscuit type of nuttiness that's way in the background as an accent. Overall, it has a malt-forward profile that is assertive but not overwhelmingly sweet. For Ale Asylum regulars, its maltiness falls between the Madtown Nutbrown and the brewery's seasonal Bamboozleator Doppelbock. Coffey's description really fits well -- this is indeed a brown ale with the volume turned up. It's doesn't scream at you, but the malt comes through loud and clear.

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