Once upon a time, all beers were dark beers. Malt is the ingredient that gives beer color. Malt, or germinated barley, needs to be dried before it can be used to brew beer and prior to the 17th century, crude malt drying techniques left the malt dark or smoky. The result - a dark, or smoky beer. While the flavors of brown beers centuries ago probably varied a good bit from what we know today, the color of beer was often brown, or darker.
Today, malt is available in a wide range of strains and colors, with the darker malts providing the color of a Brown Ale. Brown Ales are brewed with caramel or darker malts to create both color and flavor, though Brown Ales lack the heavy use of roasted malts that are more commonly used in Porters and Stouts. This gives English Brown Ales a rich color and flavor, without making a beer that is overly heavy and dark.
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