I was an early proponent of the idea that Brown IPA was a further redundancy in the 2015 BJCP style guidelines - after all, we had American Brown Ale, American Porter, American Stout, and Black IPA.
Surely, we didn't need Brown IPA, when all four of those other styles are available. To be perfectly frank, I'm still not sure we need the defined style, but I've more than come around to the idea that these are (or, at least, can be) distinct beers. The key difference is that although Brown IPA would fit in any of the aforementioned dark-and-allowed-to-be-hoppy styles, it wouldn't be a very good representation of any of them. To use a favorite analogy of mine, a building needs four walls and a roof - but even though a shack has those, it doesn't make it a good or attractive house.
Brew yourself a couple of Brown IPAs - targeting that style specifically - and you'll soon find that this isn't just an American Brown Ale with a little more alcohol and hops.
Like all IPAs, Brown IPA is hops-forward (no surprise there). Bitterness is medium-high to high, hops flavors and aromas are likewise prominent, and the balance is decidedly in the "hoppy" direction. It's useful to think of it in terms of malt character, though: it should have noticeable brown- and black-malt flavors but not be sweet or malt-forward.
That's quite a balancing act, and grist selection is going to be critical to hitting the right style notes, especially in the face of a lot of hops. Some alcohol impression is permissible, but this shouldn't be a particularly "warm" beer - the stated ABV range in the guidelines is 5.5-7.5 percent, so it's an option but not a requirement. The trick in this style is finding the right amount (and kind) of malt flavor without making a beer that's overly-malty, and doing so in a "noisy" flavor environment with a lot of hops aroma, flavors, bitterness and (maybe) alcohols.
Luckily, we have an ingredient that's going to help us satisfy both our malt-flavor and hops goals at the same time.
IPA grists are best when they're simple, and this is no exception, despite our desire for some malt character in the final product. We start with eleven pounds (5kg) of 2-row Pale Malt (I know, not Maris Otter - I'm actually looking for a little less richness here!), and add one pound (0.45kg) of 65L British Crystal for some nice nut-toffee background notes and a half-pound (0.23kg) of Carafa Special II. Why that last one? First, it brings our SRM to a stately, attractive, dark-walnut-hued 25. Second, because it imparts all of the nice roasty flavors we might want (cocoa, espresso bean, a bit of campfire) without the husky, persistent "roast" flavors thanks to the fact that this is a dehusked malt.
It will help guarantee that our bitterness isn't over-accentuated, and imparts noticeable deeper-malt flavors even at such a small percentage of the grist, so we don't have a ton of leftover unfermentable sugars clogging up our mouthfeel. You should land at about 1.065, for a solid 6.7 percent ABV.
Have fun with your hops here! Pick your favorite fruit-forward New World or Down Under hops and add enough at 20 minutes remaining in the boil to impart 45 IBUs. Then blend an ounce of that/those with an ounce of Phoenix, and add them at flame-out/whirlpool. Why Phoenix? Because that crazy British hop variety tends to reek of cocoa. It's an absurd flavor from a hopping addition, but there it is, clear as day (note: you might want to think about dropping this in to all of your hoppy/roasty beers!).
You'll end up with an effective level of about 50 IBUs, which is on the low-ish side, but I find to be just fine. More than that and you start getting judges and friends thinking that the beer is roastier than it is. You might also consider a dry hop addition, but more on that later…
For yeast, I like Wyeast London Ale III (1318) for this recipe. It doesn't ferment to bone-dry, but as this grist leans more on the roasty than the nutty, it can help balance the presentation!
Mash at your standard temperature, boil, and give your post-boil/pre-chill hops a good 15 minutes of steeping time after flame-out. Chill, then pitch your yeast and start fermentation at 65F (18C). Hold it there for about a week, then raise it to about 68F (20C) or a little higher to finish out the fermentation and clean up any diacetyl/precursors that might have formed (it's an English yeast, after all). Cold crash to help clear, package, and carbonate to 2.5 volumes of CO2.
One aside about dry hopping in Brown IPA. The guidelines say it's common and OK, but they also warn that "grassiness" should be avoided. Resiny, fresh dry hops flavors are very, very likely to be taken as "grassy" whether they actually are or not.
If you're planning on competing with this beer, let me recommend that you bump up your whirlpool addition before you turn to dry hopping to increase your hops aromas - otherwise, you could get some judging misfires and get dinged for "grassy aromas" when they're really just dry hopping aromas.
I don't know that we necessarily needed "Brown IPA" as a defined style, but I'm glad they did it. Without it, I'd have continued thinking of Brown IPA as just "Black IPA, just lighter," and missed out on some good beers as a result! Just goes to show that first impressions are often badly wrong.