The beer shown is brewed by Collectif Brassicole Ensemble in Boucherville, Quebec, part of its Vagabond series. CBE produces under five brand groupings, another is Boldwin, a third Loop.
See details on Darling in the website. Brown ale is one of the traditional British or Irish styles featuring in the palette of contemporary Quebec brewers. Others include, as currently styled, British red ale, English red ale, British amber, porter and stout including milk stout, extra special bitter, and pale ale.
I have had many such brands while not all of course. In general, I find them decent beers but modestly hopped, intending therefore to replicate today’s trad British beer palate, not its historical one. Consumed ice-cold many seem to have little character at least compared to modern craft styles, at which Quebec brewers excel no less than elsewhere in Canada.
This is a missed opportunity. There are exceptions, including at least one historical revivalist brewer I have written about earlier which makes shining brews. But this is the picture generally, at least judged by the beers that reach general distribution in large “surfaces” and other outlets.
(These can easily offer a couple of hundred beers or more, and are not to be dismissed as simply channels for mass market brewers).
The CBE website states Darling is a northern brown ale:
...inspirée des racines du Nord de l’Angleterre, Darling se veut généreuse et ô combien équilibrée. Cette ale foncée confère en bouche un bouquet délicat de pain grillé, de biscuit, de caramel et une pointe de chocolat noir.
Double Maxim Brown Ale in the UK would be an avatar, so is Newcastle Brown Ale although its character these days is restrained. Whatever the legitimacy of hiving off northern browns from southern sweeter ones in English brewing typology, that many still accept a distinction is unquestioned, and we see an example with Darling.
The beer has good lightly toasted (not roasted) notes shot through with a caramel sweetness, a decent finishing gravity, and 29 IBUs of hops. The hopbill according to the website is high-alpha Bravo, an American (Hopsteiner) release first seen in 2006, and the enigmatic Malling.
Malling, of English origin as the name suggests, somehow transplanted to Austria and features in many of its beers, this from sparse information available online. It is only rarely used by craft brewing, a pity as the hop offers good character.
There is a soft fruit note typical of English landrace, some say melon or pear but hard to place, with a peppery undertone. The current can for Darling mentions only Malling, so I am unclear if any Bravo is currently used. Possibly one is used when the other is not available.
The beer, especially consumed at cellar temperature, has excellent character, beyond most British-style beers produced by Quebec and Ontario brewers. If the hops were ramped up and (often) the final gravity, all these would be even better, but it seems rarely again to occur to the brewers to do this.
English beer to them means quite firmly by my canvass, but not unreasonably, contemporary British (and Irish) stylings. These often are quite delicate in character, even UK craft interpretations.
Malling, for its part, remains one of the hop enigmas, a kind of counterpart to Styrian Golding (link via Toronto Brewing). Hop Store, a French supplier of a “bio” Malling, has some data. Possibly this source was used in the Darling, which is an organic beer.
Hop Store endearingly states “good question!” under the entry “Possible substitutes”, which tells you something right there. In fact a series of hops, quite diverse though, is set out as “similar” at bottom of the page. This suggests Malling combines characteristics not easily found in one hop.
East Malling in Kent was the site of extensive hop breeding research and test cultivation in the mid-20th century. Many of its hops were crosses of English landrace with a North American wild or domesticated hop.
Malling as used in Darling to me has a decided English cast, not New World, but more than that I cannot say. The Bravo if used would confer some North American character, but I don’t detect this in the beer, and judging by the can currently marketed, it seems only Malling is used.
Anyway it’s an excellent taste, and I’d love to try it embedded in rich pale malt for English pale ale, Maris Otter would be ideal, or Golden Promise.