View Full Version : Yup - Kentucky Had a Beer Style - Kentucky Common Beer
Jeff Renner kindly drew my attention to an online version of what brewing historians call the "Handy-book", a circa 1909 book by Wahl & Henius, two American brewing experts. The full title of the book is quite long but for short we can call it a "Handy-book of the Brewing and Malting Trades". It is a fascinating book, one I've known about for years but have never read until I learned it was put online to assist homebrewers and others interested in period recipes and brewing techniques. In perusing this learned text I found on page 818 a description of "Kentucky Common Beer". This was associated in particular with Louisville. The beer was 70% malt and 30% corn (no surprise there) and made with pale malt but had roasted malt added or actual caramel to lend a dark colour. Wahl and Henius state it was consumed by the "laboring classes". The beer was (unlike California Steam beer, also extensively described in the book) top-fermented and wasn't krausened, i.e., it was fermented once and sent out for sale which meant the gravity would be moderate, the carbonation low and the taste full and sweetish. It was probably like a modern English draught mild ale. It may have been (seeing the German origins of many American brewers of the time as the authors' names make clear) a form of kolsch or altbier, German beers that are top-fermented. The beers were racked after a few days in the fermenter and left on troughs for the excess yeast to course out until fermentation stopped (this took two days, the authors say if you want more carbonation in the beer, leave it on the troughs one day!). The trough process sounds a lot like the Burton Unions system of clarifying beers. The authors say the beer still could be turbid if served in "saloons" too soon but left to settle for a few days should be relatively clear. I previously understood California Steam Beer was the only indigenous U.S. beer style, maybe Kentucky Common Beer is not considered such because it was an all-top fermented beer and also, it is (as far as I know) defunct.
The book can be accessed at www.hbd.org/aabg/wahl/. Page 818 is in the section headed "Brewing Operations", look under "Top-fermentation beers in the U.S.".
I thought this would interest Jeff Yeast in particular.
Coincidentally, I had a beer in Waterloo, Ontario yesterday that tasted quite a bit like Kentucky Common Beer might taste per the directions of Wahl and Henius. The beer was a draught-only beer, as KCB was, called simply English Ale. It was dark brown, rich and sweetish with a creamy head, lightly hopped as was KCB, and probably fermented once, clarified and sent out (it did not taste like it had undergone a secondary fermentation). It is made by Gold Crown Brewery, a microbrewery in Waterloo, Ontario. The beer was hopped with English type hops and had a light earthy note not a piney note such as American hops have. Probably though the Louisville brewers used American hops although at the time hops were grown in New York State and maybe they were used and tasted unlike the piney/citrusy West Coast U.S. hops (Henius and Wahl have a lot to say about the latter and I find myself in substantial agreement with them - they were not hopheads, let's put it that way :)).
Thanks for posting this info and the link, Gillman. I brew with a couple of friends here, and we were talking about what would come of experimenting with American whiskey mashbills in making beer. I'm not sure we'll get around to brewing a batch with 51% corn (it doesn't necessarily sound like good beer), but the Kentucky Common sounds like the general concept we were discussing. I'd add a little rye to ours as well, as we would not be pursuing a Kentucky Common beer so much as just finding out what happens. Oak chips during fermentation, too. Not sure how to hop the beer, though...
I know there are other brewers on the board, with considerably more experience than I have. Anyone tried something like this?
Check out the link I mentioned (again it is from Jeff Renner), Wahl and Henius discuss wheat and rye used as adjuncts.
In the Kentucky Common Beer, the mash bill is 70% barley malt and 30% corn. As Jeff pointed out to me, Henius and Wahl were proponents of the intelligent use of corn or other adjuncts in beer. (My forbears in blending..? :) ).
How about a reverse bourbon mash for a modern Kentucky Common Ale: 70% barley, 20% corn, 10% rye.
Anyway, good luck with your experiments.
I am anxious to hear Jeff Yeast's comments when he has a chance.
Jeff Renner kindly drew my attention to an online version of what brewing historians call the "Handy-book"
Glad you found this enjoyable, Gary. My homebrew club, Ann Arbor Brewers Guild, hosts that site, and the scans were provided by my friend Spencer Thomas. (Unfortunately, it seems to be loading slowly just now.)
It's actually the 1902 second edition, and has been one of my major resources in the investigation of pre-prohibition American lagers, which I am happy to say that, with the help of other homebrewers, has become a popular homebrewed style under the name of Classic American Pilsner. (Do a search for that and my name and be prepared for a lot of hits.)
"Kentucky Common Beer" ... It was probably like a modern English draught mild ale. It may have been (seeing the German origins of many American brewers of the time as the authors' names make clear) a form of kolsch or altbier, German beers that are top-fermented.
It was probably not German inspired, as the brewers of ales in the US were usually from English stock. (Pennsylvania brewers (such as Yuengling) were a noteable exception as the Germans (Pennsylvania Dutch) were early, i.e., pre-lager, settlers there, along with the English.)
The Germans were famous for introducing lager to American in the mid-nineteenth century. The large number of German immigrants to American beginning in the 1840's or so coincided with the modern understanding of lager brewing and lager yeast in Bavaria.
Up until prohibition, ale and lager brewers were quite separate, and most breweries brewed one or the other, especially in the nineteenth century. There were separate trade associations, and lager brewers conducted their meetings and published their journals in German.
According to Wahl and Henius, original gravity of Kentucky common beer was 10-11 degrees balling (~1.040 - 1.044), which would give something like 4% abv or a bit less since it was apparently not fermented out completely. Bitterness, based on 1/2 lb. hops per 31 gallon barrel, and assuming ~4.5% alpha acid (the bittering component of the hops) would give a bitterness of low to mid 20's IBU's, or similar to modern British mild, as you suggest, or a bit higher.
The authors say the beer still could be turbid if served in "saloons" too soon but left to settle for a few days should be relatively clear.
American ales (as opposed to lagers) of the nineteenth century were described in a quote from an unnamed "scientific writer" in Stanley Baron's classic 1962 history Brewed in America (http://www.beerbooks.com/aab/cgi/ps4.cgi?ACTION=enter&thispage=1175&ORDER_ID=!ORDERID!) as "muddy, half sour, and intoxicating." Kentucky common beer probably differed from this only by being less intoxicating than most, which was typical of "common beer," as opposed to ales and porters. (Beer formerly meant a lower-strength beverage than ale in English, although it could also mean hopped rather than unhopped.)
It was these characteristics, by the way, that made for the explosive acceptance of lager beers in early mid-century, which were, in contrast, "pale, light-bodied, clear and effervescent ... , and relatively low in alcoholic content." (ibid.).
I previously understood California Steam Beer was the only indigenous U.S. beer style
There are others as well. If you check out p. 779, you'll find Pennsylvania Swankey, a low alcohol (~1% abv) anise flavored all-malt "temperance beer" (not completely fermented out), which was also German-American (Pennsylvania Dutch) brewed.
And on pages 812-814 are described "cream, or present use ale," and "brilliant ale," which were the attempted answers by American (English-descent, mostly) to lager beers. They were also clear, pale and effervescent. Probably brewed much like a lager, but not lagers in as much as they were fermented at cellar temparatures, not cold temperatures, with ale yeast, not lager yeast, and not lagered at ice temperatures, since ale breweries were not equiped with either ice cellars or, later, artificial refrigeration.
There are a few cream ales remaining, some of which are lager-ale hybrids. A really nice interpretation of this style, although they don't call it a cream ale, is New Glarus Brewery's "Spotted Cow Farmhouse Ale (http://www.newglarusbrewing.com/beers/spottedcow.html)" from Wisconsin.
The thing that distinguished most American beers from European beers, at least from the latter nineteenth century, is in their use of unmalted cereal adjuncts, usually corn or rice. This was necessary because American six-row barley was too high in soluble protein to produce a stable beer. Corn and rice have low soluble protein, and act as a diluent. They also produce a less satiating beer, which, of course, was carried to absurdity with Lite Beer.
Despite centuries of brewing with corn in American, it was not until Anton Schwartz developed the method of separately mashing corn (or rice) with a portion of malt, and then boiling it separately from the main mash and incorporating it into the main mash, that the use of unmalted cereal adjuncts became practical. See pages 711-712 of Wahl and Henius for their description of this bit of American brewing history.
That's enough from me this morning!
Excellent Jeff, many thanks and top of the morning to all for my 2501st post. I was hoping to leave it for a while as I mentioned to Joe (something about the symmetry of the 2500) but I can't let it rest.
I saw in the book too that they state lambics in Belgium have the highest amount of lactic acid, bottom-fermented beers (lagers) the least, and ales (they were thinking of traditional English and Belgian top-fermented ales) were in the middle. Thus, a typical non-mild ale in their terms (subject to multiple fermentations or at least two and often aged for a while) were often quite tart: a modern Saison beer from Belgium might in fact be the way many English-type ales tasted in the 1800's until the onset of cream or present use ale. That would account for that comment about turbidity and sourness in many 1800's ales. And that is why clearly lager revolutionised brewing, because it could be made to keep, at a reasonable abv level, and not too sweet, and NOT sour or "tart" (a word often used by Wahl and Henius). Clearly the advent of cream ale assisted in bringing back the ale taste but under circumstances that the beer did not go tart. I think, Jeff, cold-conditioning was being used by some cream/sparkling ale brewers. In Canada, Molson Export Ale, or say, Alexander Keith's India Pale Ale, are examples of sparkling or standing ales and reflect I think this circa-1900 technology (Molson Export Ale dates in fact from 1904 - perhaps their book even influenced its development, in fact I would not be surprised).
Ballantine XXX is another surviving example of this kind of hybrid lager-ale. I know some people feel cream ale was literally a mixture (blend) of two beers, a lager and an ale, and no doubt some beer of this style was made that way (possibly Genessee Cream Ale). Cooper's Sparkling Ale may be one beer that more closely resembles the circa-1900 sparkling ale style because it can be tart (somewhat) and retains a fruity quality but is lager-like in its paleness and effervescence.
Louisville, like Cincinnati, had a large German population so while I wouldn't think Louisville's brewers were exclusively German, I'm sure many where. In most American cities with large communities of German immigrants (I'll add Chicago to that list) World War I led to strong anti-German feelings and many institutions that had sprung from the German-American community took steps to obscure their German heritage. Louisville's German-American Bank was renamed Liberty Bank, for example.
It's interesting to go through Wahl & Henius and see how German brewing was so influential at the time. E.g. they note that "weiss" was one of the beers popular in America then, this isn't something that just came in in the 1980's with the microbrew and import trend. Their description of German (in Germany) beers is interesting, too. E.g. at the time Munich beer was "light brown" or "amber", not pale like Pilsener (from Bohemia) was; light (helles) Munchener must have come in later. I love the Steam Beer discussion, it is so fascinating. Anchor Steam Beer in San Francisco is the only one left, of some 25 in the Bay Area when the authors were writing. Anchor was saved romantically from extinction in the 1960's by Fritz Maytag of the washing machine family and fortune. There was a Bay Area-originated malting barley too, a 6-row type of high quality. The authors are quite respectful of English brewing too. Even in 1902 it is evident that American methods were an amalgam or quite original due to differing local conditions. I get a funny feeling reading this book, these guys were writing over 100 years ago but they "speak my language", what did Whitman write in that poem about Brooklyn or the bridge, that he was speaking across the generations to ... the reader. Even in this technical and comprehensive text they are talking to people who "get" what they are saying. I'll give one example. In their discussion on hops and especially on some West Coast hops, they say, don't overdo the hops otherwise you will get a "rank" taste and flavor. This is exactly right and some of the more enthusiastic microbreweries might consider this point.
Louisville, like Cincinnati, had a large German population so while I wouldn't think Louisville's brewers were exclusively German, I'm sure many where.
Indeed, by the end of the Civil War, I think most brewers in the midwest were German. However, as lager beer and German emigration to the US both started in about the 1840's, and common beer predated either, I suspect its original brewers tended to be of British extraction. I imagine, though, that as demand for it continued, some German brewers, who soon mad eup the vast majority of brewers, would have been glad to supply that demand. It would have been an easy sideline, tying up little equipment compared to lager beer.
I tried a quick dip into my library to try to document this, but came up empty in the time I had, so this is only an impression I have from years of reading, and would not insist upon it, and it is a generalization at any rate.
Probably though the Louisville brewers used American hops although at the time hops were grown in New York State and maybe they were used and tasted unlike the piney/citrusy West Coast U.S. hops
Piney/citrusy North American hops are a recent development - probably since the introduction in 1972 of Cascade hops, one of the first North American bred varieties of distinctive character. The other "C" hops of this type, Columbus, Centennial, Chinook, as well as Amarillo and others, followed. They are the ones that give American pale ale and IPA's their distinctive hop character.
Before this time, most American-grown hops were either of European or British types or the indigenous Cluster type.
See Hopunion's (http://www.hopunion.com/hopunion-variety-databook.pdf) web site for more info.
light (helles) Munchener must have come in later.
Yes, until the science of the manipulation of minerals in water was understood in the early 20th century, beer styles were determined by the water of an area. Munich water, and that of much of Bavaria, has water that is high in alkalinity (like Kentucky water), which needed the acidity of dark malts to mash properly.
Kentucky bourbon is, of course, all pale malt (plus corn and rye or wheat). To balance the alkalinity of its limestone water and produce the proper mash pH, sour mash is used.
On hops, that compendium is a good resource, thanks. In my view, what Wahl and Henius were talking about is a taste of hops grown in U.S. soils on the West Coast, or rather, a misuse of certain of those hops. In 30 years of tasting beers from around the world including many U.S. microbrewed beers and homebrews, I've noticed a characteristic taste of U.S. hops when used in quantity. It is I believe in the soils and climate. I am talking across the subtleties of specific varieties. I believe that is what Wahl and Henius were noticing and indeed a rank (hop) taste can afflict beer when used in large quantities or otherwise improperly. In my view, this taste (also called by old-time brewers "catty") is one associated with some West Coast hop varieties. While aroma hops grown in say the 1950's were not the same varieties as grown today I believe they must have had an overall similar charcater to the Cascade and other C hops (also, Galena). I recognize new varieties are introduced every so often (they are crosses of what came before usually, I think). While differing to a degree they will share many commonalities which derive from soils and climate. That is why, say, U.S. Fuggles are different from English Fuggles. To me it's like California Merlot vs. Cabernet vs. Zinfandel - they may be different varieties but they all share a commonality too. I think the 1902 writers were saying, use the right hops (not those that have an obvious rank vegetal taste), and use them in the right way.
Although it's becoming a lost art, distillers used to "make" yeast by preparing a medium and hoping for the best. Each distiller had his own recipe for the medium, but hops were a common ingredient.
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