I'm confused about kentucky Common!

Discussion in 'General Brewing Discussions' started by ACBEV, Jan 1, 2018.

  1. ACBEV

    ACBEV Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2016
    Messages:
    217
    Likes Received:
    100
    Trophy Points:
    43
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Berkshire - UK
    I try to broaden my beer making from time to time... Case in point "Kentucky Common", I've started to research with a view to maybe brewing some, but straight away the first two sources are contradictory!

    "Beer from the Expert's Viewpoint" by Arnold Spencer Wahl and Robert Wahl, 1937, page 153.
    Kentucky Common Beer. This type of beer is brewed with a top fermenting yeast and is handled thereafter similar to California Steam Beer. The beer is run directly from the fermenter into the trade package (barrels) and krausened, finings added and the barrels bunged and then delivered in this condition to the dispensing place where it is permitted to clarify before serving. The difference between the California Steam Beer and Kentucky Common Beer is in the type of yeast used: in the first, a bottom yeast, in the second, a top yeast. The Kentucky Common Beer yeast is developed from lager beer yeast by high fermenting temperatures. This yeast then develops a percentage of lactic acid organisms which cause the final brew to be somewhat tart to the taste, the whole having a particularly peculiar flavor which became quite popular in the Southern States. This beer is supplied mainly from Louisville, Kentucky. Common beer is brewed today using the common beer yeast but krausened in finishing tanks and then filtered. It is supplied in barrels and in bottles.​

    So, the above is what I read first. What I gleamed was a sour beer, top fermented type yeast at high temps (maybe a particular yeast) and an insight to process. Now bare in mind the above was written in 1937, so it was commercially available then.

    Then I read this...

    BJCP Kentucky Common
    OVERALL IMPRESSION
    A darker-colored, light-flavored, malt-accented beer with a dry finish and interesting character malt flavors. Refreshing due to its high carbonation and mild flavors, and highly sessionable due to being served very fresh and with restrained alcohol levels.
    COMMENTS
    Modern characterizations of the style often mention a lactic sourness or sour mashing, but extensive brewing records from the larger breweries at the turn of the century have no indication of long acid rests, sour mashing, or extensive conditioning. This is likely a modern homebrewer invention, based on the supposition that since indigenous Bourbon distillers used a sour mash, beer brewers must also have used this process. No contemporaneous records indicate sour mashing or that the beer had a sour profile; rather the opposite, that the beer was brewed as an inexpensive, present-use ale.

    HISTORY
    A true American original style, Kentucky Common was almost exclusively produced and sold around the Louisville Kentucky metropolitan area from some time after the Civil War up to Prohibition. Its hallmark was that it was inexpensive and quickly produced, typically 6 to 8 days from mash to delivery. The beer was racked into barrels while actively fermenting (1.020 – 1.022) and tightly bunged to allow carbonation in the saloon cellar. There is some speculation that it was a variant of the lighter common or cream ale produced throughout much of the East prior to the Civil War and that the darker grains were added by the mostly Germanic brewers to help acidify the typical carbonate water of the Louisville area, or that they had a preference for darker colored beers. Up until the late 19th century, Kentucky Common was not brewed in the summer months unless cellars, usually used for malting, were used for fermentation. With the advent of ice machines, the larger breweries were able to brew year round. In the period from 1900 to prohibition, about 75% of the beer sold in the Louisville area was Kentucky Common. With prohibition, the style died completely as the few larger breweries that survived were almost exclusively lager producers.
    INGREDIENTS
    Six-row barley malt was used with 35% corn grits to dilute the excessive protein levels along with 1 to 2% each caramel and black malt. Native American hops, usually about .2 pounds per barrel of Western hops for bittering and a similar amount of New York hops (such as Clusters) for flavor (15 minutes prior to knock out). Imported continental Saazer-type hops (.1 pounds per barrel) were added at knock out for aroma. Water in the Louisville area was typically moderate to high in carbonates. Mash water was often pre-boiled to precipitate the carbonate and Gypsum was commonly added. Considering the time from mash in to kegging for delivery was typically 6 to 8 days, clearly aggressive top-fermenting yeasts was used.
    Then I read, this and that on the interweb. All very confusing... Contradictory, made up guesses, myths and such.

    Now I'm ready to give up and not bother. Or can someone point me to something concrete?
     
  2. Nosybear

    Nosybear Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jul 16, 2012
    Messages:
    9,438
    Likes Received:
    6,697
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Aurora, CO, USA
    No, the beer went extinct. The best we can do is approximate. I used the style guide and a paper by a Louisville area brew club to formulate mine. I use cream ale yeast and a complex (for me) grist. If it was sour, it soured in trade. Best advice is to start with Leah Diene's paper and work from there. Or my recipe which is public on this site.
     
  3. J A

    J A Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jan 19, 2016
    Messages:
    3,480
    Likes Received:
    2,699
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Austin, Texas
    When in doubt, stick to the BJCP Style Guide. You can sour any beer if you want to, but there are specific uses of souring in traditional styles. American styles in the Historical Beer category tend to be pretty simple and straightforward and if anything, Kentucky Common might be a slightly boring beer if you're looking for something with some interesting character. Should be a good solid beer for easy drinking, though. I intend to work one out for when it starts getting hot around here...we never have long to wait. ;)
     
  4. ACBEV

    ACBEV Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2016
    Messages:
    217
    Likes Received:
    100
    Trophy Points:
    43
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Berkshire - UK
    Yes it maybe on the boring side as beer goes, but I have now found three contemporary professional brewing journals describing Kentucky Common as a sour beer, this is over a 50 year period... 1890, 1908 and 1937. Pre and post Prohibition! Also mention of "Kentucky Common Beer" in a analysis of the US beer market published in the late 1930s, held at the London Metropolitan Archive.

    It peaked my interest that's all!
     
  5. ACBEV

    ACBEV Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2016
    Messages:
    217
    Likes Received:
    100
    Trophy Points:
    43
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Berkshire - UK
    That's good advice for a starting point. But, I know of plenty of instances of the style guide being too prescriptive and narrow. If I go to my local pub and order a pint of IPA, according to the style guide its not, its to weak at 3.6%, nor is it ordinary bitter, too many IBUs. The brewery says it is and other breweries making similar beer also say it is too. Same can be said for Bitter, Pale Ale, Mild, Stout, Porter, Old Ale. Strong Ale, brown ale... Style Guides has a place and I do use them on the recipe thingy on this site and sometimes my beer recipes actually fit the style guide.
     
  6. J A

    J A Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jan 19, 2016
    Messages:
    3,480
    Likes Received:
    2,699
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Austin, Texas
    Variations on a theme are what drives the craft beer industry. Many if not most commercially available craft beers veer from the style guidelines to some extent. And as homebrewers, we have even more latitude in making unique beers. BJCP is more important when one is brewing for competition, but I find it's a great resource when researching unfamiliar styles because it's more detailed and rigorous than a lot of descriptive articles. I'm sure a sour version of a Kentucky Common will be a great beer.
     
  7. ACBEV

    ACBEV Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2016
    Messages:
    217
    Likes Received:
    100
    Trophy Points:
    43
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Berkshire - UK
    I think you and I, agree to disagree! It took me a few hours of research, finding historical documents that are contrary to what is perceived as gospel. I was looking to making a sour beer, just because I hadn't before. That's when I came across an article from the 1937 publication, which is in contradiction to BJCP. The style guidelines in general are a good thing for home brewers, or for competition use and for others, including me. But there are issues with with some. My main interest in brewing is historical and modern English beer and the BF recipe calc is very handy tool to work out recipes for such beers. Before I paid a suscription I used the recipe builder to validate my own software and to get an indication whether a particular beer fitted the style guide. I had a little project to gather English IPA recipes from the 19th and 20th centuries, apart for a few, almost all failed to fit the style guidelines, for one reason or another. I'm now used to the exclamation marks in BF/RB when transcribing recipes. My real contention is some style guides are too rigid and prescriptive.
     
  8. J A

    J A Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jan 19, 2016
    Messages:
    3,480
    Likes Received:
    2,699
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Austin, Texas
    I think we're agreeing to agree. ;)
    Modern BJCP guidelines are just that...guidelines. If one is entering a beer for competition, they might have more weight in the equation, but no one is bound in any way to stick to them when coming up with homebrew recipes.
    We just had a club competition based on the Pre-Prohibition Porter style and the guidelines were of limited use. Since there aren't many solid examples of that style beer to try, everybody had to interpret the descriptions. Needless to say that the beers were pretty much all over the place in terms of how much roast flavor and what sort of adjuncts were present. All good beers, though.
    It's sort of the same with Kentucky Common...there isn't a definitive commercial beer in that style so craft breweries and homebrewers use some latitude. Because of the popular notion that it's a sour beer and based on examples such as you point out, the BJCP guidelines may change to be more in line with what's happening in the brewing community.
     
    Group W likes this.
  9. Nosybear

    Nosybear Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jul 16, 2012
    Messages:
    9,438
    Likes Received:
    6,697
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Aurora, CO, USA
    Been there, done that, it tastes like crap soured. At the time it was being brewed, Louisville Kentucky was the nation's seventh largest city. The brewers were experienced German immigrants who knew what they were doing. And what they were doing is brewing a "running" beer, one made to be drunk quickly. The cellarman in the pubs on the other hand may not have been so sophisticated, Ky Common being a working man's beer. The brewery notes don't mention anything at all about souring nor do they indicate any part of the process that would have soured the beer. If soured, it was likely soured in trade, most likely by the wooden casks it was delivered in. And it's not really boring, guys. At least mine isn't. It comes across as rather like an Altbier, just using American ingredients.
     
    FPMBomb likes this.
  10. FPMBomb

    FPMBomb Member

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2017
    Messages:
    47
    Likes Received:
    39
    Trophy Points:
    18
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    Engineer
    Location:
    Phoenix, AZ
    I don't know if Nosybear would agree with me but it's likely the earliest productions of the KC may have had a bit of English Ale yeast character as it's unlikely the Brewers had access to clean yeast stains until well into the industrial revolution. It could be that the estery to both palate and nose with a slight fresh yeasty flavor is being described as tart in some of those 1937 sources.
     
  11. Nosybear

    Nosybear Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jul 16, 2012
    Messages:
    9,438
    Likes Received:
    6,697
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Aurora, CO, USA
    They didn't brew it until well into the industrial revolution. 1880's and later if memory serves. You're right, pure culture was a bit of a new thing then but Louisville was a rather big city at the time.
     
  12. ACBEV

    ACBEV Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2016
    Messages:
    217
    Likes Received:
    100
    Trophy Points:
    43
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Berkshire - UK
    It's my fault really. I got my knickers in a twist over conflicting articles. Should have chosen Flanders red ale instead. I like to understand the historical context and changes over time of a particular beer I'm brewing. Why's and wherefores. The BJCP thing is a constant niggle for me, I'm currently getting to grips with Yorkshire beers, bitters and milds and have a mild brewing, still getting exclamation marks. ;)
     
  13. Nosybear

    Nosybear Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jul 16, 2012
    Messages:
    9,438
    Likes Received:
    6,697
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Aurora, CO, USA
    Easy enough to do. Want three opinions, ask two "experts". You use your best judgement and go with it. Context, in this case the history, can help. We can't reproduce historical beers. Our ingredients are too different. At least the processes for Ky Common are recent enough not to make too much of a difference. I won't say mine is an accurate historical reproduction of the original beer but it's a good beer, inspired by my Ohio Valley kin. I'll take that.
     
    Baron62 likes this.
  14. Mase

    Mase Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Mar 16, 2017
    Messages:
    1,772
    Likes Received:
    2,116
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Gender:
    Male
    Ohio Valley native myself Nosybear :D
     
  15. FPMBomb

    FPMBomb Member

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2017
    Messages:
    47
    Likes Received:
    39
    Trophy Points:
    18
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    Engineer
    Location:
    Phoenix, AZ

Share This Page

arrow_white