04 February 2008

Kentucky Common Rant

I have been exploring The Kentucky Common style of beer for several years. My starting point was The Master's description, in his second edition of The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing. He suggested mashing the grains and then letting it sit for 24-48 hours and sour.

My next source was The Essentials of Beer Style by Fred Eckhard. He described the style as being very dark, almost a dark as Guinness stout. It had an original gravity of 1040-1050, and an average bitterness of 27 IBUs and brewed with 2% lactobacillum in the yeast. He also listed a Pennsyvania Swankey, which I assumed was a variation of Kentucky common, that was brewed with anise seed boiled for 30 minutes.

However, Wahl & Henius' Handy Book of Brewing describes Kentucky Common as:

Like California steam beer, Kentucky Common beer is mainly consumed by the laboring classes, and is chiefly brewed in Louisville, Ky. It is marketed while still in an early stage of fermentation.

Materials employed are: Barley malt and about 25-30% corn, with some sugar color, caramel or roasted malt to give a dark color.

Balling of wort about 10 to 11 percent. [1.040 - 1.044]

Mashing temeratures vary greatly, both low and high initial temperatures being taken. In the latter case the corn mash is cooled with water before being run into the mash tun.

Boiling.-- The wort is boiled with about one-half pound of hops per barrel, [based on 1/2 lb. hops per 31 gallon barrel, and assuming ~4.5% alpha acid (probably Cluster hops) would give a bitterness of low to mid 20's IBU's, or similar to modern British mild according to Jeff Renner] and cooled to 60 F.

Fermentation.--The wort is pitched with one-third of a pound of top-fermentation yeast per barrel, allowed to come full in Krausen, and then is transferred from the fermenter directly into the trade packages, which are placed on troughs, into which the yeast is allowed to work out. The barrels are kept full continually by topping up every few hours. After 48 hours in the barrels the fermentation is over and the barrels are bunged; when very much gas is required they may be closed in 24 hours.

The beers are not as a rule Krausened, nor fined, and consequently have a "muddy" appearance, but a moderatley clear article can be obtained if the saloonkeeper lays in a supply so that it can settle a few days before tapping. (Page 818)

Did you notice that Wahl & Henus didn't mention anise? Or Pennsyvania Swankey? That's because they had mentioned it on page 779, where they described it is a low alcohol (1% abv) beer brewed by the Pennsylvania Dutch.

Finally, in Radical Brewing, by Randy Mosher, a clear distinction is drawn between Kentucky Common and Pennsylvania Swankey.

BUT, when I entered the Dixie Cup, one of the judges said I needed anise.

Kentucky Common beer DIDN'T have anise.

Hey! My beer was probably infected. But I liked it.

If anyone knows of any modern examples, please drop me a line.


posted by Jeff Holt at 19:15


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