Friday, 9 May 2014

Ale brewing in the USA and Canada in 1907

I find the descriptions of North American brewing in the Journal of the Institute of Brewing totally fascinating.

Being written by outsiders, they include a lot of detail which an American brewer probably wouldn't have considered worthy of mention. In particular, the authors compare and contrast American practice with that in Britain.

Let's start with confirmation that climate helped shape American beer:

"To begin with, the climatic conditions of the country are totally different to what we have to contend with. They have almost tropical weather for several months of the year, and then a long spell of hard, wintry weather. Under these trying conditions, especially the hot weather, the brewer has to produce a bright, brilliant, cold beer, for which there is a demand. In the coldest of weather they still like the beer cold and bright, like the lager beer. The cosmopolitan type of the people has to be reckoned with, with all their different tastes and fads which, they have become accustomed to in the country of their birth or from whence they came."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 13, Issue 4, July-August 1907, page 358.
There were also economic reasons for differences in brewing between the two countries:

"Then, again, the American brewer is, from economic reasons, compelled to use only such malt and hops as the country produces. He cannot, as we do in England, use imported malt or hops. The tarif on these commodities makes them prohibitive."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 13, Issue 4, July-August 1907, page 358.
As we've seen when looking at the raw materials used in British brewing, considerable quantities of both barley and hops had been imported into Britain since the middle of the 19th century. If only for the simple reason that Britain couldn't produce enough raw materials to satisfy the demand of the industry.

The Ales of Britain and the USA were quite different in character by 1900. The same was not true 50 years earlier, when it terms of techniques and styles, American Ale brewing was still greatly influenced by British brewing. The brewing of IPA - a style which didn't exist at the time of American independence - proves that continued influence.

"Under these and other numerous conditions, it is impossible to compare the ale brewer of the two countries on equal terms. Although we both brew on the top-fermentation system, the two products are entirely different in character when placed before the consumer. The ale as consumed by us in England would not suit the taste of the average American, and I should very much doubt if the clean, cold, sparkling American ale would suit the taste of the British working man, who is the largest consumer of our product. As a rule, he likes some thing thicker, with more weft or food value in his beer. At the same time, I would not be so sceptical as to assert that a modification of the methods adopted by American and some of the Canadian brewers of finishing the beer, would not be of benefit to a portion of the English ale trade."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 13, Issue 4, July-August 1907, page 358.
British brewers had a sneaking admiration for some aspects of American brewing, even though they generally acknowledged British beers tasted better.

Even this early Ale brewing had become regional:

"I may here mention that ale brewing is practically extinct in the Southern and Western States, and is wholly confined to the Northern States and Canada; and, indeed, these districts would have shared the same fate if new and more modern methods had not been adopted."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 13, Issue 4, July-August 1907, pages 358 - 359.
Not really that surprising, as these were the areas where British influence was still its strongest.

If you remember, we've heard of these types of Ale before:

"Ten years ago the two principal types of ale were known as stock ale and lively or present use ale. The stock ale is like our English  stock ale, of high gravity, hopped down in cask, and stored a few months before sending out. This type of ale possesses a harsh, old flavour, and is only consumed in the more northern States and Canada. The lively or present use ale is much lower in gravity and is not stored at all, but is heavily kräusened and placed in a warm store to generate violent cask condition, which must be sufficient to entirely empty the cask when on draught. The pressure generated is as high as 70 lb. per square inch. The casks are specially made, the heads being 4 inches thick.

The lively ale was always thick and creamy on draught, and had a pronounced old yeasty flavour which could not be called agreeable. Considering, therefore, the two classes of ale, there is no wonder that the ale brewer across the water was in great danger of being cleared out by the brewer of lager beer, simply because a light, brilliant beer was undoubtedly better suited for the beer-drinking public of that country."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 13, Issue 4, July-August 1907, page 359.

The lively or present use Ale was the American equivalent of Mild Ale. Though as far as I can tell, it never underwent the mysterious darkening that befell British Mild around 1900. Odd that the article makes no mention of this. It sounds pretty scary to me. With all that pressure, those casks must have been potential bombs. The flavour doesn't sound great, either. I can see why you'd have trouble shifting cloudy, yeasty Ale when sparkling Lager was widely available.

Falling sales made Ale brewers have a rethink. The first was to start brewing Lager themselves. But once they had the new plant installed, they began to look further.
"Quite a large number, when they found that the demand for heavy stock ale, also the lively or present use ale, were declining, and that the demand for the light, brilliant lager beer was rapidly increasing, forthwith went in for brewing lager to meet the competition. This, gentlemen, is the position to-day both in Canada as well as the States. They have a separate plant for brewing lager. If you ask them why they went in for lager beer brewing, the answer is the same in every case, viz.:— That their ale sales were going down and the demand was for clear beer, like lager, and they had no alternative but to go in for it. But once they got their lager plant working, with its elaborate system of cold cellars and the necessary ice machinery for that purpose, it quite naturally occurred to them, why not treat the ale on similar lines as regards storage in cold cellars and finish in the same way exactly as lager?

I was given to understand that the preliminary trials on these lines were not a success in any of the breweries, but a modification of the same process has proved very successful, and is in general operation in almost all the ale breweries in the country. Each brewer, of course, has a different idea of treating his product, but, broadly speaking, all arriving at the same type of beer to compete with the lager, viz. — a brilliant, carbonated ale in cask and bottle.

The results of these new methods of treatment have been very satisfactory, and given a great impetus to the consumption of ale."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 13, Issue 4, July-August 1907, pages 359 - 360.
In Britain, despite various attempts, Lager-brewing never really got much a foothold in the 19th century. British Ale brewers didn't have Lager to compete with. Had they, it might have prompted similar changes to production methods.

The cross-fertilsation of ideas from British Ale brewing and Continental Lager brewing seems to be the defining feature of North American brewing.


Phil said...

I think this is the second reference I've seen here to 19th-century US ale being brewed so lively that the gas pressure alone would empty the cask. It sounds as if top pressure was an invention just waiting to happen. I do wonder, though - firstly, why? Had they forgotten how to connect a pump to a cask? Secondly, would this self-propelled gas-pressure method actually work? What about when the cask was half empty?

Jeff Renner said...

American brewing historian Stanley Baron wrote in his 1962 book, "Brewed in America,“By the 1870s the American drinking public had made a clear choice for lager beer over ale, porter and the other English beers. What was more,the Americans preferred a lager closer to the Pilsen than the Munich type: ie, a light bodied, clear and effervescent beer, relatively low in alcoholic content.”

This lager was light bodied and low in alcohol only compared to the top fermented beers of the mid-19th century. Baron quotes a “scientific writer” of the time who described them as “half sour, muddy and intoxicating.”

Ron Pattinson said...


from what, I've read, they struggled to keep Ale sound in the summer due to the heat.

Did they really go for Pils from the beginning? I'd want some contemporary evidence for that. Pils wasn't very widely brewed in Europe in 1870. When Lager started spreading in the 1850's and 1860's it was mostly in the form of the dark Munich type or amber Vienna one.

Not saying that they didn't kick off with Pils. Just that it's often what people assume.

Ron Pattinson said...


I don't understand how it could work either. But it's not the first time I've seen it mentioned. Thopugh the second may be referencing the first.

It could be a misunderstanding on the part of the British brewer and that external pressure was being applied.

Alan said...

A key component in the expansion of lager in the US in the second half of the 1800s is the expansion of the US. As the communities west of Buffalo grow they are adding the newest brewery infrastructures while ale hangs on in the east. On average, the country "shifted" to lager but as much, say around 1875, because new Americans were born in or immigrated to the new cities and states where no one had existed in 1825 let alone brewed there.

Gary Gillman said...

Baron is essentially correct. He is thinking of the un-American beers such as Budweiser and Miller High Life, which date from the third quarter of the 1800's. These were light-coloured lagers. Anheuser Busch and Miller made beers in other styles as well but it was the light coloured beers that took off, same with Pabst Blue Ribbon. In Michael Weiner's The Taster's Guide To Beer (1978), there are many ads from the late 1800's where you can see that the colour of these and similar beers was quite pale. It's true that dunkel and Vienna tended to be made extensively in Europe in general in this time but one of the early Busch's had travelled to Bohemia and was particularly impressed with Bohemian pils beer. Michelob is supposed to be based on a similar type and in 1896 when released was all-malt and draft only. It must have been great and instead of playing around with bland craft line extensions I cannot understand why Michelob as formulated in 1896 is not re-released. It would be superb because it had to be richer and more bitter than today. Even in the 70's it was much better than today.


Jeff Renner said...

Ron - I have also thought that 1870 is early for pale lagers to have become common. I think that primary sources are out there in brewery records, but I don't know if that's been researched.

Gary Gillman said...

Jeff, from the brief quote from Baron's book, it is not clear he is strictly situating pale Bohemian beer as a national taste in the 1870's, he could be talking about the period just after, say, 1880-1900. If you look at the nearly 50 colour plates of old ads in Michael Weiner's book (probably the best pre-Michael Jackson beer book), 90% of them show pale or light amber beers, e.g. an early depiction of a Budweiser girl, probably 1880's-90's, shows the beer looking just a tad darker than today - in fact it looks exactly like Urquell looked before the changes from about 20 years ago.

These ads appear to date from the last 20 years of the 1800's, with one or two from 1900-1914. The nature of business would have been such that the beers well-preceded the time brewers could afford to pay for such lavish colour illustrations. Many of the beers are called Pilsener, e.g. one states "Pilsener is gut enuff for me", or Bohemian. In a some ads, dark amber or brown beers are shown but this is a small minority.

Budweiser, which went national early, had a lot to do with this I'm sure, helping to set the style just as Sierra Nevada did a century later with a different kind of beer.

Ron, if you don't have this book, I'll show it to you when you come to Toronto, but you should buy it online anyway. One of the things about it you would like is, Weiner describes 1970's production processes quite closely.


Jeff Renner said...

Ron - I somehow acquired two copies of Weiner's book. You may have one if you don't already have one. I can give it to you in Grand Rapids next month.

Ron Pattinson said...

Jeff, I don't own a copy, as far as I can remember. Be delighted to take one off your hands. Thank you.

I can see the AHA Confernce being a total blur.