Friday, 12 December 2014

American top-fermenting styles of the 1930's

It’s now time to move on to the exciting world of American top-fermenting beers from before WW II.

Unsurprisingly, while the bottom-fermenting styles found their inspiration in Central Europe, the top-fermenters have their origins in the British Isles. At least most of them. There are two exceptions to this, which we’ll see in a moment.

Though the Wahls do differentiate between the American and British versions. Because, while the prototypes might have been British, in confirmation of my theory of beer style evolution, they began to mutate when transplanted to a new environment. Partly due to the raw materials available and advances in technology, but also to the regulatory regime in their new home. And WW I, with the huge changes it wrought on British brewing, only made the divergence between the beers on the two sides of the Atlantic greater.

We’ll be looking at this in more detail in a later post. But I will remark that the Wahls don’t seem to have noticed just how much British had transformed itself between 1914 and 1930.

I’ll begin with an overview. See if you can spot which type of American beer from the pre-Prohibition period has disappeared.

2. Top Fermentation
English Beer Mild ales
English Beer Stock ales
English Beer Porter
English Beer Stout
English Beer Cream ales
American Ale Cream ales
American Ale Sparkling ales
American Ale Stock ales
American Porter and Stout Porter and Stout
German Weiss Beer Weiss beer
American Weiss Beer Weiss beer type
Kentucky Common Beer Louisville

"Beer from the Expert's Viewpoint" by Arnold Spencer Wahl and Robert Wahl, 1937, page 150.

Did you spot it? Present Use Ale, the American equivalent of Mild Ale. It seems to have disappeared without trace during Prohibition.

Here’s some more detail:

American Top Fermentation Beers
American Ales, Porter, Stout. Cream or sparkling ales are quite lively, clear and sparkling, and quite pale. The American ales, like the English, are not produced for body, yet they should conform in a measure to the light lager beers of the Pilsener or Dortmunder type in general characteristics. Being fermented with top yeast this alone gives them variation from the lager beer type. These ales as are also the American stock ales are carbonated and filtered. The cream ale is finished in about two to three weeks, the stock ale in about four to six weeks without regard to secondary fermentation. Cream ale is brewed with an original extract of wort of about 14, stock ale with 16 to 18. The cream ale has an alcoholic content of about 5 per cent by weight, the stock ale about 6 per cent by weight. The Balling of the finished products is about 3 to 4 degrees on the Balling saccharometer. Usually the finished ales are dry-hopped, that is, fresh hops of a good quality are added to the storage tank. In the Wahl method the finished beers are run through a chamber charged with hops for cold extraction of the highly soluble hop oils.

American Porter and Stout. The porter is brewed in at about 15 per cent original extract, the stout from 18 to 21. They are quite dark. They are brewed like the ales but are not dry hopped.

American Weiss Beer. This beer is brewed from wheat and barley malt according to methods described for Berliner Weiss Beer.”
"Beer from the Expert's Viewpoint" by Arnold Spencer Wahl and Robert Wahl, 1937, pages 156 - 157.

It looks like Cream Ale has replaced Present Use Ale. A beer produced quickly for immediate consumption.  While Stock Ale, lacking a secondary fermentation, isn’t really Stock Ale. Four to six weeks is pretty quick. It really just looks like a slightly stronger version of Cream Ale.

What interests me most is that both Cream and Stock Ales were dry-hopped in the conditioning tank. I wonder how long this continued? British brewers didn’t generally dry-hop Porter, but did their Stouts. I assume that American brewers must have once dry-hopped them, too. When and why did they stop?

How accurate are the gravities? I’m lucky enough to have a reasonable number of analyses of US Ales from the 1930’s:

American top-fermenting beers of the 1930's
Year Brewer Beer Style Acidity OG FG colour ABV App. Attenuation OG Plato
1938 Ballantine XXX Ale Ale 0.04 1056.8 1016.1 11 5.28 71.65% 14.03
1938 Burke Ale Ale 0.05 1055.2 1013.7 11 5.40 75.18% 13.65
1938 Foxhead Old Waukesha Ale Ale 0.05 1061 1016 19 5.85 73.77% 15.01
1938 Hoffman Ale Ale 0.04 1060.7 1016.6 33 5.73 72.65% 14.94
1939 Ballantine XXX Ale Ale 0.07 1056 1014.9 9 5.34 73.39% 13.84
1939 Ballantine XXX Ale Ale 0.07 1056.2 1014.5 11 5.42 74.20% 13.89
1939 Burke Ale Ale 0.07 1054.8 1011.4 11 5.66 79.20% 13.56
1939 Feigenspan Ale Ale 0.08 1057.9 1012.8 11 5.88 77.89% 14.28
1938 Feigenspan Amber Ale Amber Ale 0.04 1059.1 1013.3 14 5.97 77.50% 14.56
1939 Feigenspan Amber Ale Amber Ale 0.07 1058.1 1012.9 10 5.89 77.80% 14.33
1938 Ballantine India Pale Ale IPA 0.05 1077.6 1019.2 16 7.63 75.26% 18.81
1939 Ballantine India Pale Ale IPA 0.07 1075.2 1018.6 16 7.39 75.27% 18.27
1939 Ballantine XXX Porter Porter 0.08 1059.6 1018.8 1 + 13 5.29 68.46% 14.68
1938 McSorley Cream Stock Ale Stock Ale 0.05 1060 1011.6 14 6.32 80.67% 14.77
1939 Ballantine Brown Stout Stout 0.10 1074.6 1021.9 1 + 8 6.86 70.64% 18.13
Whitbread Gravity book held at the London Metropolitan Archives, document number LMA/4453/D/02/001.

The OG and ABW of the Ales are both lower than claimed: they average 14.19º Plato and 4.49% ABW. I can’t say much about the Stock Ales, as I’ve only one example, but that, too, has an OG lower than claimed by the Wahls. They are right about the FG’s, which are mostly between 3º and 4º Plato.

The lone Porter is about spot on the 15º Plato specified in the book, while the Stout is at the bottom end of the range given.

I’ve just noticed something odd. There’s no mention of IPA in the book, despite Ballantine’s being a major brand at the time. Perhaps the Wahls just considered them examples of Stock Ales. Not so crazy, as the original British IPAs were Stock Ales. And Ballantine IPA was matured in wooden vats.

I’m very surprised that the Weissbier brewed in the USA wasn’t the Bavarian type but Berliner. I’d love to know if it was as sour as the German variety. And when it was last brewed in the USA.

Here’s the other top-fermenter not of British origin: the indigenous Kentucky Common:

“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.”
"Beer from the Expert's Viewpoint" by Arnold Spencer Wahl and Robert Wahl, 1937, page 153.

I’m intrigued by the comparison with California Steam Beer, another indigenous American style. But the stuff about lactic acid formation goes against the latest research into the style, which refutes claims it was sour.

Not sure what I’ll bore you with next from the book. Perhaps the comparison of German and British beer.


Craig said...

From what I've been able to garner "Stock" in American parlance doesn't necessarily mean what the English term means. I think in America, "Stock" is a euphemism for "Best" (but don't quote me on that). Looking through the turn of the century logs for Amsdell Brewing & Malting Co. the phrase "Stock" gets used with a number of beer, including their Diamond Stock, a Winter Stock, a Light XXX Stock, and a Stock IPA (they made an un-stock IPA, too). But, the beers are not hopped at higher rate, or "stock" strong—nor is there any indication that they were put up or stored. The only information is that they were racked, dry hopped and krausened with some amount of a subsequently brewed like beer—like the rest of their beer. There is one exception—their Porter. Brewed only two or three times a year, Amsdell's Porter recipes are the only ones which indicate any kind of vatting, presumably for some period of aging. There was also an addition of hops added at the time of vatting. 21% of the post boil/pre fermentation volume was also an "old ale" addition. Interestingly, Amsdell also made a Stock Porter, but as far as I can tell it doesn't seem much different than their standard Porter.

Alan said...

Fabulous. Denial of a contemporary record on the taste of Kentucky Common. Why do we trust anything written after 1975?

Alan said...

Stock shows up in the 1830s Vassar logs, too, but it's like a noting of a particular batch's capacity as a beer fold holding. The handwritten note in the log is italicized and written with a bit of style. It's like he is saying "nailed it".

JessKidden said...

From what I've found (mostly in ads rather than brewery records) US brewers in the post-Repeal era considered IPA's "Stock Ales" - long aged ales, typically dry hopped, as well.

Only a few breweries I can think of off-hand which brewed and marketed beers labeled both "India Pale Ale" and "Stock Ale" - West End (Utica Club) and Neuweiler are the two that come to mind immediately. In the case of the former brewery (now today as F X Matt), their IPA was labeled "XXX" while their Stock Ale was "XXXX".

Ballantine called their IPA "a true stock ale" in the 30's.

There seems to have been many more "Stock Ales" than beers marketed as "India Pale Ale" in that era - and, eventually, "India Pale Ale" became pretty much a "brand" of Ballantine rather than a beer style.

For examples, a list of post-Repeal Stock Ales and India Pale Ales can be found at my page

As for dry-hopping, despite some claims by early "Craft" brewers, there were still a few dry-hopped US ales right up to the beginning of the "craft" era in the 1970's - Ballantine's ales, and a few Schmidt's ale (McSorley's, Neuweiler, probably 20th Century Ale, too, considering it's similarity to McSorley's) and even Yuengling still claimed their Lord Chesterfield Ale was dry-hopped.

Examples of US post-Repeal dry-hopped ales (and even a couple of lagers) at

It should also be remembered that 1935's Federal Alcohol Administration Act (aka the "FAA Act" - still the law of the land, though obviously much amended) at first defined "Ale" as being "not less that 13.50 balling" and "containing not less that 5% alcohol by volume".

Ron Pattinson said...


I hadn't checked back with the Amsdell logs.

Looking quickly at my spreadsheet, Stock Ale is both stronger and more heaviy hopped than XX, which I assume is their "present use" Ale.

What are you comparing the Stock Ales with?

Craig said...

Oh no, I agree Ron. In the aggregate, Amsdell’s labeled “stock” ales are stronger and more heavily hopped than their non stock ales. For example, their Diamond Stock Ale was bigger and hopper than, like you said, their XX—and significantly so. However, if you look at their “like” beers, the rule doesn’t seem to apply, or the increase is marginal. Here’s a few examples of their stock versus non-stock “like” beers:

India Pale Stock - April 19, 1904
OG=18.7 / FG=6.4
ABV 6.8%
Hops - 450 lbs

India Pale Ale - March 24, 1905
OG=18.8 / FG=7.4
ABV 6.4%
Hops - 450 lbs


Stock Porter - October 14, 1904
OG=17.6 / FG=7.1
ABV 5.8%
Hops - 500 lbs

Porter - May 20, 1905
OG=17.8 / FG=6.5
ABV 6.2%
Hops - 500 lbs


Winter Stock XX - April 26, 1901
OG=16.2 / FG=5.2
Hops - 375 lbs

Winter XX - October 24, 1901
OG=15.5 / FG=4.7
ABV 5.88
Hops - 270 lbs

It’s a bit anomalous. Sometimes the general rule of "stock equals stronger and hoppier (and aged)", but not always. Sometimes the stock brews are only slightly stronger, but also sometimes slightly weaker than their non-stock counterparts. The hopping rates are often close, except in these examples where the Winter XX is lower in the standard brew—but I believe that entry also indicated that hop extract was used, whereas the stock version used regular hops.

Looking back into the logs, it does seem that some of their labeled Stock ales were aged—including the listed April 1901 Winter Stock XX. But that’s not the case in all of their Stock brews. For example, their March 8, 1901 Diamond Stock Ale was racked on the 23rd of that month, and by 1904-05 there’s almost none that are. It seems that almost all of Amsdell’s regular line-up brews XX, Winter XX, Scotch, Porter and Diamond Stock (and many of there one offs) were “present use” ales by 1904.

What’s interesting is the stock variety of their beer was brewed fairly rarely, but so were the non-stock varieties of those beer (with the exception of Diamond Stock and Winter XX which was brewed somewhat regularly). The India Pale Stock and IPA are the only two entries for that style of beer in either the 1900-01 or 1904-05 logs, yet there seems to be a clear distinction between them in their name. Again, their porter (stock or non-stock) is the perfect example of this. It was only brewed a few times four or five times between each log, but as far as I can tell there is no discernible difference between the two.

Craig said...

Jess, I was going to comment that both Beverwyck and Dobler made IPAs, but your link beat me to it! Tavern Trove has a 1937 Beverwyck Stock Ale label for salel.