Friday, 9 January 2015

American beer styles of the 1930’s - Half and Half

This is the last of my short series on pre-war, post-Prohibition American beer styles. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve wondered when the hell it’s going to end.

When I saw Half and Half, something immediately came into my mind. And it was totally wrong. I’d thought something like a Black and Tan. Here’s what Half and Half really was:

Half and Half
Brewing custom in America since repeal has popularized the half and half mixture, for which purposes the mixture of American stock ale with the American mild Pilsener beer gives a very satisfactory result. Such beer will have an ale character subdued considerably by the beer and pleases the palate of many consumers. (See analysis on Half and Half Type Beer.)”
"Beer from the Expert's Viewpoint" by Arnold Spencer Wahl and Robert Wahl, 1937, page 173.

So it was really a mix of Ale and Lager. Wasn’t that also called Cream Ale? The idea being, as described, to tone down the Ale character and produce an easier-drinking beer. It makes me wonder what other blending was going on.

Now here’s a question. Did they ever parti-gyle in the USA after Prohibition. I’ve evidence for a simple sort of parti-gyling in the Vassar records from the 1830’s, where Single Ale and Double Ale were often brewed together. But in the Amsdell records from around 1900 there’s no trace of the technique. Was the technique dropped when the German influence began to take hold in American brewing?

Presumably, as with Vienna Lager, the blending was done after maturation and lagering. If you can remember back that far, Mild Pilsener had an OG of 11.95º Balling and Stock Ale 16.32º Balling, meaning a 50-50 mix would give a gravity of 14.135º Balling. Or just about exactly the OG for Half and Half in the table below.

What else can I say? Nothing much, really. So I’d best shut up. Something I very rarely do.

Reported by Wahl Institute, February 22, 1936
This beer is composed of the following substances, reported in percentages or pounds per hundred:
Alcohol (by weight) 4.55
Real extract (dry substance) 5.1
Carbonic acid 0.53
Water 89.82
The real extract (5.1) is made up of the following substances:
In Percentage  In Percentage
of the beer  of the extract
Acid (lactic) 0.117 2.3
Acid salts 0.153 3
Protein 0.453 8.88
Ash 0.141 2.76
Sugar (reducing) 1.528 29.96
Dextrins 2.708 53.1
5.1 100
The following are important brewing figures:
Specific gravity of beer 1.012
Original balling of wort 14.2
Apparent extract of beer (balling) 3.05
Real attenuation 9.1
Fermentable sugar in the wort 10.63
Apparent attenuation 11.15
Alcohol (by volume) 5.69
Percent of extract fermented 64.1
Percent of extract unfermented 5.9
Percent of sugars in original wort 74.8
Percent of non-sugars in original wort 25.2
pH value 4.4
Total acidity 2.7
Carbonic acid by volumes 2.7
Amylo dextrins none
Beer from the Expert's Viewpoint by Arnold Spencer Wahl and Robert Wahl, 1937, page 179.

I was going to say that was it for the Wahls’ book. Then I remembered there was something about beer colour that caught my attention. But after that we will be able to move on/ to another article about brewing in 1930’s America. Then there’s the Wahl and Henius book from 1902 that I’ve been OCRing. So lots, lots more about the USA to come.


Craig said...

I don't think Cream Ale was a blend of lager and ale.

Also don't forget about Porter, Stout, Bock, IPA and hundreds of other brews simply labeled "Ale"

Gary Gillman said...

Numerous sources state that cream ale at least as latterly known was a blend of lager and ale. Here is one:

I don't have Michael Jackson's early editions of his pocket guide to hand, but I know he reported an east coast ale made in such fashion. Perhaps it was Genessee Cream Ale, or maybe Fred Koch's Black Horse Ale albeit the latter was not styled as a "cream".

My personal belief is originally, no such mixtures were made, but after a while when sparkling ale and other cold-filtered types became common and were recognized to have attributes of ale and lager, some brewers decided simply to blend the two types, probably to give a bit of character to the standard adjunct lager of the house.


JessKidden said...

Post-Repeal "Half and Half" beers in the US were made and marketed by numerous breweries (many which came after the publication of the Wahl & Wahl book), and were of several different combinations. "Beer and Ale" and "Ale and Porter" were the most common, but there were a few "Beer and Porter" as well. Just a few example can be found on the bottom portion of my page at

US TTB Labeling regulations still specify that "Half and Half" be a:

"Product containing 0.5% or more alcohol by volume composed of equal parts of two classes of malt beverages."

...and is probably the reason current such beers are labeled "Black and Tan" today - which has no such regulation and are probably not true mixtures.

Genesee Cream Ale, the best known example of a "lager/ale" mixture, was a creation of the late 1950s. Genesee had brewed a true top fermented "cream ale" (which seems to have been their renamed "Light Ale" from the '30s) in the late 40s-early 50s, but current Genesee material ignores it.

The popularity of that later "ale/beer" blended Genesee Cream Ale in the 70s and 80s is why so many US beer sources claim ALL cream ale was a beer/ale mix.

Many breweries, particularly in the Northeast, resurrected or marketed new "cream ales" in the 70-80s to compete with Genesee's- Schaefer, C. Schmidt's, The Lion, Utica Club, Falstaff's Narragansett and Ballantine brands and even their Texas-based Pearl brand. It's unclear which were blends and which "true ales" (in US industry parlance).

Even Rheingold, when they again became bottling and canning their McSorley's ale in the 70s marketed it under the "Cream Ale" terminology but it clearly was much hoppier (dry hopped with Hallertauer) than the standard "cream ales" and was more in line with traditional US "golden ales" like Ballantine XXX Ale.

Many US ales, especially those from primarily “lager” breweries, eventually became so-called “Bastard ales” – brewed with the brewer’s lager yeast but fermented at higher than normal lager temps. (Again, US TTB regulations even address that

“ALE - .Malt beverage fermented at a comparatively high temperature containing 0.5% or more alcohol by volume possessing the characteristics generally
attributed to and conforming to the trade understanding of “ale” .”

Note no mention of top fermenting yeast. Wahl and Wahl address this on pages 214-215. I think many confuse the two – “bastard ales” and lager/ale blended “cream ales”.

Genesee’s blend claims today are somewhat dubious, too, since their standard “ale” at the time – 12 Horse Ale – was totally reworked in the late 1970s, changing from a “dumbed down” stock ale, to a Canadian-style golden ale – yet, their best selling Cream Ale did not change. Today, Genesee Lager Beer is 4.5% and both 12 Horse and Cream Ale are listed at 5.1%. Seems strange to blend 4.5% with 5.1% and come out at 5.1%, unless something else is going on (high gravity brewed lager added?).

Craig said...

Yes, I've seen similar assertions, and I think they are wrong. I think it's incorrect information being passed along. The idea that Cream Ale was blended seems to be a fairly recent notion, perhaps started by Jackson and run with in later publications of the 1980s, 90s and 2000s, by other authors. Granted, there doesn’t seem to be a lot written about Cream Ale during its height (1933-1960), but what I’ve found doesn’t mention blending. For example, Anthony Nagy, described Cream Ale in his 1937 “Brewing Formulas Practically Considered” as “an ale that is Kraeusened in trade packages, or filled therein before the completion of the primary fermentation.” In 1941, Krueguer advertised that their Cream Ale was “A true ale brewed in Kruegers separate ale house.” Not to mention that cold-conditioned ales most definitely existed in the period before prohibition.

I don’t doubt brewers blended ale and lager, and there may have been some who passed of blends as something they labeled as “Cream Ale, but I think they were the exception rather than the rule.

JessKidden said...

The lager/ale blend, as I noted, began with Genesee's 1960 version of "Cream Ale". That is confirmed by former Genesee brewmaster Gary Geminn, who brewmaster father, Clarence, created it.

"...he acknowledged that it's essentially a blend of that old 12 Horse and the brewery's lager, Genesee Beer."

While 1933-1960 might have seen more Cream Ales on the market, I'd put it's true "heyday" at 1975-1985, driven by GCA's immense popularity in the Northeast, when it was selling 1.5 million barrels a year.

Craig said...

I suppose I should have clarified by saying my points were targeted at the post repeal era from 1933-1960.