Tuesday, 8 June 2021

What was AK?

Put briefly, AK was the classic “Running Bitter”, that is, a Pale Ale which was intended to be drunk young.

The original 19th-century Pale Ales had all been Stock Ales, aged for a considerable period before sale. Big, heavy beers, they needed a long maturation to knock off the rough edges and to give the beer time to spontaneously drop bright, without the need for fining. A beer such as Bass Pale Ale was usually at least 12 months old before it was sold.

Around the middle of the 19th century a new type of Pale Ale appeared. Lighter in alcohol and intended to be drunk almost immediately after brewing. Such beers were particularly favoured for private use. That is casks of beer bought to be consumed at home. As this was primarily intended to be drunk with meals, something light and easily digestible was preferred.

Its expected use in a domestic setting is why the word “family” pops up so often in the description of AK in price lists. Also the words “light” and “dinner” were much used in relation to it. As we’ll see a little later in this book.

Dr. Edward Ralph Moritz, a brewing scientist, giving evidence to a parliamentary committee, defined the maturation times for different types of beer.

Maturation times of different types of beers in the 1890s
(a.) Stock ale, kept 4 to 12 months before delivery:—
Fine English malt 66 66
Fine foreign malt 25 34
No. 1 invert sugar or glucose 9 0
  100 100
(b.) Semi-stock pale bottling beers, kept about three months before delivery:—
Fine English malt 60  
Foreign malt 25  
No. 2 invert sugar or glucose 15  
(cJ Light pale ales (A.K.), kept about 2 to 4 weeks before delivery:—
Good to fine English malt 55  
Good to fine foreign malt 25  
No. 2 invert sugar or glucose 20  
(d.) Mild ale (X. or XX.—fourpenny) kept four to ten days before delivery :—
Good English malt 50  
Good ordinary foreign malt 25  
No. 2, invert or glucose 25  
Minutes of evidence taken before the Departmental Committee on Beer Materials, 1899, pages 190 - 191.

There was a big difference between the months which Stock Pale Ale was matured and the coupe of weeks a Running Bitter received. As tastes changed in the second half of the 19th century, Stock Pale Ales began to fade away and after WW II they had virtually disappeared, save for a few examples brewed in Burton-on-Trent.

Running Bitter reigned supreme in the 20th century. It’s what all modern cask Bitters are. By deliberately brewing a lighter beer, bringing it more quickly into condition by priming with sugar at racking time and clearing it with finings, brewers were able to create a palatable product much more quickly and cheaply.

The use of sugar, and to some extent adjuncts, such as flaked maize, made such beers possible. An all-malt, higher gravity Stock Pale Ale took much longer to condition that a lighter gravity bee3r with lots of readily-fermentable sugars.

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