Kentucky Common Beer

From The American Handy-book of the Brewing, Malting, and Auxiliary Trades 1902

                   – Robert Wahl, Max Henius

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 to 30 percent of corn, with some sugar color, caramel or roasted malt to give a dark color.  

Balling of wort about 10 to 11 percent.  

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

Boiling. — The wort is boiled with about one-half pound of hops per barrel, and cooled to 6o° F. (120o to 130o R.).  

Fermentation. — The wort is pitched with one-third of a pound of top-fermentation yeast per barrel, allowed to come full in kräusen, and then 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 kräusened, nor fined, and consequently have a “muddy” appearance, but a moderately clear article can be obtained if the saloonkeeper lays in a supply so that it can settle a few days before tapping.


NOTE – Some BJCP Guidelines don’t seem to reflect many anecdotal descriptions of this beer.

Kentucky Common was not a sour mash beer even though it has widely been assumed to be. This fallacy is based on most Bourbon Whiskey distillers using a sour mash for whiskey. If you assume something and repeat it often enough, some people accept the conjecture as fact.

A homebrew version of this beer MIGHT contain:
70% Barley malt (6 row preferred because of flavor but 2 row will work)
28% Corn grits (flaked corn will work)
2% Specialty malts (Caramel/Crystal malt and light chocolate malt such as chocolate rye.)
If using caramel/crystal malts, use lighter colored malts such as 40L or 60L
OG – shoot for an OG of about 1.040 to 1.044 SG
Cluster hops for bittering and flavor.  About 15 to 18 IBU
Condition to about 2.3 – 2.5 vol.
Use an aggressive fermenting yeast such as Nottingham and ferment at low to mid 60’s.

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