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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 arc 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.