Monday, December 24, 2012

Kommonwealth

One of the best things about loving beer these days is the endless number of styles & variations available to the inquisitive consumer.  Whether you like your malt beverages hoppy, sweet or tart, black, brown or pale, there truly is a beer for every taste.  With all the styles that are out there, we at Low Dive have become very interested in what might be missing from even the best stocked beer shelves.

Throughout the history of brewing there are styles that, for some reason or other, have fallen out of favor with brewers and as time progresses, these styles are threatened to be forgotten.  Being American brewers originally hailing from Indiana, we have become enamored with the Kentucky Common; a style native to Louisville & the southern most parts of Indiana.  

References to this style can be found in the 1902 edition of Wahl & Henius' "American Handy Book of the Brewing, Malting and Auxiliary Trades", the recently released "Hoosier Beer" as well as online at Kentucky's Beer Heritage.  Through these references we learn that Kentucky Common was a dark ale that may otherwise be similar to a cream ale or California common (steam beer).  The Kentucky Beer Heritage site also speaks to its popularity & origin in stating that "In 1913 it was estimated that 80% of the beer consumed in Louisville was of this type."  They also go on to say that "many local breweries made this type of beer only" and that "It is a distinct beer style originated in Louisville".  This would make Kentucky Common one of the few styles that is completely American.  Furthermore, due to its Kentucky origins, it is not too far fetched to assume it shared some of its production techniques with the region's most famous beverage, bourbon. This would mean that this beer would utilize a grain makeup somewhat similar to the distillers grist; depending heavily on corn, in addition to malted barley and possibly wheat and rye to a lesser degree.  Knowing that by law bourbon is aged in only first use barrels, it is safe to assume that bourbon barrels may have been used as the fermenting vessel to this Kentucky native.

One aspect of this beer that is debated in home brew circles is whether it was soured or not.  While Wahl & Henius make no mention of any tartness, "Hoosier Beer" states that "Until 1857, all beers were fermented by wild yeasts."  "In southern Indiana, a specific style of beer made this way was called Common or Kentucky Common."  they go on to describe the style's make up, stating that "The recipe used about 30% corn and 70% barley malt.  Some roasted malt or artificial coloring was often added to the mix to darken it.  Fermentation of Common was done by sour mash process.  The brewery added (inoculated) a bit of beer from the last batch to introduce the yeast."

With so many different breweries once making this style of ale, variations would be expected as each brewer would impart his personal tastes to each offering. I imagine in its hayday one could find examples displaying various levels of nutty, caramel, roast and sourness, but we may never really know.

Although there are two commercial brewers we are aware of currently brewing Kentucky Common (Local Option & New Albanian), our brew was conceived & brewed without having tried either.  So with all of this in mind, Low Dive set forth to recreate this all but dead style of pre-prohibition ale. Our example presents itself light on the palette, although almost black in the glass.  A slight roast quality up front is quickly met with a mellow tang provided by our sour mash technique. The beer is rounded out with a little nutty/caramel backbone before it finishes crisp and refreshing due to its low ABV. (3.8%).