What were some of the common Colonial American ale/beer styles?

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by Dougal, Sep 20, 2012.

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  1. Dougal

    Dougal Initiate (0) Nov 6, 2007 New Jersey

    Does anyone know what the popular ale/beer styles were that Colonial Americans brewed? I hear George Washington enjoyed porter but there does not seem to be a lot of info on other exact types. There was a large amount of Taverns in the states, what types of beer did they serve to people? Ale was popular and I'm assuming pale ale, brown ale....

    thanks a lot
  2. klaybie

    klaybie Initiate (118) Nov 15, 2009 Illinois

    In most of my historical journals/books they simply say ''ale'' and it was common to drink with breakfast. I've found a few that mention a dark ale, presumably brown or black.
  3. iwantsomerocks

    iwantsomerocks Initiate (136) Oct 11, 2010 Massachusetts

    ye olde ale poured into a flagon by some kind of bar wench.
  4. johnnybgood1999

    johnnybgood1999 Disciple (363) Oct 31, 2008 Virginia

    I know Yards brews beers that follow colonial recipes to an extent. You should check out their site. Tavern Spruce uses Spruce of course and that beer is excellent. I think that the Tavern Spruce is something following what Ben Frankilin used to brew.
    tzieser likes this.
  5. Lordquackingstic

    Lordquackingstic Disciple (339) Jun 14, 2011 New York

    I know I've read in a bunch of places that they brewed with pumpkins a lot because they were plentiful and malts were scarce and shipping them cost a bitchload.

    I know a friend of mine who's a brewer in Georgia wrote an article for something on how pumpkin ales are more American than apple pie, but I can't see to find it...
  6. 5thOhio

    5thOhio Initiate (0) May 13, 2007 South Carolina

    From what little I know of the era, the malting process hadn't really been perfected at that point and most ales were pretty dark. They also brewed "small beer" or what we might call "near beer" from the leftover wort used to make ale. Remember, Pilsner and other light lagers didn't come along until the 19th century.

    Now, I await the inevitable "you're full of sh*t" follow-up...
  7. ledzeppelin4

    ledzeppelin4 Initiate (0) May 18, 2011 Illinois

    You're full of sh*t :stuck_out_tongue:
  8. pnkRed

    pnkRed Initiate (73) Dec 1, 2009 Virginia

    Williamsburg AleWerks brews a beer called "Old Stitch" which is based off of a colonial recipe. It's a brown ale and it's pretty tasty.


    Starr Hill makes a beer that is supposed to be similar to what was brewed during colonial times as well.


    Lordquackingstic is right about brewing beer with pumpkins, but they didn't add the nutmeg, etc to make it taste like what we think pumpkin beers should taste like. They also used squash as well. Side note, the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock because they ran out of beer.

    Here's a good read about pumpkin beer in the colonial period.

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  9. cavedave

    cavedave Poo-Bah (3,046) Mar 12, 2009 New York
    Society Trader

    Charlie P. put a recipe for Cock Ale in his homebrewing book, a real recipe that uses a whole chicken in the cask. Not hard to imagine a million regional recipes making use of regional ingredients. As mentioned today's malts are much different than they were in Colonial times, so those beers would be impossible to accurately recreate even if a yeast strain was kept intact from then.
  10. 5thOhio

    5thOhio Initiate (0) May 13, 2007 South Carolina

    Interesting article on the use of pumpkin in the colonial period. I agree with some of the comments after the article. Are there any pumpkin beers out there brewed similar to the original colonial recipes without all the sugars & spices?
  11. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (5,160) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    Yards Brewing Company makes three Colonial era ales based upon old recipes: George Washington’s Tavern Porter, Jefferson’s Tavern Ale and Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce ale. I really like the Porter and Jefferson’s Ale.

    Rich Wagner, a local (Philadelphia) beer historian has done a lot of research on Colonial era ales.. He recently published a book entitled: Philadelphia Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Cradle of Liberty.

    You can read a review of the book here: http://www.joesixpack.net/columnArchives/2012/052412.htm

    An excerpt from the above:

    “When William Penn arrived in 1682, the locals were drinking homemade beer made with molasses infused with pine or sassafras. The next year, the city harvested its first barley crop and a New York slave trader named William Frampton opened the city’s first brewery at the southwest corner of Front and Walnut streets. It produced 15 barrels per batch — the same amount as the Triumph brewpub that now stands just a block north.

    A couple of years later, the Tun Tavern would rise on Water Street and eventually take its place in history as the birthplace of the U.S. Marine Corps.

    The beer the city drank was ale, and from Wagner’s description you get the sense that producing it was incredibly hard work.

    Breweries lacked the modern conveniences of indoor plumbing, electricity or any automation beyond block and tackle. Giant open kettles were heated over raging hearths. Ice was cut from the river. Barrels were made by hand and sealed with hot pitch. Casks were stored in underground vaults carved out of solid rock and insulated with straw. The beer was delivered by horse-drawn drays.

    Basic equipment like the thermometer and hydrometer wouldn’t be invented till the 1760s. Brewers knew the water was ready for mashing when it was “hot enough to bite your finger smartly.”

    Despite the hardship, Philadelphia’s ale earned a solid reputation throughout the colonies and beyond. Two years before the Revolutionary War, Robert Hare’s Philadelphia Porter was being described as “little if any inferior” to that of London.”

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  12. jmw

    jmw Initiate (0) Feb 4, 2009 North Carolina

    'Styles' were not really defined until fairly recently, but I get the point of your question.
    With the inclusion of some more 'local' ingredients (pumpkins have been mentioned) they would have been brewing beers very similar to those they had just left in Europe and the UK: bitters, stouts/porters, and strong/stock ales.
  13. mudbug

    mudbug Defender (616) Mar 27, 2009 Oregon

    Beer was not the most common alcoholic drink of the times back then, ever hear of Jonny Appelseed? Cider was the mainstay (most apples back then were little sour things called "spitters" only suitable for cider and apple jack.)
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  14. 5thOhio

    5thOhio Initiate (0) May 13, 2007 South Carolina

    Actually, apples unsuitable for eating often make excellent cider. They have more flavor profiles and still have sugars suitable for fermenting. And you're right about cider vs. beer in the colonial period. Much easier to find apples than malt.
  15. UCLABrewN84

    UCLABrewN84 Initiate (0) Mar 18, 2010 California

    Was there a reason for this?
  16. jesskidden

    jesskidden Poo-Bah (2,315) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey
    Society Trader

  17. patto1ro

    patto1ro Zealot (579) Apr 26, 2004 Netherlands

    Biiters didn't really appear until the 19th century. The fact that Pale Ales and IPA were brewed in the US in the 19th century shows that there was a continued British influence on American beer after independence.
  18. Biffster

    Biffster Initiate (0) Mar 29, 2004 Michigan

    Hops were common by the 18th century. Britain had bitters and pale ales. Hops were hard to come by in North America, though, and were commonly gathered rather than cultivated. They were low alpha and did not add a lot of bitterness. So ales in Colonial time were commonly bittered or spiced with other things - spruce tips is commonly mentioned and was quite common in America of the time. Ive made a few spruce tip beers. Its a balancing act to the modern palate, to say the least.

    The other thing is that the beers were pretty universally dark and malty, as has been mentioned. Pale ales existed in England and they were probably the equivalent in color of a brown ale today. Malt is made by getting grain wet so it germinates, then drying it. It was dried in direct fired kilns, which meant they had little control over the color. It also meant that there was a distinct smoke flavor imparted by the process.

    Also, like the bittering spices, lots of substitutions were made to add fermentables to the mash. Pumpkins were mentioned. Molasses was also very common. While pumpkin ales were probably the most "American" style, they probably resembled more of a big smoky porter than the pumpkin pie spiced amber beers we get today.

    Someone mentioned small beer. Gyle brewing was common then. They would make a big mash, and rather than taking the first second and sometimes third runnings from the mash and blending them in the boil for one beer, they would make three separate beers - a big, medium and small beer. Blending of finished beers was common then. Beers tended to sour in the cask, due to contamination and the use of oaken casks, so young and old beers were often blended to get a balance of the sour and the younger sweeter beers.

    So, if you got a tankard of ale in Philadelphia or New York in colonial times, it would likely be dark, relatively full bodied, low to no carbonation, smoky and phenolic, have low bitterness but it would have a sour acidic tang.
  19. herrburgess

    herrburgess Meyvn (1,138) Nov 4, 2009 South Carolina

    A homebrew buddy of mine brewed a "Colonial Ale" with a Carolinas "theme" that was pretty dark and malty and contained, among many other things, molasses, oats, and Raisin Bran cereal. It was also aged in a Madeira barrel, since Madeira was extremely popular here. Believe it or not, the beer made the finals of the Sam Adams Longshot competition in 2011 (didn't win because Jim Koch said that "historical beers don't sell").
  20. marquis

    marquis Champion (816) Nov 20, 2005 England

    What was done rather than taking the runnings was to mash the same grains another once or twice.At least they thought they were but it was really just a form of sparging.
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