Style Details

Ken­tu­cky Common
His­to­ri­cal Beer
BJCP Style Code
27 A2
Amber-oran­ge to light brown in color. Typi­cal­ly clear, but may have some light haze due to limi­t­ed con­di­tio­ning. Foam stand may not be long las­ting, and is usual­ly white to beige in color.
Low to medi­um grai­ny, corn-like or sweet mal­ti­ness with a low toast, bis­cui­ty-grai­ny, brea­dy, or cara­mel malt accent. Medi­um to modera­te­ly-low hop aro­ma, usual­ly flo­ral or spi­cy in cha­rac­ter. Clean fer­men­ta­ti­on cha­rac­ter, with pos­si­ble faint ber­ry ester. Low levels of DMS are accep­ta­ble. No sourness. Malt-for­ward in the balance.
Mode­ra­te grai­ny-sweet mal­ti­ness with low to medi­um-low cara­mel, tof­fee, brea­dy, and/or bis­cui­ty notes. Gene­ral­ly light pala­te fla­vors typi­cal of adjunct beers; a low grai­ny, corn-like sweet­ness is com­mon. Medi­um to low flo­ral or spi­cy hop fla­vor. Medi­um to low hop bit­ter­ness, which should neither be coar­se nor have a harsh after­tas­te. May exhi­bit light frui­tin­ess. Balan­ce in the finish is towards the malt. May have a light­ly flin­ty or mine­ral­ly-sul­fa­te fla­vor in the finish. The finish is fair­ly dry, inclu­ding the con­tri­bu­ti­ons of roas­ted grains and mine­rals. No sourness.
Medi­um to medi­um-light body with a rela­tively soft mouth­feel. High­ly car­bo­na­ted. Can have a cre­a­my texture.
Over­all Impression
A dar­ker-colo­red, light-fla­vor­ed, malt-accen­ted beer with a dry finish and inte­res­t­ing cha­rac­ter malt fla­vors. Refres­hing due to its high car­bo­na­ti­on and mild fla­vors, and high­ly ses­sionable due to being ser­ved very fresh and with res­trai­ned alco­hol levels.
Typi­cal Ingredients
Six-row bar­ley malt was used with 35% corn grits to dilute the exces­si­ve pro­te­in levels along with 1 to 2% each cara­mel and black malt. Nati­ve Ame­ri­can hops, usual­ly about .2 pounds per bar­rel of Wes­tern hops for bit­te­ring and a simi­lar amount of New York hops (such as Clus­ters) for fla­vor (15 minu­tes pri­or to knock out). Impor­ted con­ti­nen­tal Saa­zer-type hops (.1 pounds per bar­rel) were added at knock out for aro­ma. Water in the Louis­ville area was typi­cal­ly mode­ra­te to high in car­bo­na­tes. Mash water was often pre-boi­led to pre­ci­pi­ta­te the car­bo­na­te and Gyp­sum was com­mon­ly added. Con­side­ring the time from mash in to keg­ging for deli­very was typi­cal­ly 6 to 8 days, cle­ar­ly aggres­si­ve top-fer­men­ting yeasts was used.
A true Ame­ri­can ori­gi­nal style, Ken­tu­cky Com­mon was almost exclu­si­ve­ly pro­du­ced and sold around the Louis­ville Ken­tu­cky metro­po­li­tan area from some time after the Civil War up to Pro­hi­bi­ti­on. Its hall­mark was that it was inex­pen­si­ve and quick­ly pro­du­ced, typi­cal­ly 6 to 8 days from mash to deli­very. The beer was racked into bar­rels while actively fer­men­ting (1.020 – 1.022) and tight­ly bun­ged to allow car­bo­na­ti­on in the saloon cel­lar. The­re is some spe­cu­la­ti­on that it was a vari­ant of the ligh­ter com­mon or cream ale pro­du­ced throug­hout much of the East pri­or to the Civil War and that the dar­ker grains were added by the most­ly Ger­ma­nic bre­wers to help aci­di­fy the typi­cal car­bo­na­te water of the Louis­ville area, or that they had a pre­fe­rence for dar­ker colo­red beers. Up until the late 19th cen­tu­ry, Ken­tu­cky Com­mon was not bre­wed in the sum­mer months unless cel­lars, usual­ly used for mal­ting, were used for fer­men­ta­ti­on. With the advent of ice machi­nes, the lar­ger bre­we­ries were able to brew year round. In the peri­od from 1900 to pro­hi­bi­ti­on, about 75% of the beer sold in the Louis­ville area was Ken­tu­cky Com­mon. With pro­hi­bi­ti­on, the style died com­ple­te­ly as the few lar­ger bre­we­ries that sur­vi­ved were almost exclu­si­ve­ly lager producers.
Modern cha­rac­te­riza­ti­ons of the style often men­ti­on a lac­tic sourness or sour mas­hing, but exten­si­ve bre­wing records from the lar­ger bre­we­ries at the turn of the cen­tu­ry have no indi­ca­ti­on of long acid rests, sour mas­hing, or exten­si­ve con­di­tio­ning. This is likely a modern home­bre­wer inven­ti­on, based on the sup­po­si­ti­on that sin­ce indi­ge­nous Bour­bon distil­lers used a sour mash, beer bre­wers must also have used this pro­cess. No con­tem­po­ra­neous records indi­ca­te sour mas­hing or that the beer had a sour pro­fi­le; rather the oppo­si­te, that the beer was bre­wed as an inex­pen­si­ve, pre­sent-use ale. Enter sou­red ver­si­ons in Ame­ri­can Wild Ale.
Com­mer­cial Examples
Apo­ca­lyp­se Brew Works Ortel’s 1912
Ori­gi­nal Gravity
1.044 - 1.055 SG
Final Gra­vi­ty
1.010 - 1.018 SG
11 - 20 SRM
4.0 - 5.0 %vol
15 - 30 IBU