Pre-Prohibition Techniques

Techniques insideThere is a perception among craft beer drinkers that American Prohibition was the cause of the domination of the market by light American Pilsners. When breweries rose from the ashes of the noble experiment they soon gravitated towards producing cheap, undistinguished beers produced with a high proportion of adjuncts such as rice and corn flakes or grits. The perception continues that we were only rescued from a sea of identical, flavorless light lagers by the advent of craft brewing in the late 1970s and the 1980s onward.

Pre-Prohibition beers were supposedly much better than that; well-flavored, brewed from all malt, and served fresh in outlets close to the brewery. Like all generalizations there is not too much truth in such a statement. There were some brewers still producing characterful, flavorful beers, Ballantine being one of the first names that comes into my mind. But, in fact, the use of adjuncts in brewing had already become prevalent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I had thought that this was true for lager beers, and that the lighter beers produced in this way pushed out the “heavier” all-malt ales. But as we’ll see later it was also true for ales.

The introduction of non-malt adjuncts by American commercial brewers came about some time in the 1880s, according to Wahl-Henius. The instigator was one Anton Schwarz, a Czech-born Austrian who settled in New York City in 1868 and became editor, and later owner of “Der Amerikanische Bierbrauer,” which was later Anglicized to “The American Brewer.” Schwarz also founded the Brewers’ Academy of the United States, and several other brewing schools and consultancies came into being around the same time, including that of Dr. Robert Wahl. Most, if not all of these schools, were run by men of German and Austrian extraction, and their ideas on scientific brewing spread rapidly among practicing brewers, and not just lager brewers.

The point about cereal adjuncts was that 6-rowed barley grew better than 2-rowed European varieties in America. Malt made from it was widely available and cheaper than 2-rowed malt, and its use was promoted in part on a nationalistic basis. Malt from 6-rowed barley is higher in protein than the 2-rowed variety, which means that beer brewed from it alone would tend to have haze problems.

But, such malt is also higher in starch-reducing enzymes than 2-row malt, which means it can convert not only its own starch but also that from other sources that contain no enzymes, so a goodly portion of the malt bill could be replaced by corn or rice. Adjunct brewing was heavily promoted around the end of the 19th century on the grounds that it made a beer more stable to chilling, with greater palate fullness and foam stability than could be obtained in the absence of adjuncts, with some suggestions that the beer was crisper tasting. However, all the promotions of this period that I have read never failed to mention the telling fact that brewing with adjuncts resulted in cost savings.

I have suggested that these adjunct beers were generally lagers, but this concept was soon extended to ales to make them lighter in flavor and more suited to bottling than would have been the case with an all-malt beer. As we shall see, adjuncts may have been used in ale brewing even with 2-row pale malt (a practice that became common in England, and is still so today). But it was not just cereal adjuncts that were used as malt substitutes, for sugar came into common use in ale brewing also, which might seem to have been a purely economic practice. But let’s move on and look at some actual examples of such brews and how we might reproduce one.


You may be forgiven for thinking that I am the guy who often chats on about reproducing old English beers, but be assured that this will deal with only American brewing and with one very specific instance of it. That is because I have been lucky enough to come across a whole boatload of brewing information from the 1880s and into the 1930s. Jeff Browning, Brewer at BrüRm@BAR came into possession of this material, which we have been trying to decipher. There’s so much of it that we have only scratched the edges so far, but one notable part of it is that we have brew books from 1903 to 1916. This is all from Hartmann, later Home Brewing Co. in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

In 1904 this company brewed about 30,000 barrels made up of an even split of ales and lagers, for ales were still an important product in New England at that time. There were several special brews, including one brew of a porter, but the regular ales were a pale and a dark, whilst the standard lagers were all pale except for just two brews of a dark version. I can’t cover them all here, so I am going to deal only with the pale ale and the stronger holiday ale (brewed only once in 1905), as I have had a shot at reproducing both of these.

The beers

The recipes for pale ale and holiday ale were quite simple and I outline them here (they’ll be put in a more recognizable form later):

Pale ale   Holiday ale
Malt                    69%        68%
Caramel malt      0             6%
Corn flakes         14.5%      0
Grape sugar        16.5%     26%
Hops (lb./barrel)  1.12        1.31
OG °B*               12.5        13.6
OG                     1.050       1.055

*I have used degrees Balling (°B), rather than degrees Plato (°P) or specific gravity (SG), because that was the brewer’s notation

The two recipes show only small differences in hop rate and original gravity (OG), and clearly the main differences are in the addition of caramel malt and use of sugar as the only adjunct for the holiday ale. There are a few problems about interpreting these bare bones numbers. I have used the word “malt” as that was the only descriptor used in the brew book, but of course this would have been pale malt, which was cited as giving 70% extract. But of what sort was it? The book gives a mash temperature of 152 °F (67 °C), with no protein rest at a lower temperature, which would suggest it could have been 2-row pale. But the high adjunct usage suggests that it was more likely 6-row malt. In my recipes I opted for 2-row malt, which surely must be of a better quality than the 2-row malt available in 1904/1905!

“Caramel malt” is another debatable ingredient, since no color designation was given, and so we have no sure knowledge of the degree of roasting. I made the executive assumption that caramel malt production techniques were not well advanced at that stage, so it would probably have been highly-colored caramel malt, say 120 °L. In fact, even in my early homebrewing days there was only one “crystal malt” available and that was highly colored! No extract figures were given for this malt, but this would surely not have been too different from modern values.

Corn flakes are obvious and much the same as we use today; they were quoted then as giving 77% extract, and were added in the mash (starch in flakes is already gelatinized). Grape sugar was the term they used then for dextrose, or corn sugar, and was quoted as yielding 80.5% extract. The sugar was added during the boil, but no details of the timing of this addition were given; I opted for the last 10 minutes of the boil.

There were some peculiarities about the mashing. In the pale ale the flakes were mashed with 40% of the malt and hot water at 160 °F (71 °C) for just a few minutes before adding to the main mash with the rest of the malt plus water at the same temperature. Hot water was then added to raise the mash temperature to 152 °F (67 °C). It was held at this conversion temperature for 25-30 minutes, then raised to 162 °F (72 °C), where it was held for 1 hour. Why it was necessary to hold this mash out temperature for so long is not clear, and I saw no reason to do this in my own version of these beers. Indeed, the holiday ale was not treated this way, and the mash was held at 153 °F (67 °C) for 1 hour and kept there before running off the wort and sparging.

There is no information on the hops other than “New” for the pale ale, and a mix of “Old” and “New” for the holiday ale. Whether “New” meant from that same year’s harvest, or newly bought is not clear. There are some references to using a portion of “Pacific” hops, but it would seem that mostly they were local, probably New York-grown hops. It is likely that they were low in alpha-acid by today’s standards, perhaps around 3-5% alpha and I have taken the conservative view and calculated that the pale ale had 39 IBU, and holiday ale had 46 IBU; both values represent respectable bitterness levels for beers of this kind of gravity.

Boil times were quoted as around 2½ hours, which is excessive and indicates that the brewer sparged more than was necessary and then boiled down in order to ensure he got the maximum of extract out of the malt. In my recipes I opted for more modern procedures with a 90-minute boil for the all-grain recipes. The hops in the original were added in three (presumably) equal portions, before the boil, at the start, and one hour before the end. This would have made for good alpha acid extraction and isomerization, which is why I used 30% utilization in the calculation earlier. It also means that the brewer was practicing first wort hopping! But there was no evidence in the brew books as to why this particular schedule of additions was carried out.

Another interesting point was that of water treatment. Both brews added 238 mg/L (ppm) of sodium chloride (94 ppm Na+, 144 ppm Cl-) and no other salts were added. I can’t be sure about the mineral content of the water used, but my town water comes from a Bridgeport, Connecticut water company, and this is quite soft, with less than 50 ppm total solids. So it seems reasonable that the Hartmann Co. used water of a similar nature, and that, before the sodium chloride addition, this water was similar to that from Pilsen.


Of course, we cannot be sure as to how this beer might have tasted, and the brew book gives no details of fermentation, so we do not know what sort of final gravity (FG) was achieved (or the nature of the yeast used). Commonly in English ale brewing we look for FG to be about one quarter OG; these beers would likely have a lower FG because they used sugar, which ferments out completely. Other references from around that time suggest that ale brewers in the US were looking to brew ales that bore some similarity in flavor to their lagers — bright, sparkling, and crisp. In fact, Hartmann’s ales may have been crisper than their lagers, which were of similar OG, but lower IBU (27), and used flakes as adjuncts and no sugar.


A recipe for my version of the 1904 Pale Ale is given on page 100 and a recipe for my version of the 1905 Holiday Ale is available online at They are not intended to, and perhaps can never be definitive copies of the originals, but they do cast some light as to kinds of beers that were being brewed just prior to Prohibition. But do remember that this is a continuing project and that Jeff and I have a great deal of work still to do before this material is fully sorted out. In fact, the latest Hartmann brew book I have examined suggests that they experimented further with the brewing process, moving to a form of decoction mashing.

1904 Pale Ale

(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)
OG = 1.050 FG = 1.007
IBU = 39 SRM = 3 ABV = 5.7%

When I brewed this recipe, I used Wyeast 1098 (British Ale), but upon reflection, Wyeast 1056 (American Ale) would probably have been more authentic; your choice.


6.6 lbs. (3 kg) pale 2-row malt
1.4 lbs. (0.64 kg) flaked corn
1.6 lbs. (0.73 kg) corn sugar (10 min.)
3.5 AAU Cluster hop pellets (first wort hop) (0.5 oz./14 g at 7% alpha acids)
3.5 AAU Cluster hop pellets (90 min.) (0.5 oz./14 g at 7% alpha acids)
3.5 AAU Cluster hop pellets (60 min.) (0.5 oz./14 g at 7% alpha acids)
4 g table salt (NaCl)
Wyeast 1098 (British Ale) or Wyeast 1056 (American Ale) yeast
3⁄4 cup corn sugar (if priming)

Step by Step

Mash grains and corn flakes at 152 °F (67 °C) with
9.6 qts. (9 L) water for 60 minutes. Run off and sparge to collect 6 gallons (23 L) of wort. Add salt and first portion of hops to kettle with first gallon (4 L) or so of wort. When all wort is in, bring to boil and then add second hop addition. Add the remaining hops and sugar according to the ingredient list. After the boil, cool to 65–70 °F (18–21°C), separate from trub and transfer to fermenter. Pitch with yeast, preferably as 1 qt. (1 L) starter, and ferment 5-7 days. Rack to secondary for 7–10 days, then keg or bottle in the usual manner.

Partial mash version:

Substitute 3.5 lbs. (1.6 kg) pale liquid malt extract and 1.5 lbs. (0.68 kg) pale 2-row malt for the 6.6 lbs. (3 kg) pale 2-row malt in the all-grain version. Replace the 90-minute Cluster hop addition with 4.9 AAU Cluster hop pellets (0.7 oz./20 g at 7% alpha acids) at 60 minutes and add the third hop addition with 30 minutes remaining in the boil.

Mash pale malt and corn flakes at about 152 °F (67 °C) with 3 qts. (2.8 L) water for 30–40 minutes. Run liquid off from the grain bag, rinse grains twice with 3 qts. (2.8 L) hot water. Dissolve the extract in the collected liquid. Add salt and first portion of hops and make to 5 gallons (19 L) with hot water. Bring to boil, add second hop addition, and after 30 minutes boiling add third addition of hops. Boil for a total of 60 minutes, adding the sugar 10 minutes before the end (stir well and be careful of the hot liquid); cool to 65–70 °F (18–21 °C), separate from trub and transfer to fermenter. Pitch with yeast, preferably as 1 qt. (1 L) starter, and ferment 5–7 days. Rack to secondary for 7-10 days, then keg or bottle in the usual manner.

Issue: September 2015