27A. Historical Beer: Kentucky Common

Overall Impression

A clean, dry, refreshing, slightly malty dark beer with high carbonation. Mild-tasting, with light toast and caramel flavors, served very fresh as a sessionable saloon beer.


Amber-orange to brown in color. Typically clear, but may have some light haze. 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 profile, with possible faint berry ester. Low levels of DMS optional. No sourness. Malt-forward in the balance.


Moderate grainy-sweet maltiness with low to medium-low caramel, toffee, bready, 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 bitterness, no coarse or harsh aftertaste. May exhibit light fruitiness. Balance in the finish is towards the malt, possibly with a lightly flinty or minerally-sulfate flavor. The finish is fairly dry. No sourness.


Medium to medium-light body with a relatively soft mouthfeel. Highly carbonated. Can have a creamy texture.


Modern accounts of the style often mention lactic sourness or sour mashing, but brewing records from around 1900 at larger breweries have no indication of long acid rests, sour mashing, or extensive aging. These stories are likely modern homebrewer inventions, theorizing that since local Bourbon distillers used a sour mash, beer brewers must also done so. No records indicate sour mashing or even a sour profile in the beer; rather the opposite, that it was brewed as an inexpensive, present-use ale. Enter soured versions in 28B Mixed-Fermentation Sour Beer.


An American original, Kentucky Common was almost exclusively produced and sold around Louisville, Kentucky from some time after the Civil War until Prohibition. It was inexpensive and quickly produced, racked into barrels while actively fermenting, and tightly bunged to allow carbonation in the saloon cellar. Before the style died, it accounted for about 75% of sales around Louisville.
Some have speculated it was a dark variant of Cream Ale, created by immigrant Germanic brewers who added darker grains to help acidity the local carbonate water.

Characteristic Ingredients

Six-row barley malt. Corn grits. Caramel and black malt. Rustic American bittering hops. Imported Continental finishing hops. High carbonate water. Ale yeast.

Style Comparison

Like a darker-colored Cream Ale emphasizing corn, but with some light character malt flavor. Malt flavors and balance are probably closest to modern adjunct-driven International Amber or Dark Lagers, Irish Red Ales, or Belgian Pale Ales.

Vital Statistics


15 - 30


11 - 20


1.044 - 1.055


1.010 - 1.018


4% - 5.5%

Commercial Examples

Apocalypse Brew Works Ortel’s 1912.