Clarity – Driving Force of Early American Brewing

The account of adjunct use which follows was presented by Robert Wahl at the 1911 Second International Brewers Congress. It also appeared in a 1911 issue of the technical journal American Brewers Review, whence the extract below.

It is good to read the full page to get a full sense of how the profession viewed the issue before Prohibition. I could give another dozen similar accounts which illuminate small corners of the question but don’t deviate from the essence of Robert Wahl’s remarks below.

Wahl states that the main reason to use unmalted cereals in brewing was to ensure a stable product (“must meet the requirement of stability, more so than in any other country”). See especially his comments under “Shipping Beer – Stability”.

Adjunct use together with other procedures meant the beer would not cloud, from excessively high protein content, when shipped long-distance or where bottled beer was alternately exposed to cold and warm temperatures. It is evident from his remarks that both professional brewing and the public required under all circumstances a clear drink. (There were minor exceptions, e.g., “weiss” beer, and steam beer in part).

As to Wahl’s statement that the public wished a less satiating or sweet beverage (“toning down the too-great richness of all-malt products”), my view is that as adjunct use burgeoned from the 1870s, the result became the norm, just as winter or new lager replaced the taste for summer lager or 7-9 month aged beer.

What you get used to, you expect. While high protein levels even today are said to affect mouth feel and “body”, generally 2-row beers are felt to produce richer-tasting worts – they have been said for many years to have a less “grainy” flavour than 6-row.

See this American Homebrewers Association comparison of the two types of barley: haze is mentioned as a major disadvantage compared to 2-row barley. There is not even a reference to a heavy body of 6-row that needs to be reduced with unmalted grains. If anything, 2-row barley is again the richer-tasting malt.

It must be remembered that Wahl, and his colleagues writing similar statements, were as much talking to their German confreres as an American technical audience. The 1902 American Handy Book of Wahl and Henius was also published in German. Their journal, American Brewers Review, into the years of the first war was published in both English and German. German influence was huge in American brewing then. Assuring German colleagues that America was accepting of adjunct beer was IMO essential to acclimatize them to American brewhouse procedures. Nor does Wahl take on four-square the Bavarian all-malt tradition, he elides it, rather.

Further, all-malt beers can be made dry or sweet, as can adjunct beers. We have a product called Molson Stock Ale in Ontario. It is all-malt yet few comparing it to other Canadian mass market ales, say Alexander Keith’s India Pale Ale, or Labatt 50, would say it is much different to these others. The same was true of a now-discontinued lager, Labatt’s Classic. Many modern German lagers are quite dry, Beck’s, say, or even Spaten Helles. In the Handy Book, Wahl and Henius state – so were aware  – yeasts can be high-attenuating or low-. In one of their charts of sample fermentations, they include a beer attenuated to 81%. They could brew whatever they wanted from malt or malt and adjunct, basically.

Therefore, I read Wahl’s remarks as primarily focused on stability which meant clarity in his day of brewing.

To read more into the statement that Americans preferred a less sweet or satiating drink is not warranted IMO. Using adjunct, you could use an attenuation limit to reach the desired sweetness level: adjunct was consistent with the taste the American brewer sought to attain, it is not a sine qua non, in other words. By this I mean, had European-style barley been available in quantity to American brewers in Wahl’s day (as it is now), I believe all-malt beers would have been the norm with that barley and Wahl says as much. In its absence, adjunct provided a solution to provide the limpid Bohemian (pale blonde) beers desired by the public.

Does this mean adjunct beer and all-malt beer of the same attenuation taste “the same”? No, but that’s not the point. As I discussed in an earlier post, American adjunct lager was quite sweet, satiating if you will, by modern standards. It wasn’t “dry” because of adjunct, it was dry in relation to all-malt of the same gravity since the malt beer had a higher dextrin content which added to the body and mouthfeel. Brewhouse procedures could be adapted to bring the two forms into close relationship if wanted.

At day’s end, I do feel that as close as adjunct brewing and all-malt can be made to be, the latter has the edge in palate. It may be a relatively small one the mass market wouldn’t notice, but it exists IMO. Why did Heineken make the change to all-malt in 1998 after all? That was in the early days – very early – of craft beer. There was no pressure from a beer lobby. They did it surely because it made for a better beer. This is why the German Pure Beer Law was enacted, IMO, and continues to be maintained in Germany, taking all with all.

Conversely, American beers internationally before the craft revival were regarded as lesser to the European lager models, not in quality control areas, but in palate. There was a reason and I think it transcends differences in attenuation and hopping over the generations. This has nothing to do with likes and dislikes at an individual level. Tastes of consumers cannot be gainsaid. But based on decades of reading about beer and talking to many experts about it, the American lager norm was not regarded as on a par with the great European lagers in taste and other sensory characteristics before the craft era – I repeat, before.

I believe in part that was due to the adjunct tradition (the other part mostly related to hop varieties and hopping rates). The lagers of Canada, indeed of most places making lager outside Germany and the few Pure Beer Law countries, were viewed similarly.

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3 thoughts on “Clarity – Driving Force of Early American Brewing

  1. Regarding my comment that one pound of corn out of 9.5 lbs of grist should not make a palate difference viz. adjunct, of course that is based on the proportions of the Brewing Technique recreations, which assume 10% adjunct. 10% was the minimum advised by Wahl & Henius in their book, with a maximum of 50%. Clearly the Bushwick pilsneners were a high-end group – adjunct and Trommer – compared to general American lager brewing where apparently 30% adjunct was used. Clearly it varied within the range mentioned but 30% as an average is often mentioned in old sources.

    Would, again at same attenuation for equal gravity beers, the Trommer be significantly sweeter as compared to a beer with 30% adjunct? Maybe, but if so, the adjunct group of Brooklyn it competed with were by not much less. It would surprise me that Schaefer and the two other adjunct beers didn’t in fact use more than 10% adjunct but how much I can’t say.

    Net net, I don’t believe Trommer’s all-malt formulation hurt it in the market. It was a distinguishing point, the company made much hay of it in advertising for example. Whatever difference of palate there was viz. a 30% adjunct beer (say Budweiser which was enterting the local market then in a big way), I don’t believe the Trommer product suffered from being all-malt or, which is saying the same thing, the 30% adjunct product benefitted from the adjunct. They were all competitors in the same market and (I’ve seen evidence) sold at times for approximately the same price. To the extent the public did prefer the 30% adjunct taste, one must conclude that not just Trommer but the adjunct group it competed against in Brooklyn suffered from the same disadvantage. Once again, adjunct in and of itself is neither here nor there from a non-visual standpoint.

    Gary

  2. Look at this table from a 1994 article in Brewing Techniques on the traditional pilsners of the New York area, said to be concentrated in Brooklyn. Trommer was always all-malt, the other three (Piels, Schaefer, Rheingold) were adjunct brews. Their OG and FG is basically similar allowing e.g. for the fact Rheingold appears to have been a little stronger than the 4.8% abv norm. Was Trommer a touch richer in taste? I would think perhaps, but note that the author in his recipe to recreate the beers suggests substituting the pound of maize for the adjunct ones with a pound of malt for the Trommer. That is out of a total of 9.5 lbs of grain in the mash. The difference in additional dextrin in that one pound could not have been significant, yet some buyers (“connoisseurs”) probably bought the brand for this reason just as I feel Heineken after the switch to all malt in 1998 was better than the adjunct beer although the taste was not something consciously noted by the mass market.

    Trommer exited the market in the early 50s due to a ruinous strike, not because the public didn’t like its product. Was Trommer less profitable to brew than the others, i.e., on an industrial scale and considering that maize renders average higher extract than barley malt? Maybe, and the relative cost advantages of adjunct are always a factor in these discussions. But Trommer was in the market a long time, pre- and post-Pro. It “should” have lasted at least as long in the market as its rivals and its relatively early demise was due probably to the strike, not anything else (see also the author’s comment about a change in palate due to a yeast changeover post-strike).

    To me, this points to flavour not being the critical differentiating point between the two forms.

    The FG of Trommer is similar to Heineken’s today (1012) but Heineken’s OG is two or three points higher than the table shows for Trommer and a little stronger in alcohol. Trommer may have been somewhat drier in taste – closer that is to the AAL norm while probably not identical as noted above.

  3. One reserve I’d enter, when I said that if two row barley had been available the stability issue would have been solved, regards bottled beer, of increasing importance in the market. Wahl implies even two row malt would not satisfy the standard of brightness needed for this form of beer. Anyone familiar with beer knows that some all-malt beer especially craft beer will cloud earlier in the fridge than mass market beer. I think Wahl was saying that in his day, to get reliably clear bottled beer, 6 row barley plus adjunct use was the solution. (Today, greater clarity can be obtained in various ways from two row beer than in 1911).

    But again all this has reference to clarity and appearance, not flavour. It may be noted that Michelob, introduced in 1896 as an all-malt beer, was draft only until about 1960. When the bottled form was introduced, it became an adjunct beer. We see there an echo 50 years later of the issue Wahl was concerned with. Today, Michelob is again all malt and available principally if not only in the bottle. I doubt many would differentiate it from other mass market beers in the market on the ground of all-malt…

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