Further On The Musty Trail

In this 1856 issue of Scientific American datelined New York in July, a review of patents issued for brewing dryly notes that brewing surely involved little “genius” given the few patents issued for it. Scrounging up resources, the journal notes a few, including one issued in 1832 to Moses Granger of Lowville, NY for his plan to “brew over again” “sour or musty ale” with “fresh malt”.

The idea of restoring old beer in this fashion is an old one, and numerous 19th century sources discuss doing something similar or sometimes mixing old and new ale, e.g., in a solera-type arrangement.

Whether musty in the sense meant is connected to the Liverpool and American musty ales of a later period is unclear especially given the antonymous meaning of musty as fresh and new in, to boot, a brewing context.

But I think there may well be a connection, as all the techniques mentioned have the idea of leavening (sorry) a dryish ale with something sweeter and newer-tasting. The mix would have dashes of sweet and sour not unlike ladling sugar into lambic or some of the Rodenbach blends in Belgium again.

While Boston’s Park House chophouse advertised its musty ale as being not sour – indeed not musty –  one should also remember that Billy Park of the eponymous eatery had a particular reputation for his musty ale. This may have meant he or his supplier never used old beer to make it. He or his brewer may have simply combined fresh ale with lager or ale heading. Given the numerous producers of musty ale and that a special reputation attached to Billy’s, there is no reason to think they all tasted alike or were made the same way.

Finally, in 1891, John Hartin of Boston, MA – musty ale country – was issued a patent for an improved beer distributing system (dispense) and it was noted in the description as follows:


The apparatus here shown is also useful in mixing liquors as, for instance, lager and ale to form what is known as musty ale. In this case one supply-pipe 1:3 connects with a barrel of lager-beer, while the other connects with a barrel of ale. Both faucets l) l) are opened more or less, as desired, allowing the two liquors to mingle in any desired proportion in the reservoir A, from which it may flow through any number of distributing-pipes to various parts of the bar.

This is a bald statement of what American musty ale was in the period approximately that Tim Daly said the same thing in his bar manual. (Interesting old echoes of porter-blending at the bar, too).

We should remember too the high final gravity of American lager in this period, something I’ve mentioned in earlier posts with reference to numerous tables and analyses. If you were going freshen  a dry/tart ale with new beer, why not just add rich sweet lager? The advantage too – as viewed in the period –  is the mix would drop the alcohol as ale generally was stronger. Perhaps an average 4% abv lager made an average 7% abv ale 5% or 6%, something more suitable for student supping or a broiled lobster dinner than a full-strength wallop, wouldn’t you say?

Billy Park, that smart restaurateur, may have simply blended fresh ale and lager at the bar for his musty. Some brewers may have done the same at the brewery. Some may have blended old ale and new, or old ale and partially-fermented wort (heading) – all with a view to making a more lively and palatable beverage. All this is consistent with “old musty ale”, as the ale base simply would have been somewhat tart or winy. Some consumers may have preferred a tart form, just as some porter-drinkers liked their blend to have more stale beer than others.

New musty however almost surely involved no element of sourness, just as Billy Park advertised.



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