Recreating An American “Musty Ale” of the 1800s

Make Mine a Musty

Based on my reading and thinking, I decided to blend the three beers shown. The Smithhavens Amber Solace, because it is a yeasty lager and similar in colour to the others. The True North Inukshuk IPA, because it has a big taste of blackcurrant hop, which I feel would have characterized American stock ale kept a year or more. The Belgian Rodenbach, because it is an old ale, aged two years in large wood vessels, and has a lactic/sour edge.

Musty ale, IMO, was a combination of an aged, dry or tart beer with something young, fresh, yeasty.

Because the Rodenbach may be more sour than 19th century U.S. old ales, I used only 1/3rd in the blend. I didn’t want the sourness to dominate. I was mindful that Billy Park said his musty was not sour, although I feel probably some other brands were – had to be if based as we know on old ale. (Too many sources, British and U.S., say old ale was frequently acidic to deny the reality).

Billy Park may have produced a particularly fresh example, but one shouldn’t be ruled by that in developing a recreation.

The result is shown in the image seen. It’s very good, with only light dashes of lactic, a malty body, and an old-fashioned American hop taste.

I can’t really ask for more. I think people liked musty ale with chops, rabbits, and broiled lobster because it cut the richness. My version would perform that office very well.

Incidentally, the Rodenbach is very good on its own, I was surprised it could get the sweet background without anything being added. It’s like a good kriek even though no fruit is added. I think perhaps some wood sugars enter from the foeders. All spirits stored long in wood, any kind of barrel, do acquire a certain sweetness, from that source surely (what other?).

4 thoughts on “Recreating An American “Musty Ale” of the 1800s

  1. Fortunate to have enjoyed a glass or two of old musty ale at Harvey’s Restaurant near the White House back in the 60s. Together with a fine steak it was unbeatable. Where will I find one now across the US?

    • Thanks for this. What was it like, compared say to a Budweiser? Was it more like a Bass or that type of English ale?

      No brewery makes a musty ale today, but I am hopeful that will change as a result of me making this history known.


    • Thanks Alec. I regularly hang out in those resorts so that result would be most apposite. 🙂

      Actually, I just found a review of a musty ale tasted in one of the classic fish places that served it, from ’91. Stay tuned.

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