In Wahl & Henius’s American Handy Book of the Brewing, Malting and Auxiliary Trades (1902), at p. 755, they give a sample fermentation for what seems a standard American lager (not a special European type). The OG on the Plato scale is 13.2 and FG is 4. (13.2% is maltose and other carbohydrate before fermentation, after fermentation and consumption by yeast of this material to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide, 4% is left).
This is equivalent to 1053 OG and 1016 FG. ABV is 4.96%, and apparent attenuation aka efficiency, 70%, that is, approximately 30% of the original solids, or extract as often called, remains to give the beer flavour and body.
At p. 751, they give tables showing how different materials, yeasts, temperatures produce different attenuations, anywhere from 51% to 81% but most are in the 60s or low 70s.
By way of comparison, I’ve read in Brewing Techniques by Peter Ensminger that Pilsner Urquell’s starting gravity is 12 P with final of 3.8 P, or 1048 OG and 1015 FG., and 4.4% abv.
The sample fermentation is somewhat higher in OG but also half a point higher in alcohol, so their relative sweetness is probably comparable except that with 1/3rd of the first beer corn or rice, its taste probably wasn’t as sweet. The reason: more alcohol in proportion to almost the same amount of unfermented carbohydrates.
But still, 1016 FG is a fairly rich beer for a regular lager, the modern commercial range I understand (non-craft, non-light) is 1008-1012 with many at the low end. Light beer properly speaking would go lower. Budweiser seemingly is 1008 based on some online clone recipes I’ve seen, none of them definitive of course, but see e.g. this one from Maltose Falcons. The clone gets almost the same alcohol from a lower OG which means the efficiency is higher, probably 75%, typical of modern American Adjunct lager.
Thus, in relative sweetness, I’d rank Pilsner Urquell first, Wahl & Henius’s beer second, the modern Bud last. Hopping differences and other factors affect sensory perception of sweetness and body of course but I feel broadly this result is correct.
Therefore, when looking at what people said about raw cereal malt substitutes before WW II, which I will soon, it is important to remember that American lager was still a fairly rich drink. Probably not as rich as an all-malt beer of the same gravity, but still substantial. In fact, before 1900, many American lagers, following German models, were under 70% attenuation which would produce yet richer beers although not again as sweet as all-malt originals. One can tell this I believe from Wahl & Henius’s discussion of alternate sample fermentations, and other sources*.
In terms of how sweet the c.1900 blond lagers were, some modern malt liquors might get at it, not the alcohol level but the sweet quality. And of course many craft beers.
Finally, from A.L. Nugey’s 1930s brewhouse formulas book I discussed here, his lager of 13 P finished at 4% abw, that is, 5% abv, very similar to the sample fermentation of 1902. His beers for somewhat lower OGs finish at correspondingly lower abv. A Canadian brewer who commented in that discussion was struck by the much higher finishing gravities of Nugey’s beers compared to today’s commercial norm.
So, pre-Pro or post-, lagers albeit using adjunct had fairly sweet profiles. Certainly they were hopped more than now, but in my view, sweetness is not cancelled by hoppiness. They are not independent values completely, but a 1016 FG adjunct lager, 5% abv, is a fairly sweet beer IMO. The one or two pre-Pro recreations I’ve had bear this out.
I think the change to more dryness came during the 1940s and after. One sees e.g. Rheingold advertising its “dry beer” then (not a technical “dry” of the 1980s and 90s). Other beers in ads of the 40s and 50s stress that they were not sweet, which implies a change from an earlier standard.
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*Consider the tables in the first two pages, and after, here, a U.S. government compilation from 1887. There are many beers at 1017-1018 FG at approximately 5% abv…