A Still Ale That Sparkles (Part II)

Part I is now lightly amended to be less categoric that still ale was akin to a stock ale. The logic and conclusions remain but as a reasonable possibility among others. Here, I’ll explore those further possibilities.

Still ale had currency between c.-1890 and 1914. There are many advertisements for it by different breweries in the Northeast, in New York mainly but extending also to Connecticut and probably Massachusetts. It is a late-onset type of American ale, well post-dating musty ale, cream ale, India Pale Ale, stock ale, and other types of ale that breweries produced in the second half of the 1800s.

There are one or two examples early after Prohibition – I gave an instance in my Part I – but after that nothing, that I found certainly.

Both before and early after Prohibition, ale breweries occasionally advertised a half-stock ale. Here is one example from December 1935 in the Greenfield Daily Recorder (Mass.) from Hampden brewery. Here is another example, Berkshire half stock, from 1915 in Albany but apparently Mass.-made. These appear to have been a mixture of new and old ales, a time-honoured technique from Britain, long used there for ales and especially porter, as is well-known. Such blending is still done today, notably by Flanders red ale brewers.

So, when Quandt Brewing Co. in Troy, NY in 1933 advertised its “sparkling still ale”, it is possible I think that this was a compound, a mix of aged still ale and new carbonated beer. Had it read Sparkling-Still Ale, that might have been more clear but is hardly an elegant formulation.

Another possibility is, still ale was not simply a regular ale, different only from present use ale by being less carbonated and possibly older, but a completely different type of beer. And if it was, what type of beer might that have been?

Well, odd as it sounds, it may have been an ale brewed using a decoction mash.

Some preliminaries: A Mr. Kendall made a confident presentation to brewing colleagues related in Transactions of the American Brewing Institute (1901-1902), see here. 

There, in the presence of the Dr. Wyatt he mentioned, a well-known brewing scientist of the time, Kendall claimed to have originated still ale. (If anyone reading can find the account of still ale production apparently published by Dr. Wyatt in the “Brewers Journal“, you will do a service to beer historical studies).

Who was this Kendall? His Christian name was Nathaniel and he owned the Yale Brewing Co. in New Haven, CN. That brewery was formerly called Quinnipiac Brewery, founded in 1881, but had foundered. In 1885 it was bought and henceforth operated by Kendall who changed the name finally to Yale Brewing around 1901. It had good success until 1919 when he sold it to the Feigenspan group. The brewery in New Haven was revived for about 10 years after Repeal of Prohibition. See (among other sources) Will Siss’s 2015 Connecticut Beer: a History of Nutmeg State Brewing, at pp. 17-18, here.

Siss notes that Kendall used “German immigrant labor”, which makes sense given the brewery under its original name was founded by two German-Americans, or to all appearances they were. As well, Siss states the brewery originally made lager and later installed (under Kendall) sophisticated refrigeration equipment.

Indeed in a publication in 1898 by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, an analysis of beers lists Quinnipiac Brewing’s “still ale” in a rubber-stoppered bottle. If still ale was bottled, it could hardly have been akin to a modern cask ale, it had to have a higher condition than that, which Horace Brown’s remarks support if broadly interpreted. But at a minimum it shows the beer could be bottled, it was not draft-only as all examples I have heretofore discussed, even Quandt’s in 1933.

In the 1900-1902 Letters on Brewing, a technical publication, a “so-called ‘still ale‘”, described as “manufactured for experiment”, was founded wanting by virtue of being too sour and low in alcohol. It is stated it was brewed by decoction, a classic lager technique where part of the mash is abstracted, boiled, and returned to the mash to increase the temperature.

Could still ale have originally been an ale brewed by decoction and presumably, or by all evidence, bearing a low carbonation? Or was it a standard infusion-mash ale and happened to be brewed on this occasion by decoction, which is why Letters called it a so-called still ale? The latter seems probable to us, but still, this is some evidence, taken too with the German and lager production origins of Quinnipiac/Yale brewery, that some technique of lager production may have had something to do with the beer, perhaps long cold-aging.

Against this is the fact that in a 1935 analysis of beers, Food and Beverage Analyses, by Milton Bridges, still ale is bracketed with stock and India Pale Ales, suggesting it to be of that character. Had it been a quasi-lager, why not classify it with “American ale, cream ale”, or with “lager beer”? The records too were supplied by Ruppert Brewery in New York who obviously had access to pre-Prohibition records and can be taken to know what still ale was.

Regardless whether Kendall originated the beer, there were likely different versions of still ale in circulation, just as today, New England India Pale Ale is not made the same way everywhere.

I think what is clear at a minimum is, still ale was not a quick-production or running cask-conditioned ale.

See Part III, the last in this series.