A Still Ale That Sparkles (Part III)

Well, I now have my answer, and perhaps you will agree, it is yours. It is courtesy an impressive work, Nelson’s Perpetual Loose-Leaf Encyclopedia, published originally in 12 volumes in North America and Britain. Commenced before WW I, the project ended in 1934; what survived the First World War could not surmount the onset of World Depression, it seems.

The text is detailed and authoritative, this is not the effort of a popularizer of knowledge of the 19th century, useful as those compendia can often be. The North American editors were senior academics at the University of the State of New York and McGill University in Montreal (Sir William Peterson). How I remember Peterson Hall (pictured) at McGill in the 1970s. How apt that my alma mater has helped solve the riddle of sparkling still ale.

The brewing chapter is a densely printed 5000 words. What it states about still ale, aka as flat ale, is that it was aged in storage vats, as I forecast in my Part I. Also, that it came out without a head or very little, consistent with what Horace Brown stated viz. carbonation level. This can be assumed certainly for draught, but for bottled beer the carbonation was often boosted by priming or injection and the beer filtered, hence the post-1900 fashion for “sparkling ale”. Nelson’s noted the suitability of bottled beer in particular for such treatment.

Further, this still ale is likened to India Pale Ale, so we can see it was another term for stored draught pale ale. By 1933, as Quandt in Troy, NY is advertising draught “sparkling still ale”, we now can see that the carbonation and clarity familiar to the public even before 1920 in bottled pale ale was applied to draught. This is consistent with the removal by the 1930s of hand pumps from the few places in New York that still carried it before Prohibition, at Billy’s Bar uptown or McSorley’s in the East Village, say, as I discussed earlier.

This was not Horace Brown’s stock ale as that was (he said) higher gravity than present use or still ale. His stock ale was akin to a British strong ale, Burton, Scotch, etc.

Read for yourself the references to still ale, and indeed still porter – the aged form vs. newly-fermented, “lively” porter – in the extract above.

I do not know what Dr. Wyatt wrote in American Brewers’ Journal, I do not know exactly what Nathaniel Kendall claimed as still ale, but I think it is clear that, say, Ballantine’s, or Evans’ I.P.A. of c.1915 (two years aging) would qualify. The 1935 bracketing of still ale with India Pale and stock types, see my Part II, in a food technology text now makes perfect sense.

What American still ale was not, was, a) a running ale, b) anything to do with lager, barring something unusual coming from Dr. Wyatt’s article when found, and c) anything really different to mid-19th century British draught pale ale. See the average composition for American I.P.A. on the last page of the brewing chapter.

And so, the answer to my question, how can a still ale sparkle is, it cannot, unless you process it to have that effect, which occurred as a later stage in its development. But the old terminology, still ale, meaning a stocked pale ale, had hung on long enough in the early 1930s to seem confusing.

The process likely started with bottled beer and there is an analogy here to the dinner and gem ales that emerged in Britain in the same period. By 1933 in America the carbonating was applied to draught India pale ale as well. In Britain too it finally occurred via the spread of “keg beer” in the 1960s-1970s (and still very much with us, e.g. Guinness Draught).

This North American draft pale ale was different originally to cream ale as, it was aged much longer, not krausened, and more attenuated, but in time the two types more or less merged, hence e.g., Keith’s India Pale Ale as it now is. In fact the surviving stock ales in Canada merged too: current Molson Stock Ale, at 5% ABV, fizzy and with a light colour, is similar to Keith’s, essentially.

Quandt’s beer nonetheless remained a still ale because it was a stored beer. The storage was underlined in the advertisement (see my Part I) by the statement that the beer was held at the brewery, despite the avidity of the public for beer after Repeal, until it acquired the necessary “tang”. Possibly this was a secondary fermentation effect, even Brettanomyces.

Still ale was the American version – one name for it – of pre-running draught British pale ale. So was Boswell’s I.P.A. in Quebec City, aged a full three months in the early 1950s, as I showed here some years ago.