American Beer Gravities, 1904


In 1904 analyses were made of some American lager beers. Not less than three samples of Budweiser were tested. The table above appeared in at least two publications in the mid-1910s, a time of increasing interest in food and beverage composition, and the era too when the first pure food legislation was enacted.

The final gravities were between 1010 and 1019, with most at middle or higher end. Coors was 1019, four points higher than Pilsner Urquell is today acciding to this BT source if some years ago, and I’d guess the number hasn’t changed.

Those are rich beers, albeit made with some rice or corn, and would have been hopped much more than today as well.

At the lower end of the range the beers might resemble quite a few available today in body, say Heineken, or some craft beers.

The American Adjunct Lager range today though is rather lower than in 1904, more like 1004-1010, see e.g., BJCP’s current guide. The 1904 range is similar to BJCP’s range for Czech premium pale lager if not indeed higher in some cases.

Budweiser was 1015 FG (rounding) for the three samples. However, the first sample, from January 1904, was 3% abw (3.8% abv) – more or less a full point lower than the next two, collected in March. The starting gravity for the first one therefore had to be different than the second two, by eight to 10 points I’d estimate.

Earlier, I discussed the gravities of Budweiser in 1884 and 1893, see here. In 1884 the gravity was 1015 again and the ABV was 5.3%, as essentially for the latter two samples of 1904.

In 1893 the beer was under 4% abv with an FG of 1020 by my calculation, not 1010 as asserted in Augustus Busch’s letter there discussed.

It is hard to know if these variations were intentional. Earlier I thought perhaps A-B changed the ABV from an average 5% to 4% between 1884 and 1893. In a 1904 news ad, it advertised to the public too that its beer was “3.89%”. Almost certainly this meant ABV, see my previous post, and is thus consistent with sample no. 1 above.

Perhaps draft vs. bottled was a factor, or the requirements of the local area of sale. More likely, perhaps, it was not possible at the time to establish consistently accurate starting gravities. In some cases perhaps the yeast did not perform to the desired attenuation, maybe this explains the results of the Budweiser in Busch’s 1893 letter.

Many of these beers had a Saaz or other imported hop characteristic and signature. With a rich, well-hopped body they must have tasted like Pilsner Urquell again or perhaps Sam Adams Boston Lager if not indeed richer than these latter, factoring though some taste of or connected to the rice or corn used.