About a year ago I had a series on American “still ale”, aka flat ale, that showed two instances of post-Prohibition resurgence. Memories of pre-Prohibition reached far enough back that India Pale Ale from Fidelio in New York was advertised as a still ale in 1934.
Another case was Quandt in Troy, NY, with its “sparkling still ale”. If sparkling here meant fizzy vs. crystal clear, the term “still” may simply have meant the I.P.A. style in general.
As shown in the series a 1930s brewing writer bracketed still ale with India Pale and other stock ales. We saw, too, that journalism occasionally mentions still ale for about 20 years after Repeal but as something of the past, unrecoverable.
For practical purposes still ale was a nullity in post-Repeal brewing, both as term of art and a type of beer.
As to its character, apart from being ale, the U.K. beer scientist Horace Brown wrote in 1897 that still ale had about the same carbonation as the most lively U.K. draught beer. Which means, not very much compared to bottled beers, cream ale, and brilliant ale.
The still ale Brown wrote about was new beer, à la English “running ale”, but some clearly could be vatted beer sent to the bars, maybe with a bit of sugar or other priming for a moderate bubble.
There is a further curious use of the term after 1933.
It appeared in a Bronxville, NY newspaper in 1934. A columnist, “E.W.”, noted that a bar in “the Village”, the Village Grill, caused a minor sensation with its still ale:
Just this week we discovered that still ale has come to the Village. Perhaps, like most people we meet, you have never heard of still ale. In case you’re interested, it is the color of stout and comes in kegs all the way from Cheshire, England. It is very heavy and is usually mixed with beer or draft ale. We found it at the Village Grill, where Bill Schwarz is in danger of speaking with an English accent if its popularity continues.
The Village referenced was Bronxville (pictured), about 13 miles north of Manhattan in Westchester County. A small town outside the urban conurbation might seem an unlikely place for such a specialty, but Bronxville was an upscale bedroom suburb, see this Wikipedia account.
The town had an arts colony in the early 1900s as well, another potential market for beer exotica.
New York and Jersey brewers were producing some India Pale Ale. A trickle was even styled “still”, but next to an import from the literal and always-spiritual home of ales, the magnetic factor was never the same.
What was this Cheshire beer that got the attention of the village barflies?
The term still ale was almost certainly the columnist’s term, or maybe Bill Schwarz’, from pre-1920 knowledge. The term was not used in Britain to my knowledge, much less flat ale.
Frederic Robinson of Stockport has made its Old Tom strong ale, 8.5% abv, since 1899 (see website). Maybe it was that one.
Another possibility is Greenall Whitley’s Strong Ale, from Warrington.* In fact it had made at least two, as we see from the 1890s ad below.
By the 1930s beer strengths had fallen in the U.K. but some strong beer was still being made. Even a beer at 8% abv would be impressive by American standards of the day, whose default strength was half that.
Of course there are other possibilities. Maybe readers with more specialist knowledge will proffer a view.
At least one other strong British ale, from Fowler in Scotland, was available in New York in the same period. A minor vogue can be inferred.
Note re extracts and images: source of quotation above is linked in the text, from HRVH Historical Newspapers. Image of Bronxville, NY is from the town’s Wikipedia entry linked in the text. The Old Tom bottle is from the brewery website linked in the text. The Greenall Whitley ad is from a Brewery History Society Wiki. The Greenall Whitley label is from The Labologist’s Society, here. Each is used for educational and research purposes. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.
*See a reader’s note in the Comments. Having checked further, I can add while Warrington is in Cheshire, this only dates from 1972. Formerly it was considered part of Lancashire. Hence this likely rules out Greenall Whitley.