Still and Lively Beer – Case Solved. Part I.

Interpreting the old categories of cream, lively, still, sparkling, and present use ales in American practice before 1920 is no easy matter.

In part this is due to such matters being, finally, intramural – workaday practices dependent on “know-how” – the inherited wisdom handed down on the shop floor.

In part again, inevitably practices differed at breweries with the risk of contradiction or inconsistency among the various sources.

I’ve made a number of investigations in these pages, and made good progress on many aspects. This post in particular, drawing on a mid-1930s brewers’ convention dealing with ale brewing, proposed a cream-and-lively ale category on the one hand, and sparkling-present use one on the other.

The first was ale sent out before fermentation was complete, so very fizzy and green to an extent. I argued that California steam beer, and its ale analogues I identified on the West Coast, were of this character.

The second category was beer held in the brewery after fermentation, hence going flat to a degree, made fizzy with krausen (young, still-fermenting beer) or finally injected or force-carbonated.

So, one difference was, cream-lively beer was all-young beer, sent out under its natural high pressure. The other category, sparkling-present use beer, had a mature element to it, from storage in the brewery. This was “good” in the sense such aging would help dispel sulfurous and other off-flavours of new ale.

There is a further difference, one that results very clearly from a New York court case in 1906-1908, Louis Burkhard vs. The Norwich Brewing Co. Burkhard was a cooper, who sold casks to Norwich Brewing, located in Norwich, NY, which is in the south-central belt.

From testimonies rendered, we know Norwich Brewing made only ale (no lager), different sorts: lively, still, India Pale among them. Most production, the “heft”, was its still ale. Nonetheless Norwich bought lager casks from Burkhard.

These were made (per testimony) from white oak, coated on the interior with a thinned shellac. As numerous witnesses explained, this was meant to keep out a woody taste, and also protect the wood from deterioration by mold and the elements. One coat was applied.

According to various testimony, the reason lager casks were purchased is, the casks were meant not to sustain the highest pressures in beer sent out by Norwich. Since Burkhard’s casks were to carry still ale, this meant, the pressures were akin to that of lager beer, whereas lively ale had higher pressures and needed an ale cask proper.

Inferentially from the testimony, such cask was heavier, more resistant to high pressures, and therefore not likely to leak.

Once used by Norwich for the purpose intended though – to send out still ale to the trade – the Burkhard casks did not perform as expected. Much of the beer came back as returns due to leakage, with customers also complaining of a woody, bitter taste.

In the end, plaintiff won, including on appeal to the New York Court of Appeals, which affirmed a judgement in plaintiff’s favour by the New York Supreme Court. The reason, essentially, was Norwich bought on sample, having inspected the staves, and got what it paid for.

In the course of lengthy testimony a witness explained succinctly (p. 121) the difference between lively and still ale. He stated:

The difference between still and lively ale is that lively ale is not filtered. The minute you filter new ale you make it still. When you take the yeast out of it, you reduce the pressure.  It don’t require as strong packages to put it up in.

It may sound counterintuitive that lager, a fizzy form of beer par excellence, could be likened to something still. But it was, in that lively (or cream) ale was much more carbonated than either.

Steam beer was of that sort, again, and period sources tell of very high cask pressures and very stout barrels to hold it in, and the lively ales aforesaid. Forcing such beer to the bar counter was no trouble even with casks held in deep cellars.

However, such beer was evidently turbid. Conventional lager was clear in America especially the burgeoning “Bohemian” or pale blond beer. Lager’s dominance in the market by 1900 explained the move by ale brewers to still ale, as this was a clear or sparkling or brilliant beer, like pale lager.

The term, though, is liable to misunderstanding if we analogize it to modern, flattish cask-conditioned beer.

Putting together what the witness said with the 1930s deliberations of professionals makes even more clear an Ur-distinction of pre-1920. Its importance faded after Repeal (in 1933) since almost all beer emerged from the re-started and new breweries clear as a bell.*

The atmospheric ad below is from the same period as the Burkhard-Norwich Brewery contest. For source see my earlier post linked above.



Other ads spoke of still, sparkling ale – a seeming contradiction, as still ale was certainly fizzy (see my earlier post for citations of this form).

Today, California steam beer – Anchor Steam Beer of San Francisco, is filtered and pasteurized before being sent out, even in kegs.

This aspect apart, I still consider modern Anchor Steam Beer a worthy emulation of pre-Prohibition steam beer. But that is another question.

See my Part II for an economical summary.

*Of course, as such, filtering new cloudy ale doesn’t make it old, or long-stored. But in a very real sense, with yeast removed, such ale is no longer new. It is, and this applies today, considered conditioned, as much as if it had stood for months.

1 thought on “Still and Lively Beer – Case Solved. Part I.”

  1. On the point of pressure to dispense, see Charles Kummerlander’s article in the 1903 American Brewers Review. He mentions 40-60 lbs pressure in kegs, which is certainly high. He does say sometimes krausen was added to ensure delivery to the bar. This would have varied with brew and the draft set up. The point though is the actively fermenting aspect of brews, by definition not long stored like lager and stock ales. The testimony in the New York case likened at one point India Pale Ale to lager and still ale, indeed IPA was a form of still ale clearly.


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