Civil War beer

Those who have read Jonathan Wainwright's diary will recall his entering General Burnside's HQ tent and finding it pleasingly stocked with all kinds of ales, porters, wines and ciders.

I thought of this today while reading the October 6, 1858 edition of the Loudon Democratic Mirror in a library near Ball's Bluff. There was a beer advertisement that opens a window into the popular tastes of that time. The ad was placed by Arny & Shin, bottlers out of Georgetown, and the units offered were 12-bottles per price shown. The list below is complete as posted. The numbers are dollars. The bottle shown top right is contemporary with the ad.

Kennett Ale ---------- 1.25
Burton Ale ----------- 1.00
Philadelphia Ale ----- 1.00
XX Ale --------------- 1.00
XXX Pale Ale --------- 1.00
India Pale Ale ------- 1.50
XX Family Porter ----- 1.00
Brown Stout ---------- 1.50
Crab Apple Cider ----- 1.50
Champagne Cider ------ 1.50

If you were going to be an 1858 Joe Sixpack, it would cost you no less than 50 cents per day in a land where $5/week was a decent income.

Interesting that Loudon's significant German population is not represented in these beer styles. Perhaps they were Moravians and therefore abstainers. These English beer styles would be supplanted from coast to coast by the all-pervasive Central European yellow lager after the war.

But what of these beer styles?

Kennett ale seems to have been a strong ale spiced with coriander and chili peppers.

Burton Ale seems to have been strong, dark and sweet and a precursor to today's Baltic porters.

Philadelphia ale is something I could not identify.

XX Ale is probably something we would recognize as similar to a Sam Adams Boston Ale, though as an XX, I assume weaker.

XXX Pale Ale is a style we know well. It's having quite a revival just now.

India Pale Ale, likewise. This extreme form of Pale Ale caters to hop heads and was devised in Burton-on-Trent to help offset the loss of sales in Burton Ale caused by Russian import duties.

XX Family Porter has the most intriguing name. "C'mon, kids! Drink up!" It seems to be an over-hopped porter with the added ingredients of licorice and molasses. This 19th Century recipe lets the fermentation run its course, so the molasses would increase the alcohol content rather than act as a sweetener. At the same time, it's just an XX, so we have unanswered questions here.

Brown Stout:
Here’s a quote from a book called ‘A General Dictionary of Commerce, Trade and Manufactures,’ published in 1810: ‘Porter may be divided into two classes, namely brown-stout and porter properly so called … Brown-stout is only a fuller-bodied kind of porter than that which serves for ordinary drinking. A great deal of this is exported to America and the West Indies.”
Here's a discussion of an 18th Century recipe for brown stout.

Today's beer snobs would be very happy in Civil War times.


p.s. A note on the bottle shown here:
The true green bottles pictured [above] are very typical short, squat, mid-19th century beer (ale, porter, stout) bottles with fairly abrupt shoulders and comparatively tall, straight (non-bulging) necks. Mineral finishes are most commonly seen on this style, though occasionally other finishes are present like the blob or oil finish. This distinct shape was and is often referred to as a "porter" or "porter bottle" (von Mechow pers. comm. 2011) and was undoubtedly used very frequently for that early type of beer (and occasionally mineral water); bottles noting that they contained "Porter" or "Ale" via the embossing are frequently seen.

The early example pictured [displays] an overall crudity befitting its manufacturing date of about 1854 to 1856.