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Kentucky Common 1.0 (Bluegrass State of Mind)

My first Kentucky Common Ale
I read about the Kentucky Common ale style, and saw a presentation from the American Homebrewing Association about it online.  This is a pre-Prohibition era beer predominantly made in the Louisville, Kentucky, area.  It featured a significant amount of corn in the grist, along with six-row pale malt, and just enough specialty malts to darken to an amber or brown color. It used a mix of American and European hops, and a clean fermenting yeast.  Traditionally, it was served fresh and not stored long enough for refrigeration to be an issue.

I crafted my own recipe for it based on the guidelines referenced by the Beer Judge Certification Program and the American Homebrewing Association and brewed it today.


4 pounds six-row Pale Malt
2.5 pounds Flaked Corn
1 ounce Black Prinz malt
2 ounces Caramel/Crystal 80L malt
0.30 ounces Horizon hops @ 8.2% AA (60 min.)
0.50 ounces Cluster hops @ 7.2% AA (15 min.)
0.50 ounces Czech Saaz hops @ 3.0% AA (5 min.)
1 packet Fermentis Safale US-05 ale yeast
1/8 tsp. yeast nutrient
1/8 tsp. Super Irish Moss
1/2 vial White Labs Clarity Ferm
Starting water: 3 gallons, 22 ounces

According to the PicoBrew recipe crafter, the beer should have the following characteristics:
  • Original Gravity: 1.070 SG (but I planned to dilute it to 1.055 SG)
  • Final Gravity: 1.010 SG
  • IBUs: 24
  • SRM: 12
  • ABV: 7.8%
  • Batch Size: 2.5 gallons
This is well outside the alcohol level for the style (5.5% max), so I planned to dilute it after brewing to be within the guidelines and increase the batch size. My target for the batch was an original gravity of 13.2 Brix or 1.055 SG, within the Kentucky Common guidelines.

My actual gravity was 13.2 Brix (which for my refractometer's setting is 1.055 SG) and my volume was approximately 3.4 gallons once diluted with sterile distilled water.  

Brew Notes

03/04/2018:  I had rinsed the Zymatic the day before, after brewing and later deep-cleaning it.  I performed multiple rinses and had forgotten to remove the final rise water from the step filter before brewing. Because of this, the mash water volume pretty much hit the maximum amount the step filter could hold without overflowing.  Despite that, the beer's gravity after brewing hit the 1.070 SG target expected by the recipe crafter software.  Diluting that down to 13.2 Brix or about 1.055 SG took most of a gallon of sterile, distilled water.

I chilled the wort down to 68F and pitched the dry US-05 yeast on top of it.  I sealed the fermenter and left it to its own.  Given the small amount of wort and the ambient basement temperatures this time of year, temperature control shouldn't be necessary.  Worst case, moving the beer to a cooler corner of the basement should provide enough cooling (I proved that with an earlier lager brew).

03/11/2018:  The fermentation appears to be over, so I treated the beer with gelatin and moved it to a secure outdoor location so that the "near refrigeration" outdoor temperatures could help clear up the beer, as I am hoping to enter it into competition soon.  With 3-6 days in the cold, the gelatin should brighten it up nicely.

03/16/2018:  I brought the beer back indoors to warm up a bit before bottling.  Took a final gravity reading, which the refractometer measured as 6.9 Brix.  After conversion to SG and adjustment for the wort correction factor, that's 1.010 SG, meaning that the beer reached an ABV of 5.9%.

03/17/2018:  The beer has been bottled, using carbonation drops for priming. The BJCP notes for the style indicate that this is a "highly carbonated" beer, so for the first half of the batch I used a large Coopers carbonation drop and two smaller carbonation tablets.  After noticing a lot of foaming in the bottle for that first half, I was concerned that the residual carbonation in the beer might be higher than expected (resulting in bottle bombs), so I bottled the second half with only a single large carbonation drop. I marked the batch with the extra small tablets to identify those bottles later.

03/28/2018:  I opened a chilled bottle tonight. As you can see in the photo at the start of this post, the beer is a deep coppery brown color with a finger-thick head that lasts a while and leaves behind rings of beige lacing.  The aroma is definitely malt-forward with a clear sweetness.  The color may be a little too dark for the style.  It's slightly hazy, but almost clear enough to read through.  The flavor is malty, slightly sweet, but with enough hops to keep it from being cloying. The finish is clean and malty. It's definitely in the medium-body category, too.  All of this, except perhaps the darker color, is in line with the BJCP guidelines.  It's a very easy to drink beer.  I'm definitely planning to enter it into competition.

This makes the beer look much darker than it is

04/09/2018:  Three bottles of the beer were left at Barley's Ale House for their annual home brewing competition. I should have the results in a couple of weeks.

04/24/2018:  Although I was very happy with this beer as it turned out, the judges at Barley's were a little mixed on it.  The final scores were 36, 34, 35, and 41.  I've noticed when you brew these less-common styles that it's tough for some of the judges to score it. After all, you can't really buy many Kentucky Commons at your local beer store.  Still, I'm pretty happy with the overall scores.  Here are the individual component scores and notes:
  • Aroma (scores 9, 8, 6, and 8)
    • Corn, nice and clean, cream, pale crystal malt
    • Corn first, followed by caramel and roast/toast. No pick up on hops.
    • DMS and corn aromas are too much. Should be noticeable but not overpowering.
    • Corn, malty sweetness, light caramel, slight biscuit. No hop aroma. No DMS. No diacetyl.
  • Appearance (scores of 3 across the board)
    • Beautiful!
    • Bright and amber, looks great
    • Good color and clarity. Nice lacing.
    • Deep copper with a thick creamy head that lingers. Brilliant clarity!
  • Flavor (scores of 12, 17, 15, and 14)
    • Corn sweetness. Roasted malt. Some dark fruit (raisin). Earthy hop flavor and a balanced bitterness. Caramel.
    • Light cocoa dust, noble hop, faint red apple-skin, hop-spice, toast.
    • Good taste and complexity. Corn, then caramel, then toast. A pleasure.
    • Pale malt and corn. Slight apple character. Could use more caramel sweetness.
  • Mouthfeel (scores of 4, 3, 4, and 4)
    • Medium bodied. Dry lingering finish. Should have more creamy character.
    • Medium carbonation with a dry finish. No astringency.
    • Great. A teeny-tiny bit sweet at the very end.
    • Light body with high carbonation.
  • Overall Impression (scores of 7, 9, 8, and 8)
    • A little too much corn character with little focus on caramel malt.
    • This beer hits the nail on the head. Corn flavor is present but not overbearing. Roasted malt character adds complexity. Great job!
    • Very well done. Clean, excellent clarity of flavor. Could be a touch drier on finish, but that's a quibble.
Given that the style is supposed to be somewhat "corn-forward" I did fairly well there for a "version 1.0" recipe.  Next time around, I think I'll drop the corn down to 2 pounds instead of 2.5.  To replace that, I'll drop in some Caramel 40L to try to add a little more caramel and complexity.  I may also increase the aroma hop addition to dial up that part of the aroma, too.

06/03/2018:  The beer received considerably lower scores at the Ohio State Fair than it did a few weeks ago at Barley's. I have to admit that this disappointed me, because I felt it was one of my better beers - and those who have tried it in the past few months have agreed.  Maybe the problem is that it's aged a bit. Maybe it suffered from time spent in the trunk of the car that morning before being delivered to the fair. Regardless, it scored only a 28 at the fair versus 36.5 earlier.  Here are the comments from the first judge:

  • Aroma (7/12): Medium malt sweetness with notes of bread first, low corn aroma noted. No hop aroma noted.
  • Appearance (3/3): Copper in color with a huge dense tan head that lasts forever. Very clean.
  • Flavor (11/20): Medium high malt sweetness with notes of bread. Medium bitterness. Clean. No corn flavor noted. Low hop spice is noted on the back end.
  • Mouthfeel (3/5): Very dry. High carbonation. Light in body.
  • Overall Impression (6/10): Nice beer. The lack of any hop aroma. Aroma and more importantly, interesting malt character holding the beer back.
  • Total: 30/50
The other judge's notes:
  • Aroma (8/12): A caramel malt ? is present. No hop notes as required in guidelines. Malt ??.
  • Appearance (3/3): Color on. Large head. Belgian lace present. Clear beer. Orange ??
  • Flavor (9/20): Sweet on opening taste. Dry finish is present. Bread notes present. But not much. Sour note also there.
  • Mouthfeel (3/5): Body medium. Carb OK on first taste. Dryness at end.
  • Overall Impression (5/10):  Lacking some of the notes needed for this style. A good try.
  • Total: 28/50
Based on this feedback, and how it differs somewhat radically from the earlier feedback, I'm considering the following changes:
  • Increase the amount of aroma hops at the end of the boil to dial up the hop aroma.
  • Dial back the carbonation (which I've known is a problem in several recent beers).
  • Decrease the amount of corn slightly to allow malt to come through more.
  • Examine some other Kentucky Common recipes to see what other barley malts are being used in them, to see if malt complexity can be dialed up.
  • Consider adding some corn sugar to dry it out a little.
  • Re-brew the beer closer to the competition date, as perhaps three months is too long for this style to sit before competition... since the Barley's judges rated it much higher when it was a little over a month old.
I don't want to change the recipe too radically because I like it as it is, but some minor tweaks could improve it.


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