I don’t normally get involved in exploring American beer history, not just because there are people far better qualified than me to do the job, but also because I know how easily I could make a fool of myself for lack of local knowledge: like the American who wrote a book about Guinness and said that the Park Royal brewery was “about 25 miles northwest of Central London”. That would put it out around St Albans, instead of the 10 miles or so from Charing Cross it really was.
However, I do like occasionally digging around in any evidence showing how much continuing British influence there was in the American brewing scene in the 19th and early 20th centuries: and while looking for stuff on the history of English brown ales I found – serendipity again – some fascinating stuff on American brown ales many decades before Pete’s Wicked.
I’ve seen almost no evidence of brown ale being brewed in the US before the 20th century: the ad up there for “pale, brown and amber ale and porter” from John McKnight’s brewery in Albany, New York, which appeared in a directory from 1853/54, is the only example I know. However, amber ale was certainly around, and Burton Ale looks to have been even more popular than I had previously supposed: Trow’s New York City Directory of 1862 has four brewers (out of 21 who had taken adverts in the directory) offering Burton Ale, alongside “pale, golden and amber ales, porter and brown stout” (and only one lager brewer in the lot).
Just over 100 years ago, though – and, probably coincidentally, about the same time brown ale made a reappearance in Britain – advertisements for “nut brown ale” start appearing in American newspapers. The ones I have found mostly appear in the “mid-Atlantic” states, specifically New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland, although this may be an artefact caused by what newspapers have so far been digitised on the net. One of the earliest is actually from the Steubenville Herald-Star over in Ohio, on Tuesday, December 24 1907, which carried a small ad requesting readers to ” “Try our November Brew of the Standard Brewing Co. Nut Brown Ale on draught at the Antler Cafe”. Continue reading American Brown Ale: the pre-prohibition years