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A Trip Down Beer History

Why Kentucky common beer isn't so common



If you want to complain about Central Oregon's beer scene (and yes, that's a very petulant thing to do), you could note that despite a few very high-quality beer stores, Bend can't compete against the I-5 corridor when it comes to distribution from other breweries. We prefer to roll out our own, you could say, that's great. But taking a quick trip down the aisles of Portland shops like Belmont Station Saraveza can produce all kind of new discoveries for beer-drinking Bendites with curious palates.

Case in point: Kamen Knuddeln, from Against the Grain Brewery in Louisville, Kentucky. Kamen is a Kentucky common, one of the few styles of beer to be wholly American in origin. Invented by German immigrants in Louisville sometime after the Civil War, Kentucky common is a dry, dark-colored beer that was traditionally mild, highly carbonated, and served extremely fresh, usually 6 to 8 days after mashing, while the beer was still fermenting in the barrel. If you lived in Kentucky before air conditioning, you'd be drinking a lot of common ale during the summer months—and most locals did. According to the American Homebrewers Association, three out of every four beers sold in Louisville in the early 20th century was a Kentucky common.

Sadly, the style was very cleanly killed by Prohibition, with lager taking its place as a summer refresher afterward. A pity. But outside of historical curiosity, what's so exciting about a mild, low-ABV ale? Have some Kamen, and you'll see.

A lot of modern Kentucky common has a twist that the original didn't: sourness. Against the Grain's version is infused with Lactobacillus, borrowing some inspiration from the sour-mash process used for the local bourbon. The rye and corn lurking around the grain bill interact with this yeast strain to produce a surprisingly tart and crisp flavor profile, with maybe just a wisp of liquor to it. (Imagine if The Dissident was crushable.)

Not quite historically accurate, but you're guaranteed never to have tasted anything like it. Now if only some Bend brewery would attempt their own version so beer-hunters could save on gas money to Portland.

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