We recently held a brewing class at Fort Mifflin and one question was asked that deserves clarification in this blog: “How were beers of the 18th Century different from what we drink today?”

I hope the table below adds some clarification.

Colonial Beers vs Modern Beers:  Key Differences

 Colonial BeerModern Beer
MaltMixture of malted grains including rye, oats, and barley.  When barley is used, it is generally 6-row rather than 2-row barley so more malt is needed to get the same gravity.Generally, “pure” species of barley where all the barley is purposefully combined.  Barley is typically the modern 2-row variety with larger kernels yielding more sugar per gram.
HopsNot just hops but a wide variety of flowering herbs and other botanicals (eg spruce tips) are used.Well defined and cultivated species of Cannabaceae Humulus Lupus from the hemp family of vines. 
YeastWild yeast and mixed cultures comingled. Yeast for 18th Century beer would have been maintained as a culture unique to each brewer and passed down from generation to generation.“Pure” strains of Saccharomyces pastorianus (lager yeast) or Saccharomyces cerevisiae (ale yeast).  Modern yeast is often commercially prepared and freeze dried.  Modern brewers change yeast to match the beers style they are brewing.
Beer StatisticsABV:  5-15% Color:  7-30 SRM Bitterness:  5-50 IBUABV:  3-7% Color:  3-10 SRM Bitterness: 20-120 IBU
ProductionGenerally fermented as ales at ambient temperatures (can produce floral and other esters)Generally fermented in controlled conditions this gives beer a “clean” taste with few esters.
FiltrationNever filteredGenerally filtered
CarbonationNaturally carbonated (with yeast in bottom of bottle) or flatGenerally, force carbonated after filtration
ServedAlways at room temperatureGenerally, chilled.

Published by Michael Carver

My goal is to bring history alive through interactive portrayal of ordinary American life in the late 18th Century (1750—1799) My persona are: Journeyman Brewer; Cordwainer (leather tradesman but not cobbler), Statesman and Orator; Chandler (candle and soap maker); Gentleman Scientist; and, Soldier in either the British Regular Army, the Centennial Army, or one of the various Militia. Let me help you experience history 1st hand!

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