The Kentucky Common has a rich, albeit almost forgotten, history. It is one of only three indigenous beers to the United States. Prior to Prohibition, it was quite popular among the working class in and around Louisville, Kentucky. The style started off, similarly to the Steam Beer of California, as a way to brew in the summer without the need of scarce and expensive ice saved from the previous winter. To achieve this, they fermented the beer at higher temperatures, like ales, and then had a quick turn-around, about one week from start to selling. Interestingly, there are many myths and folklore surrounding this brew. Perhaps the most well-known is the idea that this was a sour beer. This story has two possible sources. It either stems from the notion that brewers made a sour mash, akin to the local bourbon distillers and their sour mashes, or the presence of lactobacillus. However, brewers’ notes from that era suggest a traditional mash and the evidence for lactobacillus is very small and its presence was probably a contamination error.
Now, this brings us to Against the Grain Brewery’s Kamen Knuddeln, a modern take on the Kentucky Common, which is a dark sour beer. So while the outcome of this beer may be based more on old wives’ tales rather than truth, it remains a nice commentary on the almost lost style. Despite the request to drink it from the can, I poured this one into a glass, showing a dark reddish-brown, almost cola-colored body with a small tan head that faded fast. On the nose, I picked up some funkiness first, but sure enough bready malts, molasses, figs, and even a little vinegar emerge. Strikingly, but not overwhelmingly, it was tart and acidic. As I dove in more, I uncovered caramel and chocolate notes. And as the beer warmed up a little, it uncovered some tangy red grapes and plums. It had a dry, medium body with moderate carbonation, enhanced by the tingling tartness. At first I was unsure if I’d like this beer. At first sip, it had more malty notes and less sour tastes than I anticipated, but it quickly grew on me. Honestly, I don’t have much experience with the Kentucky Common, but I believe this was a good first foray into the style.