If any brewers here have made inquiries into historical styles of brewing, I have, for no particular reason, this question: In the American West of the late-ish 1800s, when a just-paid cow poke went into a bar and asked for "a beer" just what was he given? Did most beer come by train from back east or was there some amount of local brewing going on between St. Louis and San Fransisco? What was the style of beer likely served in frontier saloons?

  • Good question. I don't know whether they had much beer out there. Probably more whiskey than anything. But I am only guessing.
    – dmtaylor
    Commented Jan 27, 2022 at 23:10

1 Answer 1


The era we accoiate with the cattle drives started in 1866 when ranchers in Texas took there cattle to the nearest railroad in Missouri. By the 1890's the railroads had expanded to most of the united states, and long drives weren't necessary.

In 1866 the type of beer that a saloon would offer in rural Texas, and rail town in Missouri would be very different. Rural beer would have been produced by the saloon or a near by brewery. The ingredients all would be produced locally, so in hotter regions beer wouldn't have hops in it. It would have always been served at room temperature. In 1876 Anheuser Bush started using refrigerated railcars to extend the shelf life of their lagers. By then railroads began to cross the southwest. By the you would be more likely to see a commercial German lager even in smaller towns if they were relatively close to a railway.


Literature about American beer before the introduction of lagers is pretty slim. If anyone can find anymore recipes I would be very interested.

Kentucky Common Beer

Kentucky common beer was a popular beer in the 1850's. It was similar to a cream ale. It was apparently slightly sour do to the lactobacillus.

The beer is an easy-drinking, slightly sweet, dark amber to light brown ale


  • 6 row Barley
  • 25-30% corn grist
  • 1-2% Caramel Malts and Black Malts
  • Saazer-type hops

OG: 1.040-1.050 IBU: 27

Steam Beer Steam beer was produces in California starting by the 1860's. It was cheap low quality beer that used a heat tolerant lager yeast. Any grain or sugar would be added to the mash to get fermentable sugars. There didn't seem to be a unified style as most were hastily improvised recipes. Steam Beers evolved into the California Common beer.

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