Make Your Best Kentucky Common

Kentucky common is a smooth, drinkable, light-amber hybrid that’s closer to Kölsch, cream ale, and California common than it is to Jack Daniels.

Josh Weikert Apr 6, 2024 - 4 min read

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Photos: Matt Graves

I tasted several commercial versions of Kentucky common—high in alcohol, dense with caramel, and sour as all get-out—before learning that they were all hopelessly, wildly inaccurate representations of the style. The real Kentucky common is a smooth, drinkable, light-amber beer that is much more like Kölsch, cream ale, and California common than Jack Daniels. This style is ground-zero for me in the importance of knowing the history rather than just inferring it from tasting in taprooms and bars.


“Common” beers, in almost all their applications and appellations, are produced and sold in quantity to a broad audience; that would militate against either a complex process or costly grain bill. Typical Kentucky common is copper-to-amber, modestly strong (4 to 5.5 percent ABV), a simple grist of base malt and corn, a touch of caramel flavor, and a semidry finish. Bitterness is relatively low. Perhaps most notably and importantly, this is an American style of beer—and I don’t mean that in the “over-the-top hops and alcohol” sense. I mean that this is one of just a few real styles indigenous to the United States. Domestic ingredients add a distinct, authentic flavor profile to the finished beer.


A lot of recipes go whole hog here and jump right into six-row barley. Knock yourself out, but there’s no need to go that authentic: Two-row has plenty of diastatic power to convert this sucker. A portion of flaked maize brings the requisite corn, then we add smaller amounts of chocolate rye—for color and some spicy drying in the finish—and crystal 40L. The flavor profile should be grains-and-caramel, with a light body. Hopping is simple: 20 IBUs worth of Cluster at 20 minutes left in the boil contributes all the bitterness we need, plus a rustic, floral hop character lurking in the background. Cluster once was a workhorse hop of the American beer world; using it here pays homage to that history while also adding the perfect flavor for the style.

This is one of two beers where I’ll sometimes use the California Lager yeast (Wyeast 2112). However, if you can’t find it fresh, you’re better off using either the German Ale strain (1007) or any other Kölsch/cream ale strain. A healthy pitch is more important here than the specific strain—we want full attenuation at cooler temperatures.


First, if your water is soft-to-moderate in hardness, consider a very small addition of gypsum in the mash—just an eighth or quarter teaspoon. The light mineral character is historically accurate, and the flinty flavor is pleasant. Beyond that, use your standard mash; do a cereal mash with real corn if you want, but I haven’t found it to be necessary.

Aerate well before pitching. Sufficient oxygen is important: We want a dry beer with limited fermentation character, and reducing yeast stress is the best way to get both. Ferment cool, at about 60°F (16°C), for about 10 days, then let the beer free-rise to 68°F (20°C) or a bit higher.