Been enjoying some homebrewed “California common” beer lately. It’s classified as an amber hybrid in that it’s a lager yeast strain used at more of an ale yeast temperature. Still cooler than typical ale ferments (60° instead of 67°) it’s warm for a lager, which would normally ferment around 50°.
Thankfully, before the real summer temps hit, my basement would stay around 65. The cement floor being even colder. So I put the carboy into a larger bucket with some cold water. This water around the fermenter helped hold the fermenter’s temp around 59 for several days during the most active part of the fermentation. Eventually, after the heavy activity slowed, I moved it to the counter in the basement, off the floor, where it held around 65 as a bit of a diacetyl rest to clean things up. If the 1st part of fermentation was done at that 65 or higher range, it’s likely I would have gotten a lot of fruity esters which would not be a good thing. The majority of the sugars were devoured by the yeast in those first 3-4 days.
It finished at about 1.014 specific gravity. A little higher than I am used to, but then again, I typically brew ales and this was the closes to a lager I’ve ever done. (most of my ales finish dryer, around 1.012) The recipe calls for this beer to lager (store cold) for 3-4 weeks. If I were kegging, I would simply move the whole fermenter to the fridge for the lagering, but as I bottle, I decided to bottle, then lager. This requires I store the bottles at warm temps so the remaining yeast can eat the priming sugar, producing CO2, causing carbonation of the beer. This takes roughly 2 weeks. I then moved a case of bottles to the fridge to lager. It’s only been in the fridge for 2 weeks (after the 2 weeks carb’ig up), and I’m liking. Curious to see if they continue to clear and improve wiht more time in the fridge. Initially, after just a couple days cold, I tried one and there was an off flavor that I’m associating to the yeast not having yet flocculated (settled to the bottom). As it lagers, I expect that more and more will settle, leaving it crisper and cleaner. After 2 weeks cold, there was a noticeable improvement.
This style is also heavily associated with Northern Brewer hops. NB hops are more woodsy, earthy in flavor and aroma, especially compared to the popularity of the citrus hops found in most common American ales these days (like Cascade, Centennial, and Amarillo). I’ve seen some describe NB hops as almost minty. So compared to the pale ales and IPAs I typically drink, this one’s definitely got some noticeable differences. However, it’s definitely a nice change of pace and a nice alternative.
Anchor Brewing trademarked the “Steam Beer” name, so any other brewery making this style of beer cannot call it steam beer. “California Common” was the alternative name thought up, seeing that Anchor is located in San Francisco and basically created the style due to their very unique shallow fermenters and temps used to brew this lager.
I followed the recipe in Jamil Zainasheff’s “Brewing Classic Styles.” It’s not an attempt to clone Anchor Steam, but to represent the similar style and process.