California Common (aka Steam Beer)

California common, or steam beer, has been around for over 100 years. It’s probably one of the few (maybe the only) styles created in America that is still in existence today. In the Gold Rush era, they would ferment the beer in large shallow open fermenters (coolships) were traditionally used to compensate for the absence of refrigeration and to take advantage of the cool ambient temperatures in the San Francisco Bay area. The style went nearly extinct except for one brewery still making it in 1965. It was about to close its doors for good when Fritz Maytag came along and saved the brewery and the style!

How steam beer got its name is up for debate, some say the name derives from the sound of steam escaping from a tapped keg, yet I had heard it was the steam coming off the breweries roofs. Regardless, this is a lightly fruity beer with firm, grainy maltiness, interesting toasty and caramel flavors, and showcasing rustic, traditional American hop characteristics. Northern brewer hops are very “common” for this style, yet in an article written by Jamil Zainasheff, he states: “I have always thought Spalt would work well, with its interesting spicy and somewhat rustic character. You might also experiment with Cluster, Nugget, Perle, Santiam, Tettnanger or Liberty. Historically the hops would most likely have been California-grown Cluster hops.” Spalt sounded interesting to me as well, so I used that, perle, and northern brewer hops.

The malt bill for this kept calling for about 10% mid-color crystal malt is “common” for the style. In that same article, Jamil states: “You can also bump up the background malt character of the beer with 10% or so of Munich or Vienna malt, which adds a subtle bready fullness.” So I added some Munich 10L as well.

The “common” yeast for this style of beer is the WLP810, which is essentially THE yeast to use for the style. It’s a lager strain that can ferment a bit on the warmer side (up to 65F).

Brew day:


Batch Size: 0.8 Gallons
OG: 1.061
SRM: 10
Est ABV: 5.5%-ish
IBUs: 36
Boil Time: 60 Min

1.57 lbs (78.5%) – 2-Row
3.5 oz (11%) – Munich 10L
3.4 oz (10.5%) – Crystal 40L

70 Min @ 153F

.15 oz (28 IBUs) Northern Brewer (6.8% AA) @ 60 Min
.15 oz (7 IBUs) Spalt (3.5% AA) @ 15 Min
.10 oz (1 IBUs) Perle (8% AA) @ 1 Min

WLP810 (fermented at 62F)

Here’s what went down:

Brewed 11/18/17

12/3/17 Tasting notes:

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