So, what happens when you take a lager yeast and brew it at ale temperatures? In general, lager yeasts like to ferment at relatively low temperatures (somewhere around 50° or so), while ales favor warmer temperatures (let’s call it 70°, though there’s actually a pretty broad range). 19th century Californians, lacking refrigeration or even natural sources of cool water, didn’t really have much choice in the matter. The result is called Steam beer, aka California Common.
There’s no clear record on how the style gained the “Steam” moniker, but there’s plenty of speculation. The higher temperatures seem to create more carbon dioxide during the fermentation process, leading to high pressures in the various brewing vessels. One school of thought says that this buildup of pressure necessitated a release of steam before the process could complete. Another theory is that brewers, having no easy way to cool the wort after the boil, would pump the hot, steaming liquid into a series of shallow, open top bins outside the brewery, thus cooling the wort and ensconcing the brewery in a cloud of steam. Whatever the case, there is one beer that pretty much exemplifies the style:
Anchor Steam – Anchor is one of the founding pillars of the American craft beer movement, and this steam beer has long been their flagship. Pours a nice, clear amber color with tons of head. Smell is sweet and fruity. Taste has a nice earthy malt backbone with a surprisingly dry finish. The body is light, crisp and easy to drink. Overall, an excellent session beer, one I could drink all night… B
Beer Nerd Details: 4.9% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a shaker pint glass on 7/8/11.
Anchor will, of course, be making more appearances on the blog in the near future, and as always, I look forward to the next iteration of Anchor’s Christmas Ale.