Common(ly) Known as Steam Beer

Commonly known as a “steam beer” over the years, the California Common has grown and evolved over time, as many beer varieties do. It is made of two distinct periods.

1) Historical steam beers are those brewed in this style beginning in the mid-19th century through the mid-20th century, simultaneously in both California and Virginia.

2) The second generation is the Modern California Common that gained a foothold until the mid 20th century and the name “steam beer” continued it’s journey to California Common when Anchor Brewing Company trademarked the term “steam beer” in 1981. Using the term commercially for the style of beer was no longer possible.

Both periods had flavor profiles that were were characterized by effervescent, sharp first impression with a short finish length. This is created by fermenting lager yeasts at ale yeast temperatures which is warmer making a unique brew. It is largely recognized as a micro-brew-style beer.

It’s name has a mysterious history as well.  One theory is that steam beer is named so because brewers did not have an effective way of cooling the wort.  Therefor, it was left outside to cool from the ocean winds from the Pacific, generating a great deal of steam.

Another theory behind the name is that the carbon dioxide pressure within the tanks was very high, therefor requiring brewers to “let off steam” before serving or transferring the beer.

What is in a name? Regardless of the origin or period, it is a medium-light in color, medium bitterness with a moderate ABV and pairs great rich, flavorful dishes due to it’s quick finish. It has transformed from an inexpensive working man’s beer to a very unique craft beer that thrives in craft beer circles across the country.