One of the first craft beer styles that originated in the United States, California Steam was born out of the lack of refrigeration available in the mid-19th Century. During the Gold Rush brewers had no access to ice, refrigeration or even cold water, so they improvised a brewing technique using lager yeasts at ale yeast temperatures. The result was a beer with a distinct flavour profile, a perfect cross between a lager and ale.
For years, steam beer was regarded as a blue collar beer - inexpensive and readily available for working class. A light and refreshing beer, steam beer was a favourite among those who worked manual labour jobs in the California heat.
The most commonly known, and definitive California steam beer is Anchor Steam brewed by Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco. Anchor Brewing company trademarked the name "Steam Beer" in 1981 and since that year, all other California Steam beers must be referred to as California Common, a competition category defined by the Beer Judge Certification Process.
California Common should have a mild hop flavour and a noticeable caramel malt flavour. A proper California Common should be light to amber colour, falling between 10-14 on the SRM colour scale. When pour, an off-white head with moderate retention should be present.
A California Common should be served in a Shaker Pint glass at 46-48 °F
California Common's lager/ale hybrid profile lends itself to pairing with variety of foods. Foods that pair well with Amber Ales go especially well with a California Common. Some great pairings include grilled pork dishes, roast chicken and pizza.
- Start with an Amber. If you're developing your own California Common recipe, using an Amber or Pale Ale as a base recipe is a good place to start.
- It's all in the yeast. Use a California Lager yeast strain and ferment between 60-68 °F (16-20 °C)
- Experiment with malts, but not too much! Stick to pale malts, but others can be used for an added flavour, but keep them less than 5% of your total malt.
Want to brew your own California Steam?
Try Brew HQ's California Steam Recipe.