Steam Beer

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Steam Beer was a style of beer popular in the area around San Francisco in the nineteenth century, brewed with bottom-fermenting yeasts but at higher than ordinary lager fermentation temperatures.

Today, the only surviving example of the style is Anchor Steam, and it is not clear how closely the modern beer relates to the original nineteenth-century product. Because Anchor claims a trademark on the name "Steam Beer", modern commercial examples must be referred to as California Common instead. However, the historical examples are still properly referred to as Steam Beer.

Most modern examples of this style are really more like Anchor Steam clones, usually copying Anchor's trademark Northen Brewer hops as well as potentially using a yeast strain most likely derived from Anchor's own brewery.

History of Steam Beer

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Brewing Steam Beer

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Competition Styles

Both the BJCP and the GABF style guidelines recognize this style, each referring to it for legal reasons as California Common.

BJCP Style Guidelines

California Common Beer

7B. California Common Beer Vital Statistics
BJCP Style Guideline Definition (2004)
IBUs: 30-45 SRM: 10-14 OG: 1.048-1.054 FG: 1.011-1.014 ABV: 4.5-5.5
Aroma: Typically showcases the signature Northern Brewer hops (with woody, rustic or minty qualities) in moderate to high strength. Light fruitiness acceptable. Low to moderate caramel and/or toasty malt aromatics support the hops. No diacetyl.
Appearance: Medium amber to light copper color. Generally clear. Moderate off-white head with good retention.
Flavor: Typically showcases the signature Northern Brewer hops (with woody, rustic or minty qualities) in moderate to high strength. Light fruitiness acceptable. Low to moderate caramel and/or toasty malt aromatics support the hops. No diacetyl.
Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied. Medium to medium-high carbonation.
Overall Impression: Typically showcases the signature Northern Brewer hops (with woody, rustic or minty qualities) in moderate to high strength. Light fruitiness acceptable. Low to moderate caramel and/or toasty malt aromatics support the hops. No diacetyl.
History: American West Coast original. 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. Fermented with a lager yeast, but one that was selected to thrive at the cool end of normal ale fermentation temperatures.
Comments: This style is narrowly defined around the prototypical Anchor Steam example. Superficially similar to an American pale or amber ale, yet differs in that the hop flavor/aroma is woody/minty rather than citrusy, malt flavors are toasty and caramelly, the hopping is always assertive, and a warm-fermented lager yeast is used.
Ingredients: Pale ale malt, American hops (usually Northern Brewer, rather than citrusy varieties), small amounts of toasted malt and/or crystal malts. Lager yeast, however some strains (often with the mention of "California" in the name) work better than others at the warmer fermentation temperatures (55 to 60°F) used. Note that some German yeast strains produce inappropriate sulfury character. Water should have relatively low sulfate and low to moderate carbonate levels.
Commercial Examples: Anchor Steam, Southampton West Coast Steam Beer, Old Dominion Victory Amber, Flying Dog Old Scratch Amber Lager

GABF Style Listings

California Common Beer

30B. California Common Beer
GABF Style Listing (2007)
California common beer is light amber to dark amber in color, and is medium bodied. There is a noticeable degree of caramel-type malt character in flavor and often in aroma. Hop bitterness impression is medium to medium high, and is balanced with a low to medium-low degree of fruity esters and malt character to give an impression of balance and drinkability. Hop flavor and aroma is low to medium-low. California common beer is a style of beer brewed with lager yeasts but at ale fermentation temperatures. Diacetyl, and chill haze should be absent.
Original Gravity (ºPlato): 1.045-1.056 (11.2-14 ºPlato)
Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (ºPlato): 1.010-1.018 (2.5-4.5 ºPlato)
Alcohol by Weight (Volume): 3.2-4.3% (4-5.4%)
Bitterness (IBU): 35-45
Color SRM (EBC): 12-17 (24-34 EBC)
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