I like a good steam beer (a.k.a. California common) every once in awhile, and I last made a batch back in 2015. I hadn’t thought it was that long ago, but my notes don’t lie! This year’s version was largely the same recipe, but made with the base malts and caramel malts I had on hand. As before, this batch parallels recipes from BYOand Zymurgy, with only the most minor modifications.
Clonal Common 2021
9.5 lb. Viking 2-row Xtra pale malt
1 lb. Viking caramel 100 (crystal 40 equivalent)
0.5 lb. special roast malt (Briess)
1.15 oz. Northern Brewer hop pellets (7.3% alpha), 60 minute boil
1 Whirlfloc tablet, 5 minute boil
0.85 oz. Northern Brewer hop pellets (7.3% alpha), 10 minute whirlpool
1 pkg. San Francisco Lager yeast (WLP810), prepared in 1L vitality starter
1.049 s.g., 1.015 f.g., 4.5% abv, 34 IBU, 9 SRM
Claremont tap water, treated with Campden tablet to remove chlorine
Full volume infusion mash at 152°, 60 minutes
On the morning of my brew session, I made a 1L vitality starter to kick-start the yeast.
I heated 7.25 gallons of water up to 158°, to hit a 152° mash temperature target. I held it here for 60 minutes, before raising to and holding at 168° for 10 minutes. I added a bit of 88% lactic acid to the mash, to adjust pH.
I removed the grain basket, and noted 6.5 gallons of wort with a gravity of 1.045, for 72% mash efficiency.
Next, I brought the runnings to a boil, boiling for 60 minutes and adding the hops and kettle finings per the recipe. At the end of this, I turned off the heat and whirlpooled (with circulation) for 10 minutes with the whirlpool hop addition.
I chilled the wort, transferred it to the fermenter, and then chilled it down to 60° in the fermentation chamber before pitching the yeast.
I brewed this beer on 24 April 2021, and fermented at 60° for the first week. I pulled it out to finish up at ambient on 1 May 2021, and it looked like fermentation was pretty much done by this point.
I kegged the beer on 9 May 2021. It had a final gravity of 1.015, for 4.6% abv. I hit my numbers pretty well for this batch!
Deep gold/light amber color, and very clear, approaching brilliant. The beer pours with a creamy ivory head that is quite persistent. Overall, though, this batch is just a touch lighter in coor than is appropriate by the BJCP style guide.
The beer has a light caramel aroma, with a slight “woody” hop character as appropriate for this style.
This has a moderately high level of bitterness and a nice woody character to the hop flavor. This one tastes moderately malty with a light caramel note and a slight bit of toastiness. Yeast character is very clean. Overall, this one tilts towards bitterness rather than maltiness.
Medium-light body and moderate level of carbonation, with a clean, off-dry finish.
Would I brew this again?
Overall, this is a pretty nice California Common! There’s not much to say otherwise; I think the overall recipe is pretty well locked in. If I wanted to be a stickler for BJCP guidelines, I should adjust the color slightly with a bit of Carafa Special III or something like that. I also wouldn’t mind a tiny hint of fruitiness in the yeast character, and thus might try fermenting at a slightly higher temperature next time. All that aside, I’m pleased with this one!
With a little over a month in the keg, it’s time to test out the Clonal Common! The recipe is intended as a clone of Anchor Steam, in the California Common (steam beer) style. For the sake of comparison, we also picked up a 6-pack of commercial Anchor Steam beer.
Original gravity = 1.049; final gravity = 1.012; abv = 4.8%; estimated IBU = 35
A sharp woody/minty aroma is prominent (I can only assume this is from the Northern Brewer hops), but not overwhelming. I also pick up a caramel malt aroma in the background. Overall, a clean and pleasant aroma.
Very clear, but not quite bright, with a medium-gold color. The off-white head is moderately fine and prominent when poured, and sticks around for awhile.
The flavor is nicely balanced between the hops and malt–both have a light and pleasant touch. The bitterness is there, but not over the top. The malt character is a combination of caramel with a bit of toastiness faintly at the rear. There is a very light apple/pear fruitiness on the finish, which is pretty pleasant.
This is a beer with medium-light body, moderate carbonation, and a medium-dry finish.
Would I brew this again?
As this beer has matured, it has turned into a very quaffable drink. I wouldn’t say this is my favorite style of all time, but it definitely is a very solid recipe and one that I’ll brew again. There’s not much I’d really change on this.
Overall score: 7 / 10
Beer vs. Beer (homebrew on left, commercial version on right)
abv = 4.9%; additional data not available
Malty with a caramel-forward note; some fruity esters in the background. No noticeable hops to my nose.
The head is low and moderately-fine, with an off-white color. Head retention is reasonably good. The beer itself is a light amber or medium gold color.
Prominent caramel malt flavor, almost butterscotch-like. The bitterness is subdued and most evident on the finish, rather than being hops-forward. The hops finish is slightly woody.
Medium-light body, with moderately high carbonation. Moderately dry finish.
A good beer, and I suppose the epitome of the California Common style, but I like mine a bit better, in terms of its more subdued malt. Both my wife and I agreed that my homebrewed version was more to our tastes. The commercial version was just a little too fruity and cloying.
6 / 10
The commercial Anchor Steam has a far more prominent caramel aroma and flavor than my homebrew version, which is slightly more prominent in the hops and toastiness of the malt. Anchor Steam itself is slightly more carbonated, too. However, the body, color, and abv match up quite closely. In all, I like my clone quite a bit (and actually prefer it), even if it’s very definitely a different beer from the commercial product. I suspect the differences come down to process and ingredients. This has been a fun exploration of a beer style–I’ll have to try one of these side-by-side comparisons again with another style!
Tonight I kegged my Clonal Common (a California steam beer intended as an Anchor Steam clone), which had been fermenting for two weeks. It spent a week at 60°, three days at 64°, and three days at 66°. For the last day, I sent it back down to 62° in preparation for kegging.
I transferred a full 5 gallons of beer into the keg. Final gravity was 1.012, down from 1.049, which works out to 4.8% abv. All of the other vitals seem to be on track; color is right where anticipated, and the aroma/flavor/bitterness are all spot on. This should be a really tasty beer, and a nice transition from the light summer ales into fall beers.
Once kegged, I added a bit of CO2 and set the temperature for the whole apparatus to 34°. My plan is to lager this for at least a week, until I have to switch the fermentation chamber back into ale fermentation mode again.
One of my current goals is to brew some styles new to me. Near the top of the list is a California Common, or “steam beer.” I rather like Anchor Steam, and it seems like a brew that has broad cross-appeal. For a first attempt, I thought I’d go straight for a clone of this commercial brew, based in part on a recipe I found on the AHA website, and in part on a recipe from BYO magazine (this or a similar recipe has run several times in the publication). The AHA version used pilsner malt with crystal 40 and special roast malt, whereas the BYO version used standard 2-row with just crystal 40. I figured that I would dodge the “requisite” 90 minute boil for pilsner malt and add a bit of complexity onto straight crystal 40, so the final malt bill is a combo of 2-row, crystal 40, and special roast malt. Hops and yeast are pretty much the same.
As for that yeast…the vial I had for WLP810 (San Francisco Lager) was dated as “best by” mid-June, so I figured it would take a mongo starter to get things into the shape I wanted. So, I did a two-step process. First was a 1L starter, which I ran for 24 hours, cold crashed for 24 hours, ditched the supernate, and pitched the yeast into a 2L starter. This ran for 24 hours on the stir plate, and then I cold crashed it again. It was kinda fun to try out a new technique, and I suspect I’ll do it again in the future.
1 vial San Francisco Lager yeast (WLP810), in 2L starter
I mashed in with 4 gallons of water at 161°, which stabilized at 151° and was down to 148° after 60 minutes. Then, I added 1 gallon of water at 190°, which raised the mash bed to 152°. I let it rest for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected 3.66 gallons of wort. Then, I added 3.75 gallons of water to raise the mash bed to 160°. I let it sit for another 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the remainder of the wort.
All told, I collected 7.25 gallons of wort total with a gravity of 1.041. This works out to 78% efficiency.
I brought the wort to a boil and added the first round of hops.
After 45 minutes of boiling, I added the next round of hops.
After 50 minutes of boiling, I added the Whirlfloc tablet.
After 60 minutes of boiling, I turned off the heat and added the final ounce of hops. At this time, I also began chilling the beer.
I was only able to get the beer down to 85° or so, so I transferred it into the fermenter at this point and let it chill in the fermentation chamber overnight to get down to 60°.
The next morning (~8 hours after transferring to the carboy, on September 12, 2015), I pitched the yeast. I’ll be fermenting at 60° for the first week of fermentation, and then will raise it to 66° to finish out.