A true San Francisco original.
San Francisco’s Anchor Brewery Steam Beer (or Anchor Steam, as it’s more commonly known) is the characteristic example of the California Common beer style, appropriately nicknamed a “steam beer.”
Ever heard the saying, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco”? Those cool ambient temperatures played an important role in the formation of this style.
Brewed originally in the Gold Rush era prior to refrigeration, this beer was fermented in large, shallow open fermenters, called coolships.
At Anchor Brewery, these coolships were located on the roof, and as San Francisco’s foggy night air naturally cooled the fermenting beer, the warm, open coolships gave off steam that could be seen from across the city; hence the style’s nickname, “steam beer”.
(Fun fact: Now trademarked by Anchor Brewery, theirs is the only California Common to be called Steam Beer.)
The opposite of a German Kölsch (which uses top-fermenting ale yeast at cooler temperatures), the California Common is brewed using lager yeast at warm fermentation temperatures. (Those giant coolships didn’t cool down that fast!)
Lager yeast normally ferments at colder temperatures and is described as having a “clean fermentation profile” because minimal fermentation byproducts are produced.
At warmer temperatures like in those coolships, however, lager yeast produces byproducts, called esters, that add some light, fruity notes that complement the toasty, caramelly malt flavors that are characteristic of this style.
The California Common also has a pronounced hop bitterness from the use of traditional American hop varietals, like Northern Brewer, which contribute woody, rustic, or minty hop notes.
Looking for a taste of California’s history? Ask for an Anchor Steam.