2005 | REVIEWS | BLIND BEER TASTINGS
CBN California Common Blind Tasting
CBN Blind Tasting Panel
• Jay R. Brooks, Tasting Panel Director, Cranky Oldster,
• Tom Dalldorf, Editor/Publisher, CBN
• Vic Kralj, Owner, The Bistro, Hayward, Calif.
• Special thanks to Mike Long, BTP Tasting coordinator/head
In a perfect world, this heading would read “Steam Beer,”
which, in our opinion, is what this style ought to be called.
Once upon a time, there were over 50 breweries in San Francisco
brewing steam beer, though today no one is exactly sure how
such beers were made. What is known is that they were (and
are) hybrid beers, made with lager yeast but fermented in
long, shallow fermenters at the higher temperatures that are
usually reserved for ales. This was done because ice was difficult
to get in California in the days before refrigeration, and
brewers needed to improvise to quench the thirst of a growing
population fueled by the gold rush. Thus steam beer became
one of the only (some would say the only) truly original American
styles of beer. Supposedly, the name came from the sound that
kegs made when CO2 escaped when they were first tapped. While
this is probably not true, it made great PR for the style.
By the time America came out of Prohibition in 1933, the
recipe for steam beer had been lost, and a few breweries made
their best approximation of this unique style. By the mid-1960s,
Anchor Brewery was the only remaining steam beer producer
left in San Francisco, and it was about to close its doors
forever when a young Fritz Maytag stepped in and impetuously
saved the brewery, sealing his fate as a maverick brewer nearly
a decade before the craft-beer revolution officially began.
At a time when few people had even heard of steam beer, much
less were making it, Maytag shrewdly trademarked the name.
And while we can’t begrudge the business savvy in doing
so, it seems a bit like trademarking porter or pale ale. In
any case, we’re now saddled with the clumsy-sounding
California common to describe steam beers other than Anchor
Steam Beer. Perhaps steam-style beer would be a better choice.
It certainly sounds better.
California common beer today is defined as having a medium
body and being light to dark amber in color. Caramel malts
are the norm, with medium hop character (35–45 IBUs),
and balance should be the keynote.
Other available examples of this style, though not available
for this panel tasting, include Bear Republic Up in Smoke
Ale, Eel River Climax California Classic, Flying Dog’s
Old Scratch Amber Lager, Lake Tahoe Brewing’s Tahoe
Steamer, New England Atlantic Amber, Nodding Head California
Common and, last but not least, the cheeky Steamed Fritz from
Manayunk Brewery in Pennsylvania.
Anchor Brewing Co., California
Light nose of subtle hop aromas. Golden-amber color and great
head retention. Great balance, with rich malt flavor and a
big, long, lingering finish. This beer defines the style …
by law! A truly classic beer from a classic brewery.