This recipe appears in Michael Dawson’s book, “Mashmaker: A Citizen-Brewer’s Guide to Making Great Beer at Home.” Learn more at mashmakerbook.com.
“I wish that there were just two more months in the year when we could stand outside like this,” my wife remarked. We were straddling bikes in front of the school after dropping off our daughter. We were not wearing pac boots.
“Two more months of school?” I asked, misreading the situational clues, as usual.
“No, two more months of not freezing our asses off,” she replied.
This time of year induces seasonal amnesia and fogs the memory of night-plow routes. It’s the point in the season when everybody comes out blinking into the lengthening day to lay eyes upon neighbors and sidewalks and lawns we haven’t seen in a while. To celebrate the arrival of summer, this month we’re going to brew a local (or at least local-ish) steam lager to enjoy while cleaning out the cabin, putting in the dock, and exposing pallid flesh to the sun.
Going by the numbers
Steam beer, or California common as it’s technically called, is a hybrid style: a lager fermented warm with a specialized strain of yeast. It’s a mid-weight beer of around 5% ABV—perfect for this time of year, where we’re not that far past the last frost and nights can still get a little cool. An original gravity range of 1.048 to 1.054 and a coppery color of 10–14 SRM will come from malts produced in the Upper Midwest.
This style calls for “pronounced hop bitterness” of 30–45 IBU, which, in our iteration, will ideally come from locally grown hops—either your own homegrown, or sourced from one of the increasing number of Upper Midwest hop farms.
What makes it tick
The “steam” sobriquet applied to this style originally referred to the lively condition the beer had when tapped—a result of brewers in Gold Rush-era California creating hoppy lagers without refrigeration. Over time, the lager strains they used adapted to warmer temperatures and shallow fermenters. (Anchor Steam, the modern-day archetype of California common, is still made in open coolship-type fermenting vessels.) The strains became their own subset of the lager yeast family, able to maintain a clean, crisp lager character at fermentation temperatures into the upper 60-degree range and nicely flocculent to create a clear beer quickly. This is the type of yeast we’ll want to get for our Minnesota Common.
Earlier this year, at the same symposium that gave rise to the Neck Tat That Says “Evil” Black IPA recipe from the April 2015 issue, the keynote speaker exhorted craft brewers to use more domestic malt. A statistic he cited was that American craft breweries use as much as 85 percent of total imported malts (plus 25 percent of all domestic malt) to produce eight percent of the beer in the United States. I can’t promise that I’m never going to use German Pils or Scottish Golden Promise again, but it does feel good to know that the pint I’m drinking started life at a malt house close to home.
Simultaneously caramelly and hop-bitter, clean like a lager but fermented warm like an ale, and an Upper Midwest provenance—this will be fun.
A recipe to try
Target OG: 1.052, target IBU: 45
• 8.75 pounds Rahr 2-row Pale
• 0.75 pounds Briess Caramel 60
• 1 ounce Hop Head Farms Magnum (see next page for more information)
• Wyeast 2112 California Lager
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