You see back home in New Jersey where I lived not a friend, friend of a friend or relative had ever mentioned anything to me about craft beer. My introduction to craft beer was happening at a time when mainstream beer like Budweiser, Rolling Rock and Pabst Blue Ribbon were as likely to be found at barbecues and picnics as ketchup, napkins and mustard. Yet there I was genuinely enjoying my first glass of craft beer while sitting at the epicenter of the American Craft Beer Revolution. It was impossible to know it at the time but this friendly round of drinks would ignite in me a passion for beer that has continued to burn even to this day.
At the close of each business day I whiled away my free time taking in all of the character, sights and sounds of the San Francisco Bay area. On my previous business trips to the area I returned home with warm memories of tasty Sourdough bread, street mimes, huge delicious Dungeness crab dinners and the playful honking of the Sea Lions at pier 39. This trip would be different. From this trip I would be returning home with a new sense of excitement. I had experienced something profound, a new type of beer that tasted really good and I needed to share what I had found with everyone I knew.
|Fritz Maytag Was Just One Of Many Who Saved The Brewery
The California Common Beer Style
There are several paths to follow when researching the California Common Beer style and each of them approaches the style from a different perspective. A well known and respected source of information for all styles of beer including the Common Beer style is the Beer Judge Certification Program Guidelines. The Beer Judge Certification Program, or BJCP for short, is the authoritative source for brewing classic versions of nearly every style of beer imaginable. According to the BJCP Guidelines the Common Beer should finish somewhere between 4.5 to 5.5% ABV and be hopped with enough Northern Brewer hops to add tantalizingly rustic Bay Area aromas of wood and mint. The beer should be clear and the color somewhere between 10 and 14 SRM giving the beer a medium amber to light copper color with an off white colored head and good head retention.
Then there are the historical points of reference that date all the way back to the great California Gold Rush. A German brewer named Gottlieb Brekle first opened his brewery in San Francisco around the late 1850's to brew his Steam Beer. The original brewery was bought by his son-in-law Otto Schinkel and Ernst Baruth in 1896 who changed the name to the Anchor Brewing Company. Anchor is well known for fermenting their original Steam Beer atop the San Francisco brewery roof, using the cold night air to keep the beer cool as it fermented.
Throughout the tumultuous history of the brewery it has managed to overcome the death of two owners and an earthquake and fire that destroyed the original brewery. All of this happening just as America was to welcome in the start of the Prohibition Era. The Anchor Steam brand continues to live on today nonetheless after being rescued by investors who believed in the brewery and the quality of the beer it produced. Included among them was Fritz Maytag, the most recognized and respected name in the history of craft brewing, who in the mid 1960's bought a controlling interest in Anchor Brewing for a few thousand dollars.
The grain bill for the California Steamin' recipe can be as simple as using only two malts, a Pale Ale malt as the base with up to ten percent Crystal malt added to the grist for color and a slight hint of caramel. The flavor and aroma of the California Steamin' recipe comes mainly from Northern Brewer hops and fermentation using a 'California Beer' lager yeast strain. I prefer to use White Labs WLP 810 - San Francisco Lager Yeast, at one and a half times the pitching rate typically used for fermenting Ales. This unique strain of Lager yeast has the ability to ferment at temperatures as high as 65F while still producing a Lager like fermentation. The recipe produces a beer with a grainy malt flavor and a light toast background and should be carbonated within a range of 2.4 to 2.8 volumes of Co2. Finishing at 5% alcohol the recipe produces a beer that has a medium light mouth feel with a bitter and dry finish.
|Anchor Steam And Dungeness Crabs At The Crab House
The California Steamin' Recipe
The California Steamin' recipe is my interpretation of how a good tasting California Common Beer should be brewed. The recipe is based on beer style information published by the BJCP and is available for free on their website. The entire beer brewing process is part art and part science and ultimately the best classroom for learning will the brew room. Brew day is when everything comes together. It is where sanitization, yeast handling, pitching rate and fermentation combine with the grain and hops in the recipe to influence the taste of the finished beer.
Every step in the brewing process has some affect on the beer and documenting what went right, and possibly what went wrong, on each brew day will help future brew days go more smoothly. The ability to take good notes is especially important when tweaking a recipe or a new brewing process so that any adjustments made can be referred to when brewing future batches. As for the finished beer having someone other than yourself evaluate your beer and then comparing their impressions with your own is also advisable. The honest feedback received from a home brewer after sampling a previous batch was very helpful to me even though his evaluation of the beer was very positive.
"The taste was smooth and easy. It finishes with just a hint of the hops. It's not as bitter as Anchor Steam (and I know it wasn't supposed to be a clone so I just use that as a reference point). As it warmed up nearing the bottom of the glass the hops and caramel presented themselves a bit more and gave the beer a rich, yet light and crisp feel. Good stuff.
The bottom line here is that this is a damn fine beer, crystal-clear and tasty. Perfectly carbonated. Very well brewed and very refreshing."
There was an agreement by us both that the beer produced by this recipe was a very good example of the California Common Beer style, although it could have used a bit more hop bitterness and flavor from the Northern Brewer hops. Only after reviewing the brewing notes from that batch did I realize I had omitted running the BU:GU calculation on the recipe, instead I relied only on the IBU calculation to build the hop schedule. Thanks to feedback on the beer and carefully recorded brewing notes I was reminded to include the BU:GU calculations in the current version of the recipe. This updated recipe increases the amount of hops used and adjusts the hop schedule to add the additional bitterness and flavor found lacking in the prior version of the recipe.
The Water Profile
The water supply in the San Francisco area is sourced from Sierra Mountain snow melt and the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite Nation Park. The area water is considered to be low in total dissolved solids, very soft and low in alkalinity. For brewers like myself who live in an area where the local water supply is unlike the water in the Bay Area, building a brewing water profile for the California Common Beer style takes little extra effort. While it is true that water quality varies from one location to another, it can also vary throughout the year even in the same location. Fortunately there are ways to level the playing field by using water collected from a reverse osmosis filter, or by using distilled water as a base for creating the brewing water profile. Another alternative is to sample and make adjustments to the water available to you prior to the start of each brewday.
|Replicating The San Francisco Bay Area Water Profile
Having the ability to prepare your brewing water a day or two ahead of time will leave you with one less thing that has to be done on brew day. Waiting for brewing water to stabilize in between water adjustments and pH readings can prolong a brew day by hours. I start by filling a 15 gallon container with RO water and then stirring in the brewing salts and minerals needed to build my water profile. I prefer to add acid or base adjustments in small increments and then wait 20 minutes for the water to stabilize before taking the next pH reading. Using small adjustments and allowing time in between readings will lessen the chance of overshooting or undershooting the target pH value.
After searching online for a profile designed for use with a California Common Beer I was able to find one water profile that appeared to be a good match. The water profile is designed for brewing a balanced beer that favors maltiness just a bit more. The sodium level of the profile was increased by adding a small amount of baking soda to give the beer a rounder malt finish. The magnesium level in the Common Beer water profile also appeared to be lower than those used in styles like an IPA or a wheat beer.
California Steamin' Water Profile 15.0 Gallons
06.00 g - Gypsum (calcium sulfate)
16.00 g - Calcium Chloride
03.00 g - Epsom Salt (magnesium sulfate)
05.00 g - Baking Soda
05.00 ml Lactic Acid
pH = 5.46 @ 73F (calculated)
Chloride/Sulfate ratio 1.71
Residual Alkalinity = -126
101 ppm - calcium
005 ppm - magnesium
024 ppm - sodium
136 ppm - chloride
080 ppm - sulfate
|Mash For 90 Minutes @ 154F
The Bittering Unit To Gravity Ratio
When trying to determine the perceived bitterness level of a beer recipe it is important to look not only at the International Bittering Unit value alone to get that information. In fact in order to get a complete picture of bitterness the calculated IBU value of a recipe should also be weighed against the original gravity units of the recipe too. The ratio of hop bitterness to malt sweetness can be easily calculated using the IBU and OG of the recipe. The perceived bitterness of the California Steamin' recipe falls near the upper end of the BU:GU scale with a value of 0.745. For the purpose of comparison a Wheat beer has a BU:GU value of .500 which is right in the center of the scale while a Standard American Lager has a value of .250 which is near the lower end of the scale.
The math involved in calculating the BU:GU value for any recipe is not difficult to do. For example the bitterness value of the California Steamin' recipe is 38 IBU and that value can be entered directly into the calculation. The OG of the recipe is 1.051 and after dropping the 1. and multiplying the remainder of 0.51 by 1000 the resulting number is 51, which is also used in the calculation.
Estimated Wort Properties
IBU = 38
OG = 1.051
SRM = 12
FG = 1.013
ABV = 5.0%
Calculate the BU:GU ratio for this recipe by dividing 38 by 51 to get .745 as the answer. Basically the higher the BU:GU number the more perceived bitterness the finished beer will have when drinking it.
BU:GU Ratio : 38 / 51 = .745 (BU:GU Ratio Of Popular Beer Styles)
|A Vigorous Boil For 90 Minutes
The Grain Bill
I had originally planned on using Pale Ale malt and Crystal 60L malt to brew this recipe, that is until I picked up my order at the LHBS. They had run out of Pale Ale malt and failed to call and let me know the day before. I had no choice but to change the recipe on the spot to use Pilsner and Crystal 90L malt instead. I increased the boil time from 60 to 90 minutes to drive off the DMS buildup attributed to brewing with Pilsner malt. Modifying the original hop schedule to adjust for the longer boil was not a problem and at this point I felt relieved knowing my morning brewing plans were still on.
02.00 pounds Crystal 90L (8.75%)
21.00 pounds Pilsen Malt (91.25%)
23.00 pounds total grain bill
The Hop Bill
I bag my pellet hops before adding them to the kettle to limit the amount of hop debris that would otherwise collect at the bottom of the kettle. If there is too much hop debris in the kettle it can get sucked up from the bottom and then easily clog a counter-flow wort chiller. Clearing out clogged chiller equipment is not something I want to be doing while trying to cool down ten gallons of boiling hot wort. The hop schedule was pretty straightforward the three additions were added to the kettle at the rate of 1.5 ounces at 60 minutes, 1.5 ounces at 30 minutes and 2.0 ounces at flame out.
5.00 ounces Northern Brewer (German) pellets
5.00 ounces Total Hop bill
For the California Steamin' recipe the yeast pitched was propagated in 4 liters of starter wort made from extra light DME and two vials of WLP 810 San Francisco Lager Yeast. The starter wort gravity measured 1.040 after it had cooled down to room temperature. Two vials of liquid yeast were also at room temperature when they added to the starter wort inside the 5 liter Erlenmeyer flask. The starter was then spun on a stir plate for 72 hours before it was cold crashed for two days prior to pitching it on brew day.
|WLP810 - San Francisco Lager Yeast™ In 4 Liter Starter
Early on brew day morning I removed the flask and set it out on a counter top to warm up to room temperature. Once the fermentors were filled I oxygenated the cooled wort for a minute, decanted the extra wort from the flask and then pitched the yeast. Yeast nutrient was added to the boil about 10 minutes before flame out just as I would for any beer I brew.
A typical five percent alcohol beer fermented with an Ale yeast requires an optimum pitching rate of approximately 350 billions yeast cells. Pitching the optimum number of yeast cells relative to the original gravity of a beer is a way to insure there will be enough yeast cells to fully ferment the beer down to its rated attenuation. The same five percent alcohol beer fermented with a Lager yeast would require approximately double the Ale yeast cell count, requiring 700 billion yeast cells to ferment the beer down to its rated attenuation. I decided to pitch the yeast for this recipe using a cell count somewhere in between a Lager and an Ale pitch rate. Two vials of fresh yeast added to four liters of starter wort should produce approximately 500 billion cells when using a stirplate and that what my pitch rate was based on.
When making a yeast starter using a stirplate I watch for the yeast to reach high krausen and then wait for the krausen to fall completely before switching the stirplate off. After another half a day passes the yeast cells will have had enough time to complete the fermentation cycle and store up energy before going dormant. Not long after that I cover the flask opening with sanitized plastic wrap and move it to the refrigerator to cold crash. Usually by the end of the following day even the least flocculant cells have had enough time to fall to the bottom of the flask.
White Labs WLP810 - San Francisco Lager Yeast™
2 Vials In A 1.040 Gravity 4 Liter Starter
Putting It All Together
I set the mash efficiency of my brewing software to seventy percent when developing recipes for my 15 gallon eBIAB RIMS brewing setup. After having brewed at least ten batches of beer on this system, and documenting the original gravity readings from each batch, I know that the actual original gravity closely matches the calculated original gravity. To maximize the brewing efficiency of the system I ask to have my grain double crushed when I order them from my local home brew shop. I also mash the grains for 90 minutes followed by a 10 minute mash out before lifting the grains from the kettle to sparge them with 168F water.
I have found that the percentage of alpha acid in hops can vary quite a lot depending on the year they were harvested and even between the different brands available for purchase. This difference makes it important to set the alpha acid values up in the brewing software so that they match the alpha acid value of the hops used in a recipe. The closer you can get the brewing software settings to match those of the brewing system and the ingredients used in a recipe better the chances are that the finished beer will come out as expected.
|The Original Gravity Sample Color Looks Perfect
The first time I brewed using an electric brew in a bag system I had to figure out how much grain and brewing water would fit inside my kettle without causing it to overflow during the mash. With eBIAB systems heating the strike water, mashing the grains, sparging and then boiling the wort are all done in a single vessel. Before being able to successfully brew beer on an eBIAB brewing system, after having brewed for years on a traditional three tier brewing system, I had to learn a different set of calculations. Having a separate hot liquor tank, mash tun and brew kettle made calculating mash thickness and preboil volumes pretty straightforward because the three vessels combined provided more volume to work with. The volume calculations when using only a single vessel took a little more thought since all three processes had to share the same space.
With eBIAB brewing the strike water and grain used in the mash are added to the kettle at the beginning of the mash. The grain is placed inside of a fine mesh bag so that the sugars can be extracted into the wort while preventing any grain from getting into the kettle. At the end of the mash the mesh bag and grain are raised above the wort, rinsed with sparge water and then discarded. Once the wort is heated to a boil the remainder of any eBIAB brewing process is exactly the as any other type of brewing process.
|The 1.056 Original Gravity Reading
It may take a few brew days to become familiar with all of the volume calculations involved when first attempting eBIAB brewing. I found that using brewing software like ezBIAB Calculator© helped to make all of the kettle size, water, grain and hop volume calculations easy to do. After entering the kettle size in gallons and the amount of grains and hops that will be used in the mash, brewing software makes it easy to run what-if type calculations to answer all eBIAB brewing questions related to kettle size, water, grain and hop volumes.
11.75 gallons: Pre-boil Volume
10.00 gallons: Packaged Volume
Estimated Wort : IBU=38, OG=1.051, SRM=12, FG=1.013, ABV= 5.0%
Actual Wort : IBU=38, OG=1.056, SRM=12, FG=1.012, ABV= 5.9%
BU:GU Ratio : 38 / 56 = .6785 Range: 0.25 (sweet) to 1.0 (bitter)
Mash at 154° F for 90 minutes
Mashout at at 168° F for 10 minutes
Sparge at 168° F until 11.75 gallons of wort has collected in the kettle
Summing It All Up
I like to record the highlights of each brew day soon after I finish brewing. After transferring the fermented beer into kegs I was able to take a good look inside the fermentors. I noticed how tightly packed the WLP 810 yeast was on the bottom of the fermentor, it appeared to had the consistency plaster. The remaining beer that was sitting on top of the yeast cake remained clear even after it had been sloshing around over it. The other thing I noticed was how hard and tough the krausen ring created during the fermentation was. The ring was hard and crusty unlike the rings left behind when fermenting beer using other yeast strains like US-04 or WLP-400.
|Yeast And Beer Stone Left In Fermentor After Kegging The Beer
Near the end of the boil wort was pumped through a counter flow chiller to sanitize the inside of the chiller and to create a whirl pool in the kettle. The hops used during the boil for bittering, flavor and aroma were removed from the kettle before adding the final knock out hop additions. It took about fifteen minutes for the wort to settle down inside the kettle allowing the cold break to fall below the valve opening. Once the wort had cleared it was run through the counter-flow chiller and then collected in the fermentors.
|The 1.012 Final Gravity Reading
The fermenting beer was held at 65F throughout most of the primary fermentation before the temperature was raised one degree each day for three consecutive days. Once the final gravity had been reached the beer was cold crashed at 36F for three days it and then kegged and force carbonated using 15 psi for ten days. While California Steamin' will be ready to drink ten days after kegging allowing it another four weeks to condition will help the beer to achieve peak flavor before serving it.
|Screwy's California Steamin' Common Beer