Why does Anchor Brewing call their beer "Anchor Steam® "? How do I make a steam beer?

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According to the Anchor Brewery, Anchor Steam derives its unusual name from the 19th century when "steam" seems to have been a nickname for beer brewed on the West Coast of America under primitive conditions and without ice. The brewing methods of those days are a mystery and, although there are many theories, no one can say with certainty why the word "steam" came to be associated with beer. One of the theories is based on their use of shallow fermenters, originally designed from coolships. With the cool and humid San Francisco air, any residual heat would make the beer appear to steam. Another theory is that San Francisco became a favorite supply point for the numerous steam ships that plied the Pacific Ocean in the late 19th century. Of course you wouldn't want to miss the opportunity to stock up on the local beer when your ship was in town. Whatever, the reason, for many decades Anchor alone has used this quaint name for its unique beer. In modern times, "Steam" has become a trademark of Anchor Brewing.

Anchor Steam beer defines the style of beer known as California Common beer. The most unique feature of California Common beer is the use of lager yeast at an elevated fermentation temperature. Typically it is fermented at about 58° to 68°F, above other lager yeast, but colder than a lot of ale yeasts.

From a style standpoint, California Common is lumped together with American Pale and Amber Ales in BJCP category 6. Making a California Common is straight-forward, and is aided during winter months by cool temperatures. It can be made either by extract brewers or all-grain brewers with equal ease.

Start out with your recipe with Pale Malt or malt extract. Target a starting gravity of about 1.048. To this, add a generous dose of crystal malt. My preference is to use a mixture of crystal malts with a range of color. For a 5 gallon batch, I'd use a quarter pound each of 20°L and 80°L, and maybe a half pound each of 40°L and 60°L. Steep the crystal malt for extract, or throw it in the mash for all-grain. If you are mashing, target 155°F. A single-step infusion mash can be used, though you'll get better clarity if you start off with a protein rest at 122°F.

The hop profile traditionally uses northern brewer hops, though other American varieties can be used as well. California Common is fairly bitter, running about 40 IBUs. Hop flavor and aroma should be apparent, but not overpowering.

For best results, use the Wyeast #2112 California lager yeast. This reproduces the slight ester fruitiness characteristic of Anchor Steam. I prefer to keep the fermentation temperature around 60° to 65°F. Around my place, this takes very little effort this time of year. If you want to brew it in summer, you'll need a lagering fridge.

The beer ferments a bit slower than Pale Ale, but considerably faster than a German lager. After bottling or kegging, I like to store it cool for about a month. That way, it will smooth out the flavor and retain its freshness for some time.

So grab your glass and raise a toast to Anchor Brewing and the unique style of beer that California can call its own.