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Steam Beer

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Photo by Orin Optiglot

A name trademarked by the Anchor Steam Beer brewery of San Francisco. This brewery's principal product is made by a distinctive method of bottom-fermentation at high temperatures and in unusually wide, shallow vessels. This technique, producing a beer with elements of both lager and ale in its character (though also distinctive in its own right), is said to have been common in California when, in the absence of supplies of ice, early brewers tried to make bottom-fermenting beers. The very lively beer was said to "steam" when the casks were tapped.   Source: Beer Hunter

Brewing Process:

In 19th-century California, not only ice, but even sources of naturally cold water, were probably unavailable to brewers. California brewers were forced to use lager yeast at higher ale temperatures.

Final flavors of beer are influenced by the strain of yeast and the fermentation temperature. Lager yeast is best used at temperatures from 55°F down to 32 °F. Classic lagering of beers takes place over a period of time from weeks to many months at a temperature of 45°F. Lager yeasts are bottom fermenting, which is to say that they ferment the wort while sitting on the bottom of the fermenter. Papazian, Charlie (2003). The Complete Joy of Home Brewing: 3rd Edition.

Ale yeast is best used at temperatures from 55°F to 75°F. Fermentation by ale yeasts produces a beer that has a distinctive ale flavor. Ale yeasts are Top-fermenting, that is they settle out on top of the wort after fermenting (fermentation itself takes place in a suspension. Papazian, Charlie (2003). The Complete Joy of Home Brewing: 3rd Edition. Steam Beer uses bottom fermenting lager yeasts at ale temperatures, which results in a very distinctive flavor profile that includes both ale and lager characteristics.

While steam beer is considered a specialty microbrew style of beer today, it was originally a cheap beer made for blue collar workers. Wahl & Heinus’ “American Handy Book of Brewing and Malting” (1902) describes California Steam Beer as “a very clear, refreshing drink, much consumed by the laboring classes.” And while Anchor Steam is an all-barley malt beer, additives were often used in the early days. According to Wahl & Heinus’ book, “Malt alone, malt and grits, or raw cereals of any kind, and sugars, especially glucose, employed in the kettle to the extent of 33 1/3 percent…. Roasted malt or sugar coloring is used to give the favorite amber color of Munich beer.”


Other Articles Worth Reading

Steam Beer at Brew Your Own Magazine
California Steaming at Brewing Techniques
Anchor Brewing

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