I’ve been reading quite a bit about more historical styles. Styles that historically were popular, but now aren’t brewed commercially, or don’t have very many commercial examples. One such example is the California Common, aka, Steam Beer. The BJCP has narrowly defined the style around one commercial example, Anchor Steam.
This is my first attempt at brewing a steam beer. I chose to brew this style as it just seemed to fit the conditions of my basement perfectly. I don’t have an easy way to control fermentation temperature, and my basement in the winter sits right around 58°F-62°F. Perfect for a steam beer.
|2lb 4oz||2 Row (US)||2||75.0%|
|0.33oz||Northern Brewer||5.3%||First Wort Hop||Pellets|
|0.33oz||Northern Brewer||5.3%||Boil – 20 Minutes||Pellets|
|0.33oz||Northern Brewer||5.3%||Boil – 0 Minutes||Pellets|
|San Francisco Lager (WLP810)||White Labs||65%-70%||58F-65F|
On the day before I planned to brew, I made a 500ml yeast starter. On a batch this size, it’s probably not needed, but my local brew shop gave me 50% off the yeast because it was old and going to expire the next day. I wanted to make sure that it was still viable.
I don’t have a stir plate yet, so after I made the starter, I just shook things up as I walked by. By the time I was ready to brew, the starter had turned a very creamy color, and tiny bubbles (of which I presume was CO2) could be found climbing up the side of the flask.
I began the brew day with the mash. For a good description of the mash method I used, head over to The Kitchn’s Beer School. The first step, is heating up my oven to 170°F (the lowest setting on its thermostat). Then, I heat up ‘strike’ water in my brew kettle to 164F. This is followed by dumping my grains in the kettle, placing the lid on my kettle, and placing it in the oven. Every fifteen minutes, I pull the mash out of the oven and give it a stir. If the temp is too high, I give it a stir until it cools down. If it’s too low (rarely a problem), I put it on the burner on medium until it’s right. I mash for a total of 60 minutes. The process is finished by placing a collander on a bucket and dumping the contents into the collander. I call this method my ‘ghetto kettle mashing’ method.
Sparging is accomplished by heating an appropriate amount of sparge water (varies by how much was wort was drawn out during the mash) to 168°F and dumping it over the collander. I then place the collander with grains included over my kettle and recirculate the wort through my grains.
My biggest complaint about this process is its inconsistency. Sometimes I get 78% efficiency from this mashing method, but other times I get in the mid-60s. I’m planning to upgrade to a BIAB setup, or a cooler tun and do batch sparging.
After the mashing was complete, and my wort was in the kettle, I dumped by first hop addition into the kettle and cranked the burner up to high. 1.5 gallons doesn’t take too long to boil on my stove, only about 15 minutes. 40 minutes after the boil started, I dumped my second hop addition. After 60 minutes, I turned the burner off and dumped my final hop addition.
I don’t have a wort chiller, and for this size of batch, I can cool it quickly in the sink with a bunch of ice… except, I didn’t have any ice! What I did have was access to a bunch of snow outside! Now, it may sound like a great idea to carry your hot wort out to a snow bank and drop it in to cool it, but this doesn’t actually work well in practice. The snow tends to create a blanket around your kettle and insulates it from the cold.
Instead, I took a cooler and filled it to the brim with snow. I brought the cooler inside and placed it on the kitchen floor. I filled the sink part of the way with water, placed my kettle in the sink, and proceeded to shovel a bunch of snow into the sink. As the snow melted, I’d drain some of the water out of the sink and shovel more snow into it. Using this, I was able to cool my wort down to 75°F in about 20 minutes. Not bad for not having a chiller!
My wort was down to a suitable pitching temperature, and I took a gravity measurement. The hydrometer read 1.050, but the wort was still ~75°F. After adjusting for my hydrometer’s calibration temp, I wrote down the OG as 1.052 and called it good.
I transferred the wort to a 3 gallon glass carboy, pitched the starter without decanting anything, topped it with a 3-piece airlock, and put it in my basement. One of the reasons I chose to make a steam beer was because my basement maintains a temperature between 58°F and 62°F in the winter. I don’t have a good way of controlling fermentation temperature, and this range seemed perfect for a steam beer. Hopefully I’m correct in that assumption!
The next morning, I checked on the beer, and I was happy to see it had already begun fermenting very actively and a solid krausen had been formed! The krausen persisted for about 4 days, where it subsided into just a little bit of foam on top of the wort.
Three weeks after brew day, the beer had reach a final gravity of 1.012 and was bottled. I put 1.15 ounces of table sugar in the bottling bucket and racked the beer on top. I got 14 whole bottles of the batch.
This was a brew that I really learned the importance of patience, especially with bottle conditioning. I had been periodically sampling bottles after I bottled the batch, and it took almost four weeks after bottling for me to get a beer that was clear, and didn’t have a yeasty bite to it.
Now, almost eight weeks from the brew date, I have what I’m calling one of the best beers I made. It has an outstanding pine flavor from the northern brewer hops with a good malt flavor to back it up. It is not quite as good as a true steam beer, but it’s definitely still a good beer.