By Jesse Reynolds
One of the great challenges for new homebrewers is making a lager. Although fermentation temperature control is one of the most important elements in brewing as a whole, for those who rely on ambient room temperature, ale yeasts can be much more forgiving.
Lagers require precision. Without the ability to provide a consistent cold temperature, significant yeast esters and off-flavour production will occur, leaving your intended clean, crisp and malty beer tasting more like green apple, sulfur and alcohol.
For ambient temperature brewers, the California Common is a hybrid beer that strikes a nice balance between clean malty lager and ease of fermentation.
With origins in the Gold Rush era, well before man-made refrigeration was a possibility, this beer was produced to take advantage of cooler seasonal temperatures in Northern California. Using specific strains of lager yeast which were found to perform well at warmer temperatures, brewers managed to create an amber beer with all the desirable lager characteristics in a fairly inhospitable environment. Popularity soared, and for some time this was the most popular style of beer up and down the West Coast until refrigeration and traditional lagering became more popular.
As is the case with many “lost” beer styles, the California Common has been revived to a degree by craft brewers, Anchor Steam being the preeminent example. The style doesn’t leave much room for customization, but a few tweaks (ie: crystal malt and hop quantities) to the typical base recipe can yield a wide range of results.
The beer itself is truly American in that it is significantly more hoppy than its European amber lager counterparts. The assertive bitterness of Northern Brewer hops provides a nice balance to the toasty caramel malt, which is accentuated by a 90 minute boil. Fruity yeast character is higher than most lagers, but should only be perceived in trace amounts.
As is the case with all cooler fermentations, a yeast starter is an absolute necessity.
California Common (BJCP Category 19B)
(all-grain, 5.5 gallons)
8 Gallons Tap Water (treated w/ Campden tablets) or Spring Water
Add ½ tsp Gypsum, ½ tsp Calcium Chloride
9 lbs Pale Ale Malt
1 lb Crystal 60
½ oz US Northern Brewer (9.4% AA, 60 mins remaining in boil)
¼ oz US Northern Brewer (9.4% AA, 15 mins)
¼ oz US Northern Brewer (9.4% AA, 0 mins)
Escarpment Labs Cali Common Lager or White Labs WLP810 San Francisco Lager
Brew Day Instructions
Mash in grains with 4.5 gallons of water to reach 151F (66C) and hold for 75 minutes. Use direct heat or infuse mash with boiling water to raise your temperature to 168F (76C) and hold for 15 mins. Drain your wort into the boil kettle and sparge your grains with 168F water until you collect 7 gallons of wort.
Boil for 90 minutes, adding hops at times directed in recipe above. Remove from heat and chill rapidly to 61F, then aerate your wort before pitching the yeast.
Ferment at 61F (16C) for 10 to 12 days, or until the beer approaches final gravity. Raise temperature to 68F (20C) for 3 days to complete fermentation. When gravity stabilizes, package your beer and carbonate.
This beer would benefit from cold-conditioning in the package anywhere from 1 to 8 weeks.
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