Tag Archives: “steam” beer

Happy Hour at Lion Bridge Brewing Company

On a beautiful early summer afternoon in Iowa a bunch of coworkers decided that it would be the perfect time to cut out of work a little bit early and get some drinks for the ever-so-correctly named “happy hour.” Thankfully, the group’s consensus was that we drive down to Czech Village and quaff brews from Lion Bridge Brewing Company.

I have been to Lion Bridge before and I am a member of the “community supported ales” program, so my distinct interest was noted. The great thing about what is going on in this particular brewery is that different beers are being produced at a pretty good clip, with some disappearing after making a single appearance. This was the case with some mushroom inspired beers brewed to coincide with a local festival celebrating the morel mushroom season. This is the great thing about small, regional breweries putting out beers that are tuned so perfectly to what is happening in their local ecosystem.

It all started with a 12 ounce tulip of Iron Lion:

Iron LionThankfully, it was only a 12 ounce tulip because if I had been knocking back 20 ounce imperial pints things might have gotten ugly. The beer comes in at a hefty 8.2% ABV, but it does not drink that big. It is brewed with hibiscus and ginger. The ginger really comes through in a good way, but I think that the hibiscus is too delicate of a flavor to compete with the heavy alcohol.

Iron Lion was a great beer to enjoy on a sunny afternoon:

Purchase 3 Mug RatingAfter realizing I was putting down some serious beer, I switched to half pints and ordered a glass of Ryed in the English Countryside:

Ryed English CountrysideThis beer confused me a little bit. Either it is trying to be an English pale ale or an American style IPA because I was getting hints of both styles of beer. I may be quibbling here about style. However, it is my opinion that an English ale will be malt forward and an American style IPA will be hop forward. Ryed in the English Countryside was trying to do both at the same time and something was lost in translation.

That being said it is still a good beer and my coworker who is not a big fan of American style IPAs was happy to drink imperial pints all afternoon long:

Two Mug PurchaseI ended the afternoon happy hour with a half pint of Usonius

UsoniusThis is a steam or California Common beer, which is an odd style because it uses a lager yeast fermented at ale temperatures. It’s an American original and a west coast staple. I have a certain fondness for the style dating back to Anchor Steam being one of the earliest craft beer crushes that I had when great beer was hard to find.

Unfortunately, I found Usonius to have some of the bad traits associated with steam beers. Most notably, the flavors were really muddled and the aromas were distinctly burnt. This may have been a result of the malt profile or the beer style, but nonetheless it was a real letdown after the greatness of Iron Lion:

One Mug HomebrewI also had my growler filled with Workman’s Compensation to take home and enjoy this weekend on the patio. Hopefully the weather will cooperate.

First Beer Thoughts of June

The weather has turned warm, so it is time for the so-called “lawn mower” beer.  I suppose this is meant to be a somewhat derogatory adjective to describe lighter beers.  Is there anything better than the effervescent pitch perfect bitterness of a summer beer after a day spent outside in the sun?  Not that I can think of, but I can be sure that nothing would be as unwelcome after a day of working in the yard like an over-hopped, over-wrought American pale ale.

California Common

Like the AK47 below, this recipe turned out well.

All the right flavors seem to be there, but I do not like this beer.  I have tried several bottles, with and without food, and still I do not like this beer.  I cannot pinpoint where the problem lies.  It might have to do with the heavy late aroma hopping.  As I have brewed beers and discovered the vagaries of hops the one consistent dislike has been heavy handed aroma hopping.  Hmmm….

It would be a learning exercise to try this same recipe, but hold off on the late aroma hopping.


This beer turned out well, with excellent clarity and good head retention.

The AK47 recipe is described as “lightly bittered and light- bodied but not at all boring. Instead of those chocolate-and-toffee characteristics, look for malt flavors that suggest honey, biscuits, and fresh bread, rounded out with buttery and citrus fruit notes from the yeast. Ready to drink quickly, obligingly chuggable, and remarkably complex for barely 3% abv.”  I do not disagree with the description, but I feel like it is lacking something.  I just drink a glass and think that something is missing, like when you forget to salt a dish.

Irish Red Ale

I have finally bottled the Irish red ale that I brewed at the end of April.  Due to time constraints and my general laziness the past week—had to plant the trees—the beer spent an extra week in the carboy.  No blood, no foul.  An extra week should not make an appreciable difference in the outcome.

One thing that has me worried about this batch is that it smells quite similar to the disastrous honey Kolsch from last fall.  Memories of undrinkable beer are filling my head.  Uh oh!

American Wheat

The next beer into the carboy—hopefully sometime this week—will be an American Wheat.  This was actually the first recipe that I brewed back when I started down this homebrew path and it will be interesting to see how my skills have evolved.

One thing different will be that the American Wheat extract kit from Northern Brewer does not have any specialty grains for steeping prior to boiling the wort.


I have a new toy to help me brew beer—iBrewMaster on the iPad.  The software is pretty sweet.  Granted, it is not going to actually help me make beer but it will help me keep track of things like recipes that I create and what not.  It can also help me keep a schedule since I have a habit on losing the post its that I stick to carboys and bottles in the basement.  Nothing like wondering exactly when I brewed this particular batch of mystery beer.

Check out the user interface:

Just another reason why the iPad is becoming indispensable to my daily routine.

The software is loaded with the recipe kits from Northern Brewer, so it is a snap for me to input my current batches with a few changes here and there to reflect personal preference.  As I build out some of my own recipes this summer the software will be invaluable.

Not bad for ~$15.

First May Beer Thoughts

The AK47 light pale ale recipe will be ready for drinking this weekend.  I am really looking forward to comparing it to the Innkeeper recipe brewed previously.  I liked a lot of the flavor notes that the Innkeeper was hitting, but wished it was a little less aggressive on the hops.  The AK47 will definitively be less aggressive on the hops since it starts out with 1/3 the hops in the recipe.

Mad Scientist

I really feel like a mad scientist when I brew beer.  I spend an hour and a half peering over the edge of the boiling kettle with a long handled spoon pouring various ingredients into a bubbling mixture.  Ingredients are added at certain times like a potion master in Harry Potter.

After it cools down for a bit, I pour it into a specialized vessel, add yeast, and wait for a few weeks.  Voila, flat beer.  A little sugar and a couple more weeks in bottles…bam, drinkable and carbonated beer.  It’s alchemy.

Even more amazing is that most of the beer turns out pretty good.  Only a handful of batches in to this hobby and I feel like I am making real good progress toward mastery.  Granted, I probably just jinxed myself by saying that and will have several batches turn out the love child of Natty Light and Colt .45.

Here are some of the things I find amazing about the whole process.  Within about an hour of adding the yeast and sealing the carboy, this is what the fermenting wort looks like:

Crazy, isn’t it?  Within 48 hours it looks like this:

The krausen is forming and the wort is in active fermentation.  Damn, this is alchemy.  Where did I put that lead?

Irish Red Ale

The latest kit that I brewed up was an Irish Red Ale from Northern Brewer.  The recipe is nothing too crazy or different from previous recipes that I have brewed.  I was just looking to try something a little different and see how some other ingredients played together.

It seems that almost trivial variations in certain ingredients can have a major impact on the final product in the bottle.  How is a guy every to figure this all out?  Oh wait, drink more beer.  Got it.

California Common

The California Common extract ale kit is almost out of the carboy.  It will be bottled this weekend—no firm date because all plans are weather dependent as in “if it is nice, I get to mow the lawn” weather dependent—and ready to drink a little after the middle of the month.

This is the first kit that I have brewed that takes longer than 4-6 weeks from boil to bottle.  The wait has been a little maddening and, in some ways, I kind of forgot that the carboy was in the basement.  I was adding up the bottles from my two most recent kits and realized that I needed to increase the amount of beer I would have on hand by 50% because of the California Common.  Ooops.

Random Beer Thoughts

Latest Organic American Ale

My second organic American Ale turned out okay.  The hop profile was subdued with some of the aromas associated with more pungent American ales, especially the kind that predominates in the Pacific Northwest.  Here is a look:

I have not noticed a lot of difference between Wyeast 1272 American Ale II and 1056 American Ale.  My palate may not be advanced enough, but the beers taste similar.  The 1056 seems to produce a beer with more of a head and is more effervescent.  It’s about the only quantifiable difference I can pin down.  Maybe it is the preponderance of American style ales I have been drinking lately, thus I find myself…

Tired of American Style Ales

This winter my brewing has focused heavily on American style ales using Wyeast 1056 American Ale and Wyeast 1272 American Ale II with a variety of malt extract, steeping grains, and hops.  After drinking several batches and trying some brews from fellow homebrewers I can safely say that I am tired of the style right now.

With the weather turning warmer—it’s the end March and the temperature in eastern Iowa has tickled the upper 70s—I am looking forward to “spreading my wings” and brewing up something different.  The Innkeeper, an extract kit from Northern Brewer, is in bottles and should be ready in a couple of weeks.  This weekend I brewed up a California Common (a.k.a “steam” beer”) and an Irish Red Ale is coming on right after that.  I think I might try the AK47 extract kit from Northern Brewer and whatever else strikes my fancy, but it is not going to be an American Ale.

The California Common or “steam” beer is a uniquely American beer.  The key feature of this beer is that it is fermented using lager yeasts at ale temperatures.  Needless to say, this results in a style that does not conform to the dictates of either traditional category although there is so much blurring of the lines anymore that the lager versus ale debate is somewhat moot.  Besides, if it tastes good who cares what official style the beer conforms to?

Originally a beer for working class patrons, steam beer was brought back to the modern beer drinker by the Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco, which is also the traditional home of the steam beer style.  Compared to the other beers I have brewed the California Common was the most complex.  It involved malt extract added at two different times, hops added at four different times, and will require a secondary fermentation following primary fermentation.  It will also take approximately eight weeks from wort to glass.  Right now it is in the carboy, fully krausened, and bubbling away.

I am very partial to steam beers because it takes me back to graduate school at the University of Iowa where a friend of mine introduced me to a whole range of different beers, including Anchor Steam on tap at the Sanctuary.  Simpler times.

Taste Testing Organic Beers

The folks at Grist have decided to do a roundup of organic beers.  Apparently, New Belgium Brewery is going to be phasing out the high profile organic Mothership Wit.  The overt reason is a decline in sales, but I would say that the decline in sales is in direct correlation to the beer’s total lack of depth or complexity.  It’s a fine pale yellow beer and it’s organic, but that is all that it has going for it right now.  After one pint you sort of look at your choices and move on to something else because there is no point in drinking boring beer.

Organic beer does not have to be boring.  It’s about replacing ingredients, not necessarily cutting out the methodology that can make great tasting beer.  The past two batches of American style ale that I have made had both complexity and lots of flavor yet both were organic—the malt extract, steeping grains, and priming sugar were organic.  The hops and yeast were not.

When a Pint is Not a Pint

How much do we really think about weights and measures?  A pound is a pound, a gallon is a gallon, and a pint is a pint?  Right?

Nope.  According to Jordan Mackay the American pint is just too damned big.  The contention is that the newer ultra-hoppy beers of the U.S. craft beer movement are unsuited to being served in glasses 16 ounces and larger.  I tend to agree with this in principle because most of these beers are not quaffed with near the rapidity of a Pabst Blue Ribbon.

A pint is a somewhat arbitrary measure of beer volume because the variety of what is considered a pint varies dramatically based upon locale.  Get a pint in the U.K. and it is determined by law how much beer is included.  Note: I have a set of Imperial pint glasses from which I drink beer because the glasses can hold 16 ounces of beer with some room leftover for the head.

In the U.S. a pint is generally referring to a 16 ounce glass containing beer.  The Boston Beer Company, the brewer of Samuel Adams and arbiter of all things beer in the U.S., feels that there is something left to be desired in the common glasses used for beer consumption in this country. 

I do not know if I agree with the technical merits of one glass over another as I tend to enjoy beer in all its serving vessels be it pint glass, red Solo cup, das boot, or straight from the can.

Backyard Hops

This just makes me want to order some hop rhizomes from Northern Brewer, build a trellis, and get to growing my own hops in my backyard.  Keepin’ it local!

Cellar Raid

There is something strange about finding four years of a beer “vintage” in a local beer shop, let alone having the newest vintage and receiving an older vintage from a friend.  I have never been one to let a beer age for any period of time or to really enjoy the merits of beer that is aged outside of some of the sour beers being produced by craft brewers all over the U.S.

Maybe this is the next evolution in my beer education.

Waste into Something Else

WTF?  Breweries use 400 million tons of grain a year and most of it is thrown away!  I am glad the macro-beer and purveyor of thin lagers Anheuser-Busch is trying to find a use for the stuff.  I think New Belgium in Fort Collins has already beat them to the punch in using brewery waste in a bio-reactor to generate electricity, but somehow A-B will get a lot of credit for following.  Granted, the impact will be big.  It’s still a copycat.