California Common Beer: An American Original

California Common Beer is a unique hybrid style that originated in the United States, particularly in California. This type of beer is distinct in that it is brewed using a special strain of lager yeast known for working better at warmer, ale-like temperatures. In fact, this brewing technique traces back to the late 1800s in California, when refrigeration was considered a luxury.

This beer style, also known as Steam Beer, gained prominence during the California Gold Rush of 1849. It possesses a moderately rich malt character with hints of bread, toast, caramel, and slight graininess. The hop bittering is firm, balancing the beer with a decidedly bitter yet not overwhelming taste.

The California Common offers a distinctive flavor profile due to its unique brewing process. By employing a specialized lager yeast fermented at ale temperatures, this beer showcases complex aromas and a dry finish, making it an interesting and enjoyable beverage for beer enthusiasts.

History and Origin of California Common Beer

San Francisco

California Common, a unique American beer style, traces its origins back to the Gold Rush era in San Francisco. Due to the lack of proper brewing equipment and refrigeration, as well as the cool ambient temperatures of the San Francisco Bay area, brewers had to improvise and create a beer that could be fermented at ale temperatures using lager yeast. This hybrid beer style, which was initially known as Steam Beer, became the inexpensive choice for the working class during the California gold rush.

Anchor Brewing Company

Anchor Brewing Company, a San Francisco-based brewery, carried forward the tradition of brewing California Common. They played a significant role in the modern interpretation and popularization of this beer style. Anchor Steam, their flagship beer, is considered the pioneer of the contemporary California Common and remains synonymous with the style today.


Due to the increasing popularity and demand for their signature beer, Anchor Brewing Company decided to trademark the term “Steam Beer” in 1981. The result of this trademark meant that all other breweries had to use a different name for this beer style. Therefore, the name California Common was introduced as a suitable alternative. Today, California Common can be found in various craft breweries throughout the United States, who continue experimenting with and celebrating this uniquely American hybrid beer style.

Brewing Process 
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Fermentation is a key step in the brewing of California Common beer. To achieve the desired characteristics, ferment your beer at a slightly warmer temperature than typical lagers, around 54°F (12°C). This temperature allows the lager yeast to impart a unique profile while maintaining a clean, crisp finish. Ferment the beer for at least 10 days at 60°F, and then condition by allowing it to rest for three weeks at 50°F.


The yeast used in brewing California Common beer is also an important factor. Use a California Lager yeast like the Wyeast 2112 or White Labs WLP810. These strains are specifically designed for brewing California Commons and provide the ideal balance between an ale yeast’s fruity esters and a lager yeast’s clean, smooth character.


Malt plays a crucial role in creating the flavors and body of a California Common beer. Your grain bill should consist mainly of pale malt, which forms the malty base and provides the fermentable sugars required for fermentation. Additionally, include some Munich malt and medium crystal malt in your recipe to contribute complexity and color.

Create a grist with the following proportions:

– Pale malt: 85% – 90%
– Munich malt: 5% – 10%
– Medium crystal malt: 5%


Hops are essential for providing this beer style’s characteristic bitterness and aroma. Northern Brewer hops are often used in the brewing of California Commons due to their woody, earthy, and sometimes minty notes. When crafting your hop schedule, consider adding these hop additions:

1) 60 minutes: 1 oz (28 g) Northern Brewer (50/50 blend)
2) 10 minutes: 1 oz (28 g) Northern Brewer (50/50 blend)
3) Flameout: 1 oz (28 g) Northern Brewer (50/50 blend)

This hop schedule will yield a bitterness level of around 35 IBUs, which is suitable for a typical California Common beer.

Style and Profiles


California Common beer typically has a medium amber to light copper color. The beer is generally clear with a moderate off-white head and good retention. You’ll notice an efficient medium to fast rising carbonation, which contributes to the visual appeal of this beer.


When it comes to flavor, California Common beer is known for its firm, grainy maltiness, showcasing interesting toasty, caramel, and slight biscuity notes. The hop bitterness is quite firm, balancing the beer with a decidedly bitter taste, but not overwhelmingly so. You might also sense a light fruitiness emanating from the yeast used in the brewing process. The lager yeast that’s typically used in California Common can work better at warmer temperatures, giving the beer an earthy, woody, and sometimes minty character.

Attribute Range
ABV% 4.5—5.5
IBUs 30—45
OG 1.048—1.054
FG 1.011—1.014
SRM(Color) 10—14


Pairing California Common beer with your meal can be a delightful experience. Thanks to their unique flavor profiles, combining a crisp, dry finish along with a caramel maltiness, these beers go well with a variety of dishes. You can try pairing them with pizzas, burgers, grilled or roasted meats, and even Mexican dishes, as the beer’s hop bitterness and carbonation will complement the intense flavors of these dishes. The mild fruity notes and robust malt characters can also work well alongside mildly sweet desserts, such as fruit tarts or apple pie.

Unique California Common Beers

Columbia Common

Columbia Common is a twist on the California Common style, bringing unique flavors to the forefront. The use of Columbia hops provides a crisp, citrusy aroma and a smooth, well-rounded finish that will leave you craving more. This beer is perfect for those looking to try a new take on the traditional California Common style.

Steamworks Brewing Co

Steamworks Brewing Co. offers a delicious take on the California Common called Steam Engine Lager. This medium amber-colored beer has a clear appearance and medium-to-fast rising bubbles, showcasing the style’s unique fermentation process. When you take a sip, you’ll experience a well-balanced beer with a pleasantly mild hop presence.


Port City Brewing’s Derecho is a standout California Common beer inspired by a powerful storm that hit their brewery. Derecho features malt-forward flavors, a lager-like crispness, and subtle fruitiness from the use of a specialized lager yeast. This beer is a testament to the brewery’s resilience and their ability to create fantastic beers under challenging circumstances.

Moab Brewery

The Moab Brewery offers a tasty rendition of the California Common style called Pi Common. This beer combines the distinct characteristics of the California Common with Moab Brewery’s signature brewing techniques. Expect a delightful harmony of malt, hops, and a crisp finish, making it a great beer to enjoy on a sunny afternoon.

Cream Ale

While not a California Common beer, the Cream Ale showcases similar brewing methods used in making this unique style. Cream Ales are brewed using a blend of ale and lager yeasts, fermented at warmer temperatures like California Common beers. They also undergo cold storage (lagering) for a smoother, cleaner flavor. If you enjoy California Common beers, exploring Cream Ales might be a natural next step in discovering different, yet related styles.

Pairings and Cuisine

Food Pairing

When enjoying a California Common beer, consider pairing it with flavorful dishes such as pork loin or a tasty bread pudding with feta cheese. The earthy malt character and hop bitterness found in this style of beer work well with robust, savory meals. The beer’s dry finish creates a balanced harmony that complements a variety of food flavors. In addition to roasted meats, you can also experiment with pairing California Common with spicy dishes, such as Cajun cuisine. The hoppy and spicy notes in the beer can enhance the heat and complexity of these meals.


To fully appreciate the appearance and aroma of a California Common beer, serve it in a Nonic pint glass. This glassware is designed to showcase the light amber to medium amber color, clear clarity, and medium to fast rising bubbles of the beer. The head of the glass traps the beer’s aroma, allowing you to enjoy the woody, earthy, and minty scents, courtesy of the Northern Brewer hops. For optimal flavor and aroma, it’s best to serve your California Common at a cool temperature, between 46-54°F (8-12°C). This will ensure that you experience the beer in its finest form.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the taste profile of a California Common?

The taste profile of a California Common is quite unique, characterized by a well-balanced mix of malt and hop flavors. You can expect a moderately malty backbone, accompanied by a slight fruity note due to the fermentation process. The hop bitterness is evident, but not overwhelming, resulting in a crisp and refreshing finish.

What is the history behind the California Common style?

California Common, or Steam Beer, can trace its origins back to late 19th-century San Francisco. The style was developed as a response to the challenges faced by brewers at the time due to lack of refrigeration. Brewers use a specialized lager yeast which ferments at warmer ale-like temperatures, giving it a distinct character, with San Francisco’s Anchor Steam being the pioneering beer of this style.

How does California Common differ from Kentucky Common?

Though both are considered “common” styles, California Common and Kentucky Common are quite different in flavor, ingredients, and brewing processes. California Common is a hybrid style, with a significant hop presence and fruity notes resulting from the use of lager yeast. Kentucky Common, on the other hand, is a darker ale with roots in pre-Prohibition America. It relies more on barley and corn malts, resulting in a maltier and slighter sweeter profile compared to its Californian counterpart.

Why is California Common also known as Steam Beer?

The term “Steam Beer” has a somewhat mysterious origin, but it is believed to be linked to the brewing process used during the late 19th and early 20th centuries in California. The lack of refrigeration forced brewers to harness natural ventilation systems, which led to steam being released during the cooling process. The steam was a visible and distinctive indicator of the brew in action, hence the name “Steam Beer.” However, it is important to note that the term “Steam Beer” is now trademarked by Anchor Brewing Company.

Which hops and yeast are typically used in California Common?

California Common is typically brewed with Northern Brewer hops, which contribute to its distinct woody and minty flavors. The yeast used is a specialized lager yeast that performs well at warmer, ale-like fermentation temperatures. This characteristic is essential for replicating the traditional brewing conditions of 19th-century California, resulting in the style’s unique flavor profile.

What are some popular California Common recipes?

Anchor Steam beer is the most well-known example of a California Common, but numerous recipes are available for homebrewers and craft beer enthusiasts alike. Some popular recipes include Sierra Nevada’s Nooner, which is their take on the style, offering a crisp, refreshing option with a touch of fruitiness. Many homebrew forums and recipe websites also have instructions for crafting your own California Common, featuring hallmark ingredients like Northern Brewer hops and the specialized lager yeast, resulting in a unique brew to enjoy and share with friends.

P.S. If you brew your own beer, be sure to grab our top five beer recipes; details are on the side of the blog or at the bottom if you are on your phone.  Cheers.

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