What’s a Steam Lager?
Have You Ever Heard of a Steam Beer?
New to some, the Steam Beer style is actually older than most beer styles we’ve played with today! It has it’s origins in the United States of America, historically, going back to San Fransisco and the West Coast of the US.
Compared to other lagers or beer styles, the beer is brewed like a lager or with lager yeast, but without true refrigeration. It may have originated during the gold rush era of that part of the States, and could be seen as a mish-mash, cheap or low-quality beer because of it’s “slapped together” style of brewing.
Though, in a way, I find I’ve created a pretty cool image of a bearded prospector shouting: “We just want beer damn it!“. Most of the online literature around the Steam Beer talks about the Anchor Brewery Steam Beer, which patented the name: “Steam Beer” and is based out of California, which is also another term for that type of Steam Beer: Californian Common Beer. The term of “Steam Beer”, according to Anchor and BeerFaq, originates from the steam that comes out of the roof of their breweries. According to Anchor, they had no way to cool the hot wort during the brewing process, so they pumped it up to the roof and let the cool air do the job of cooling, clever!
It now makes sense why the Legends’ Steam Lager takes inspiration from South Africa’s own golden mining past in and around the parts that now is Johannesburg and Pretoria for their Gold Rush Steam Lager.
Tasting the Steam Beer:
Again, historically, the style of a Steam Beer should be “effervescent” or fizzy, which in our recent experience, is spot on for the local Steam Lager. We have found that unlike most beers, the Steam Lager is rather difficult to divide between lager and ale, if it weren’t for the actual label making the choice rather bias. Traditionally, Steam beer is fermented warm like ales, but uses bottom-fermenting lager yeast, like lagers.
According to BeerFaq, steam beer’s first tastes will create a real toasty/malty essence, with a fairly aggressive hoppiness in flavour and aroma and a fair amount of carbonation (Not unlike Steam Lager). Further, Steam beers, are generally clear and crisp like a lager, but also full-bodied like an ale.
As much as I’ve tried to figure out what our own Steam Lager is, we do agree that it’s more of a hybrid beer than specifically a lager. Though, I guess the brewer may have the only right to claim it’s intended style. It’s up to us as tasters to enjoy their hard work.
Anchor Steam Beer:
According to the guys who kept the name from anyone else, here’s what the Anchor Steam Beer sounds like according the master brewers who made it:
“Anchor Steam® Beer owes its deep amber colour, thick, creamy head, and rich, distinctive flavour to a historic brewing process like none other. It is a process that combines deep respect for craft brewing tradition with many decades of evolution to arrive at a unique approach: a blend of pale and caramel malts, fermentation with lager yeast at warmer ale temperatures in shallow open-air fermenters, and gentle carbonation in our cellars through an all-natural process called kräusening.
Anchor Steam® Beer derives its unusual name from the 19th century when “steam” was a nickname for beer brewed on the West Coast of America under primitive conditions and without ice. While the origin of the name remains shrouded in mystery, it likely relates to the original practice of fermenting the beer on San Francisco’s rooftops in a cool climate. In lieu of ice, the foggy night air naturally cooled the fermenting beer, creating steam off the warm open pans.
Once a nickname for any Californian or West Coast beer brewed under these conditions, today the name “steam” is a trademark of Anchor Brewing and applies only to the singular process and taste of our flagship brand – San Francisco’s original Anchor Steam® Beer.“
Also published on Medium.