One of the features I’ll be doing every month is What’s on Tap – a discussion of some of the beers I’ve brewed and am enjoying that particular month. This month is the premier of WoT, and I currently have two kegs I’m working on emptying.
Engine 97 Steam Beer
This is one of my house beers and a favorite among my fans. It is brewed in the style of a California Common (BJCP category 7B, Amber Hybrid Beer/California Common Beer), also called steam beer. The quintessential commercial example of a Cal Common is Anchor Brewing’s Anchor Steam. This style calls for a medium-bodied amber to light copper colored ale, with a moderately malty taste and pronounced hop bitterness. The style showcases the Northern Brewer hop variety, which produces woody, rustic, or minty qualities. In addition, light caramel and fruity notes are acceptable.
My version is brewed using one of Jamil Zainasheff’s recipes, and I like it better than Anchor Steam. It adds a nice amount of malt complexity with its varied grain bill, and has that nice hop punch you want from a Cal Common. The batch I am currently drinking was brewed in early April and is conditioning nicely in my beer fridge – however, I doubt it will have time to reach its true peak, since I have been steadily attacking this keg!
Only “problem” with that brew session was that I was adjusting to a bunch of new equipment and missed my original gravity by quite a bit, causing this batch to be lighter in body than I expected. As a result, the caramel notes aren’t really there, the beer tastes a lot hoppier than usual (sort of like a baby IPA), and the alcohol content is low (somewhere around 4% ABV). Of course, these aren’t really problems – the beer still tastes great and the lower ABV makes it a nice session beer. However, these are things which would get me dinged in a competition for straying out of style.
This beer was designed to be a clone of Magic Hat’s #9. Magic Hat describes that beer as “not quite pale ale”. Technically, this would fall under the rather broad style of Fruit Beer (BJCP category 20, Fruit Beer). Basically, all the style holds you to is having the fruit you used come through in the aroma and taste, have the fruit flavor be supportive and not artificial or overpowering, and have a well-brewed base beer backing it all up.
I brewed this one in late March, right when the Eliot Spitzer scandal was breaking, so I named it in his honor. This beer was another victim of my new equipment breaking-in period, so the original gravity also came in on the low side. It’s a little lighter-bodied and has a touch less alcohol than planned, but the apricot flavor fills it out nicely. It was racked onto a can’s worth of Oregon apricot puree (Oregon makes seedless, sanitized fruit purees without added sugars or fermentables which are available at homebrew shops and online – they work great. The purees you find in the supermarket should be avoided!) for two weeks and then kegged. The beer turned out very nice – a medium-hopped, unassuming pale ale in the background, complemented by a nice, fresh apricot nose and taste. I have it carbonated on the higher side and it is a nice, refreshing springtime beverage.
This keg is just about done. My girlfriend loves this stuff, preferring it to Magic Hat’s brew. The keg would be kicked already, but we are having company for Memorial Day weekend and they want to try some. I have already been contracted for another batch, but I might try a different flavor, like blackberry.