I had a rare most-of-the-day off last week and stopped by McCoy’s in Westport to see what they had on tap. Figuring I would probably never get a chance to have an imperial steam beer again, I ordered the California Uncommon, , a “double” or “imperial” version of the California common or “steam beer” style.
The most famous of steam beers is definitely Anchor Steam, which (I think) has a trademark on the use of “steam,” so the style used by brewers is actually called California common. California commons are beers made like ales using lager yeasts. Traditionally, they were fermented in coolships to take advantage of the cooler ambient temperatures around the San Francisco Bay area, but the brewing process can vary quite a bit from brewer to brewer.
One of the recent trends in brewing seems to be taking somewhat mild beers and cranking them out as doubles. Rogue has their imperial Pilsner, and the moment Boulevard announced their Pilsner earlier in the year I predicted (correctly… It’s a Christmas Miracle!!!) that they would add an imperial Pilsner as a new Smokestack beer. So, taking the California common and turning it into a double doesn’t seem like much of a stretch, all things considered, but you do have to wonder how much of the beer’s original intended character is really retained when you inject it full of hops and alcohol? The thing about the more traditional doubles like imperial IPA’s and stouts is that they are like their original brethren, only “more.” In the case of IPA’s, more alcohol and more hops, and in stouts more alcohol, more malt, more chocolate, coffee, roast, etc.
Based on the description at McCoy’s, I figured the California Uncommon would be very IPA-like. It was served in a nice tulip glass, as seen above, and it had a slightly tan head that quickly disappeared. Not much aroma to be had here.
The flavor was intensely hoppy, with a very resiny kind of hops. At first I sort of pegged this as being like a barleywine, but after about 1/5 of the glass, the hops had REALLY built and it was very double-IPA like, but with a drier finish than I find on most DIPA’s. I took some notes, but I lost my scrap of paper that had the notes! Sheesh!
I remember the carbonation as being quite low, and the hops were really dominant. There was a fair amount of alcohol, and it seemed to get a little hot with larger sips, really carrying all those bitter compounds in a way that wasn’t entirely pleasant. Overall, I was pretty satisfied with this beer. To me, it retains none of the qualities of steam beer, but does make for a pretty likable DIPA!