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Beer culture is coming of age. At any store, restaurant, bar, or friend's house you can now find at least a few good brews. In fact, there seem to be so many new beers, breweries and bars it's difficult to separate the good, the bad, and the mediocre.

If you're going spend $10 on one beer, what should you buy? If you're going to drive 2 hours to check out a brewery, what's worth your time? If you're going to plan a Friday night, what has a good selection and friendly atmosphere? We're here to help you answer these questions.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Brekle's Brown and the History of the California Common Beer

Brekle's Brown is a Brown Ale brewed by Anchor Brewing Company of San Francisco. This beer is named after the man, Gottlieb Brekle, who founded the brewery that Anchor Steam inherited. This beer was brewed to commemorate the founding of the original Brekle brewery 140 years ago, so its a limited release. The beers were bottled in May 2011. Oddly, the Bear republic Brewing Company has a nice write up on the history of Anchor Steam, which is one of the US' oldest breweries and the only to brewery to actually have invented a unique style - a "steam beer' or California Common beer.

If you don't want to read the links, essentially a steam beer is a style that grew out of necessity. Before refrigeration technology, most brewers set up shop in cold areas that had easy access to ice. The ice was used to cool the beer down to fermentation temperatures. Since the popular American style was a lager, those temperatures had to be cold, below 50 degrees at least. In California, ice was not easy to come by.

So in order to cool the wort (pre-fermented beer), it was placed in the cool, open air in shallow vats. The steam rising from these vats is where the style gets its name. It was difficult to get the wort down to the proper temperature and even more difficult to keep it there. So, the beer was fermented at higher temperatures than a lager should be, the 60 degree range. While this temperature got the job down, it also created a hybrid beer - lager yeast fermented at ale yeast temperatures.

Brekle's was actually first introduced at San Francisco's 2011 beer week. One thing I have not figured out is why they advertise the beer as "All Malt, Single Hop". Unless it's a wheat beer, beers are made with malt. Many macro brewers use low quality adjuncts like corn sugar and some craft brewers compliment their malt profiles with quality adjuncts (maple syrup). I guess Anchor Steam is trying to put itself in the middle between cost-cutting macro brewers and experimental micro brewers.

I bought this at Taylor's Market in Sacramento for $4.99 for a 550ml. It has an ABV of 6%.

The beer pours a dark copper color with a decent off-white head that sticks around, but leaves no lacings. The aroma is subtle with sweet roasted malts, toffee, and hints of fruitiness. The taste starts with the sweet roasted and toffee malts and finishes with a butter and fruit with a nice tartness. It's light bodied with smooth mouthfeel and low carbonation, almost like it was cask conditioned.

I think I understand why they brag about all malt. There is a very enjoyable, complex flavor profile. But it's not a flavor profile that would call for non-malt ingredients. The toffee, fruit and tartness are produced by the yeast, which is probably of English variety.

Overall this is a good beer, with high drinkability combined with good flavor. I suggest you Try It. Samuel Smith and Downtown Brown are just as good, but with slightly different flavor profiles. I want to guess that Brekle's is trying to emulate an English Brown ale (Sam Smith), while using the California steam technique. In that case, I would probably give body and mouthfeel to Sam Smith and flavor to Brekle's. Downtown Brown is a slightly different style which focuses more on the chocolate and coffee flavors.

1 comment:

  1. Just A thought on this .As much as we thank Anchor for keeping the style alive they did not event Steam Beer.