California Citizen

Jeffrey Wiser, October 07, 2013

As a new resident of the California Empire, I've been trying to drink it all in. And yeah, that's gonna be a lot of work, but it's also given me plenty to look forward to. I recently saw an article about a style of beer that is likely unfamiliar to most, including myself. That would be the California Common. 

I'm a sucker for anything historical (hence the BA in History) and especially anything from the Prohibition Era. I love classic cocktails and have always been fascinated with the Prohibition time period (I occasionally wear suspenders but with varying degrees of success). The California Common, it seems, was almost another Prohibition casualty. Luckily for us beer consumers, it survived.

Here's the description of the California Common from Beer Advocate, a much more succinct description than I possibly could have provided:

"The California Common, or Steam Beer, is a unique 100% American style lager. It's usually brewed with a special strain of lager yeast that works better at warmer temperatures. This method dates back to the late 1800's in California when refrigeration was a great luxury. The brewers back then had to improvise to cool the beer down, so shallow fermenters were used. So in a way the lager yeast was trained to ferment quicker at warmer temperatures. Today's examples are light amber to tawny in color, medium bodied with a malty character. Mildly fruity with an assertive hop bitterness."

Given what brewers had to work with, the California Common was a wonderful way around a simple problem. Of course, Prohibition caused another set of problems all together and it seems that the California Common almost died during the era. In the Dark Ages (of beer)  from 1920-1933, there was little brewing taking place and the drinks that were being brewed or distilled were usually rough sketches of more common alcohols. Once the ban was lifted on December 5th, 1933, brewing cranked up but it did so in a more mass-produced fashion. The time-consuming process of brewing lagers by small batches, such as California Commons, was replaced by either mass-produced lagers or locally produced ales. Because of this, the California Common was all but forgotten.

Luckily, it's been resurrected, as Anchor Steam beer of Anchor Brewing has been around and popular for a long time. But I'd like to throw another beer in the ring if I may. Introducing "Citizen" by Cismontane Brewing. While the California Common is synonymous with Steam Beer by definition, this beer is not to be confused with Anchor Steam when it comes to profile and taste. It's got more gusto through a more blatant display of hops, color and personality.

  • Appearance: a glowing-orange amber (4)
  • Smell: clean with floral and hop notes (3)
  • Taste: a refreshing amount of hops and bitterness, more than expected given the California Common's relation to Steam Beer (3.5)
  • Mouthfeel: almost a little thick and doesn't finish nearly as clean as expected from a lager. Pops on the tongue and has a nice, light, lingering hoppy finish (4)
  • Overall: a very enjoyable, refreshing beer that luckily doesn't taste much like your standard lager. It has more guts than that, much to my pleasure (3.5)

When you're as much of a beer geek as most of us are, it's always a welcomed surprise to discover something new. This beer and its history certainly fits the mold of the unknown, at least to the author. Make a point of it to seek one of these rare beauties out if/when you visit the great state of California. You'll be surprised and hopefully can appreciate how lucky we are to still have access this type of brew!