I've been itching to make another California Common for a long time now, as it's a beer style I really love. It has all the malty character of a good amber ale, but with less hop character and a crisper smoother finish. I figured this would be a nice easy beer to end a brewing hiatus with, as it should be fairly point-and-shoot. This was also the first batch where my friend Kiernan actually started brewing with me. We split a 10 gallon batch, and he's starting to learn the process.
As for the recipe, I took a reasonably big deviation, as I didn't use the appropriate California Lager Yeast. I'm planning on brewing another Pliny the Elder clone (10 gallons of which) after this batch, and I really need a big pitch of WLP001. So I figured what the hell, it'll still make a fantastic beer even if it isn't identical to Anchor Steam. The grist is a healthy mix of crystal and munich malts. I split up the crystal between 40 and 80 for some complexity, and added a touch of Pale Chocolate mostly as a color adjustment. As for the hops, I'm sticking with the traditional woody/minty flavors of Northern Brewer.
I'll spare you all the brew day notes, as I talked about them at length here. 60 minute mash followed by a 60 minute boil. I immediately, albeit, slowly started chilling the wort. It was a brutally hot day, and the 90* ground water temps were not helping matters. 30lbs of ice later I was down to roughly 62-64F. Lastly I oxygenated the wort, and pitched half of a 3.5L starter into each fermenter. I kept the fermenters cool for the first few days, and after high-krausen I ramped the temp up to around 68-68.5 until it was finished. We kegged it, fined with some gelatin, hit it with some CO2, and that's all she wrote.
ABV: 5.2 %
4oz Pale Chocolate
Mash @ 153*
1oz Apollo @ 60
2oz Northern Brewer @ 20
2oz Northern Brewer @ 0
WLP001 - California Ale Yeast - 4L starter
So here we are about 12 days after it was kegged, and I'll say it turned out really tasty. The color is pretty much be the definition of amber with a nice head that lasts. The aroma is decidedly malty with lots of toasty notes and a little caramel. There's also a bit of hop character, but I wouldn't call this a hoppy beer. The flavor has a big firm malt, with all the specialty malts working in harmony. Nothing stands out in the this beer, but it's far from 'blah'. There's a little of that woody hop aroma near the end, and then a firm bitterness that's almost what you'd expect from a typical Pale Ale. It definitely doesn't have that fruity-yet-crisp character that California Lager yeast lends to a beer, but this is still very passable as a Cali Common. This is one of those beers that will definitely improve with 3-4 more weeks in the kegerator. It's not that it isn't already a smooth beer, but a little cold conditioning never hurt anything (other than an IPA =p)
I'm very happy with how this turned out, and I'm pretty confident this is going to be the second of the three beers I serve at our wedding in a couple months. It has a bunch of flavor, but it's still very drinkable. The alcohol won't blow anyone's doors off, but it still has a nice mouthfeel. Aside from that, it just feels good to be brewing again after a couple months off. Lesson learned, brewing too often makes it feel less like a hobby and much more like work.