I am totally intrigued by the California Common beer style, a.k.a. "steam beer." It seems like the forgotten step-child of our whole craft beer renaissance — which is surprising since the style really has so much potential. If you need evidence, look no further than this Imperial Black Steam from Narragansett. Despite its imperial status and our automatic assumption that "black" equals "bitter," this steam beer is soft as silk and drinks like a beer with half its ABV. It also makes the perfect transition beer as we move from the hoppy beers of summer into the darker beers of the cold months ahead.
Beer Facts: Imperial Black Steam from Narragansett Brewing Company, Providence, RI (California Common, 9% ABV, 30 IBU)
Appearance: Hazy dark brown that goes russet against the light with a thick, creamy cap of mocha-colored foam. Look out for the milkshake mustache as you drink.
Aroma: Tootsie rolls! Sweet and chocolaty with a touch of wet coffee ground aroma.
Taste: Steam beers came about when settlers to California and the Western US attempted to brew lager-style beers at ale temperatures. Lagers typically ferment best at temperatures around 50°F, but without refrigeration, our frontier brewing forefathers had to make do with fermenting their lagers much warmer, around 65°F. This created beers with the smooth character and balance of lagers but with the slightly more fruity, complex yeast flavors of an ale. In other words, the best of both worlds.
In Narragansett's hands, this steam beer profile takes on whole new characteristics with some darker malts and light hand with the hops. It is creamy and so very very smooth. It's like taking a bite of French silk pie, and it has the smooth chocolate flavors to match. It's not too heavy — more like chocolate milk than milkshake. A touch of coffee-like bitterness keeps things grounded, and the finish is super clean. Very balanced.
You'd never guess that this was 9% ABV. It is one of the most quaffable dark beers I've had in a great while, and I would happily quaff this one all evening long! This would make a great intro beer for someone just getting into darker beers. For veteran craft drinkers, this beer is a reminder than not every dark beer needs to feel like drinking a meal. I really enjoyed drinking this steam beer and am now on a quest to find more bottles before they're gone.
Food Pairings: Creme brulée or a sweet bread pudding
Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. However, the manufacturer did give us the product for testing and review purposes.
(Images: Emma Christensen)