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Monday, April 1, 2013

Argus Brewing's California Steam

  • Style: California Steam (Lager)
  • ABV: 5.4%
  • Season: Year Round
  • Ease to locate: Midwest mainly.  Here's a link to their beer finder.Oddly enough, it's NOT available in California. 
  • Color: Hazy orange amber color
  • Head: One finger head that dissipated very quickly.  Like a blink and you missed it sort of quickly
  • Aroma: Very mild smell.  Some light caramel, pale malts and a hint of citrus.  No hops at all on the nose.
  • Mouthfeel: Light with moderate carbonation
  • Finish: Medium finish with a stale sort of hop note on the end
  • Food friendly: Well, it's not unfriendly.  Try it with simple foods like hot dogs on the grill or sloppy joes on a weeknight.  It could be paired with sharp cheeses like Cheddar or tangy varieties such as Munster. 

If you are a beer geek, it's a pretty exciting time to be in Chicago right now.  There seems to be a new brewery or brewpub opening every few minutes here (I'm positive that at least three will have opened and won some medal somewhere by the time that you are done reading this post.) What I like about the beer scene in Chicago is that we don't seem to have one single defining style.  Revolution makes some wonderfully hopped stouts & porters.  Metropolitan harkens back to the old German ways of the lager.  Half Acre just hops the hell out of everything it sees like the Easter Bunny on a drunken bender.   And Pipeworks?  Well, who the hell knows what Pipeworks will come up with next?  Maybe it's in our water or maybe it's in the weirdly fascinating (while simultaneously nauseating)  reflection of the city off our magical Downtown bean, but there's something about Chicago breweries that compels them to take chances.

Argus Brewery, located on the Southside of Chicago, is a brewery that I wasn't very familiar with before trying this particular beer.  I was at my local liquor store looking to fill an empty space in a mix sixer and came across their California Steamer Lager.  Steam beer  (AKA California Common) is a type of American lager that brews with a special lager yeast which needs warmer temperatures.  In the 1800s in California, the wort was cooled in shallow primaries.  California being, well, California, the hot weather and lack of available  refrigeration helped to adapt a yeast that worked great under warmer conditions.  Anchor Steam is one of the better examples of California Common lagers (and since Anchor Brewing has copyrighted the phrase "Steam Beer" they are the only ones legally able to call their lager Steam Beer now.)   So since I had never heard of Argus Brewery before and had no idea what a California Common was before this (AND there was an image of a steam engine on the label!)  I had to give it a shot.  OK, yeah, I was sold as soon as I saw the train.

California dreaming.  For instance, I'm dreaming of a larger with a nice head

My California Steam poured a gorgeous, glowing orange/amber color.  It was slightly hazy with bits of yeast floaties swirling around inside.  A one finger, white head formed and just as quickly dissipated, leaving behind a thin, spotty film.  There was really no lacing to speak of.   The scent was mild to say the least.  It took some work, but I could detect some sweet caramel and pale malts on the nose.  There was a just the barest hint of citrus under the malt profile (this came out slightly as the beer warmed.)  I couldn't smell any sort of hops at all.  Honestly, the scent was rather common and non-distinguishable from any other basic lager that I've ever  had.  I cold taste the sweet caramel and malts immediately at first sip.  The zesty citrus note popped out after the malt profile.  For a beer with no hop presence on the nose, it was rather bitter in flavor.  I found the hop notes to be heavy handed for a larger and almost stale in taste.  The mouthfeel was light and only slightly carbonated.  I really would have liked more fizz in this beer to balance out the bitterness.  The finish was medium with the stale hop presence emerging again on the tail end.

Pretty color, yes, but like many things in California, all looks and no substance.  For an example, go to certain bars in LA, close your eyes and point

I lived in LA for four years.  I'm legally allowed to make California Blonde jokes.  They do make you get a permit though

I would pair Argus Brewing's California Steam with simple, almost family friendly food.  Hot dogs on the grill.  Chipotle Sloppy Joes on a week night.  Or try to make your own Black Bean Veggie Burger (not as difficult as you might think.  But yes, just as messy as you can imagine.)  I'm the first to admit that I'm not a huge lager sort of girl.  But if you put a really well made one into a glass in front of me, especially on a sunny summer's day, I'll happily drink it with out a complaint.  This, unfortunately, is not one of those sort of lagers in my opinion.    I want a lager that offers more than just a malt bomb.  Give me one with a layered, well thought out nose.  Follow that up with a bit of complexity in the flavor profile.  Or at least give the poor beer a decent head and a bit of lacing.  California Common had none of these attributes.  Was it drinkable?  Sure.  But there are so many other local well made lagers out there (check out  my review for  the Metropolitan Alt .)    Life is too short for just OK beer.  Even if there is a train on the label.