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Beer students create California classic

Added: Monday, June 26th 2017

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On Thursday 29 June, four Heriot-Watt masters students will launch Natural Selection Brewing’s latest creation, Common Ancestor, at OX184 on Cowgate, Edinburgh. The launch night will feature guest speaker Roger Protz.

The collaborative project, now in its seventh year, is between selected MSc Brewing and Distilling students at the International Centre for Brewing and Distilling and Stewart Brewing at Loanhead. The students are tasked with the challenge to trial beer recipes, brand their own product, brew 5,000 litres of their chosen creation and sell it across the UK. The name, Natural Selection Brewing, stems from the project’s evolutionary developments which take place each academic year, with the new students adding their own creativity and innovative ideas to drive the project in a different direction. 

This year’s beer, called Common Ancestor, is a 5.2% ABV California Common. The style originates from California in the 19thCentury, where lager strains of yeast were fermented at higher than normal temperatures due to a lack of viable temperature control options. Patrick Smith, Project Marketer, describes the beer as “an effervescent ale/lager hybrid, with caramel, citrus and pine notes, thanks to a liberal dosing of Dr. Rudi and Chinook hops. A slight hint of juniper complements this nicely. Our beer has evolved from the traditional California Common style to be fit for modern day consumption”.

Mark Ritchie, Head Brewer for the project, said “A California Common, being relatively unexplored by the craft beer scene, gave us a lot of scope to play around with and add our own twists. It’s a slightly unusual, but still very drinkable style”.

“We wanted to show that lagers can be exciting” adds Philip Sisson, Project Coordinator, “We’ve used a lot of citrussy hops during the end of the boil and fermentation to maximise flavour and aroma. The small addition of juniper also brings an extra dimension to the beer. It should be readily enjoyable by both craft beer enthusiasts, as well as traditional cask drinkers”.  

The style works well in both cask and keg format and will be distributed across Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Newcastle and London in both these formats, as well as bottles.

The beer’s launch night at Cowgate’s OX184 is open to the public to allow people the very first taste of Common Ancestor. Two types of ticket are available for purchase at the Stewart Brewing website. A £12.50 ticket includes a talk with guest speaker and beer journalist, Roger Protz, as well as an intimate evolution tasting of how this year’s beer has developed (doors 6.00pm for 6.30pm talk). Alternatively, a £7.50 ticket provides admission at 7.30pm. Both tickets include one pint of Common Ancestor, a commemorative glass and bar snacks.

Keg, cask and bottle formats will be available, as well as access to Natural Selection Brewing’s limited edition sherry barrel-aged Belgian Quadrupel, Aged Ancestor. There will be a raffle in aid of Marie Curie on the night, with various beer-related prizes, including an evolution gift box of each of this year’s trial brews.

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The best-known example of the California beer style is Steam Beer from the Anchor Brewery in San Francisco. As Steam Beer is a registered brand, other brewers have had to use California Common instead. The style developed during the Gold Rush in the 19th century when prospectors descended on San Francisco and demanded the cold lager beer they had enjoyed on the East Coast.

As brewers lacked refrigeration to make lager beer, they employed a system of brewing beer with lager yeast but at an ale temperature. The beers had such a high level of carbonation that kegs were said to make a sound like steam escaping when they were tapped in bars.

The last steam brewery in San Francisco was on the verge of closing in the 1960s when it was bought by Fritz Maytag. He was a student at Stanford University but he was able to use money from his family’s large washing machine company to buy the brewery. He revived the brewery and travelled widely in Britain and Europe to study brewing techniques. He is regarded as one of the key players in the American beer revolution. The Anchor Brewery now produces a wide range of beers, though Steam Beer remains its iconic brand.