We’ve never really elaborated on the journey of creating Chicago Common Brick. It’s had oodles of versions over the last two years and the Brick has become a certain kind of whale.
That’s a strange allusion. Chicago Common Brick isn’t a beer whale. It’s incredibly common and should be simple. It’s always been an American corn beer, a nod to the industrial bloodline of Chicago and the greater midwest. In spirit, it began as a west coast common in all the reverence due to Anchor Steam, but it’s always been a Corn beer. The history indicates that other steam beers used adjunct in the San Francisco region, even if the modern Anchor Steam is all barley. Every Chicago Common Brick grist has included the cereal as a nod to the nationwide brewing tradition of using and adapting the local ingredients.
I love researching the old regional beers and various local brewing traditions across the world. I very much believe that had prohibition had not occurred, the American brewing tradition would have much bigger local ties. That’s a speculative article for another day. In any case, I was fascinated by the story of Kentucky Common, a native recipe to the Louisville area breweries. I stumbled on the style before the BJCP really got wind of it, and I have been following it’s slow spread back into the brewing world.
The beer is common to the Louisville area and adaptive to all the fine points of brewing in the region. It’s a simple corn beer, fermented with a fast acting ale yeast, which utilizes dark malt additions to pair with the region’s specific water. These are trademark characteristics of producing beer in the old, local way. Beer styles are thought to develop based in the tastes and needs of the local environment. Local brewers produced their beer for ages. It is only later that the modern armchair scholar classifies it, something especially true for German and British brewing traditions.
Thus, Chicago Common Brick is a simple laborer’s beer in the Kentucky Common tradition, but adaptive to the modern Chicago brewing scene. It has a fast turnaround and in reality is inexpensive to make, a thirst quenching beer that uses the classic Midwestern ingredient, corn. I am proud of this beer, but it’s not there yet.
I wouldn’t call Dampfbrick another version in nailing down the Chicago Common Brick recipe saga. There is some internal dialog in calling it Dampfziegel, German for “Steam Brick.” I think it might deserve it’s own variant arc.
In the modern way, it certainly isn’t very German. It’s not a pervasive Lager. This ale uses a German weizen yeast like the old curious Dampfbeirs created by the resources of the poorer Bavarian Woods. It has a kind of character you wouldn’t find in a cool fermented lager.
And Dampfbrick uses corn. Adjuncts would be a strange thing to most German brewers. But beer is an ancient, adaptive beverage. Before the purity law, gruit and adjuncts were part of the German brewing tradition. Even though it is an incredibly difficult and complicated market, present day craft brewers can be found brewing new beers in Germany. Malting processes change, yeasts evolve, fashions transform. Creating a beer the same way it was brewed 100 years ago isn’t strictly possible, and there’s few ways to fact check your own work. It must be kept open.
Germany exported brewers around the world, where these brewers had to adapt to their new resources, their own markets, and build new traditions. This Dampfbrick is adapting a base recipe to the needs and tastes of a new region, showcasing a complicated pedigree from four separate areas, being both worldly and local. Dampfbrick is the strange German cousin to Chicago Common Brick, but neither are finished evolving.
Cheers to new designs.