Steaming Butterfly

California Common

The Stats

  • Alcohol (ABV): 5%
  • Bitterness (IBU): 39
  • Bitterness Ratio (Hop Bitterness to Malt Sweetness): 0.742
  • Colour (SRM): 12.5
  • Malt: 2-Row, Vienna, Crystal 75 & 120
  • Hops: Northern Brewer
  • Yeast: Wyeast #2112 – California Lager
  • Extras: Irrepressible Attitude

A Tribute to…

Robert Nelson - The Butterfly Man

There was always going to be a beer in tribute to The Butterfly Man. The question was, “What combination of hops, malt, water, and yeast to use?” It would have to be something a little bit dark, somewhat bitter, and with a charm and character that matched the man himself. The pieces of the puzzle started to fall into place when I thought about the stage that Robert was most famous for working. There’s a plaque on Pier 39, near the stage that The Butterfly Man used to perform (that stage no longer exists much to the chagrin of the performers who still work at Pier 39), that reads:

Pier 39 Plaque Commemorating The Butterfly Man

Robert Nelson’s performances at Pier 39 in the 1970s and 1980s inspired a generation of street performers in San Francisco and around the world.

The Butterfly Man, as he was known, was brash, hilarious and always kept the audience laughing.

So… I decided to come up with a recipe for a beer synonymous with the city of San Francisco itself, a beer that broke the rules and made no apologies, a beer apart from the norm. Armed with this goal, and after doing a bit of research, I came up with a style and recipe that would do the trick.

It is theorized that during the Gold Rush, brewers from Europe started brewing a beer in San Francisco that used a lager yeast which would typically ferment at between 9 – 14˚Celsius and used it for a beer that actually fermented at between 13 – 24˚Celsius, which is more typical for ale yeasts. This beer became known as Steam Beer, a term that was trademarked by the Anchor Brewing Company in 1981.

(From Wikipedia) – According to Anchor Brewing, the name steam came from the fact that the brewery had no way to effectively chill the boiling wort using traditional means. Instead they pumped the hot wort up to large, shallow, open-top bins on the roof of the brewery to rapidly chilled it with the cool air blowing in from the Pacific Ocean. During production, the brewery had a distinct cloud of steam around the roof let off by the wort as it cooled, hence the name.

Because Steam Beer was trademarked by Anchor Brewing, I opted to use the more generic California Common term that refers to this style of beer. Because of Robert’s sometimes caustic comedic approach, I thought referring to him as the Steaming Butterfly on the label might be an appropriate reference to the origins of the style.

This California lager is described as a light, fruity beer with firm, grainy maltiness; interesting toasty, caramel flavours; and showcasing the signature Northern Brewer variety of hop. Wyeast, one of the leading yeast producers for home brewers and small breweries, has cultivated a specific strain of yeast to emulate beers in this tradition. The fact that its product number is 2112, a classic album by the Canadian band RUSH, also put an enormous smile on my face. When it came time to decide which varieties of hops I’d grow in my little hop yard, there was no question that Northern Brewer would HAVE to be one of them. Interestingly, the first time I tried brewing this style, before I had pegged it as the beer to represent my friend Robert, the result came out exactly as expected. Since dedicating this beer to Robert, I seem to get these unusual, but pleasing results, as though he’s still screwing with me from beyond the grave. Grab a pint, sit back, and enjoy a great beer in tribute to a legendary performer!

It matters not the job you’ve got
As long as you do it well
Things that are made by plans well laid
The test of time will tell
But you cannot count or know the amount
Or the value of a man
By the show displayed or the beauty made
By the touch of the jugglers hand

I am the Butterfly Man and I thank you for your kind attention.

The Butterfly Man on Centre Stage, Pier 39, San Francisco