steam beer

Bookrat bookrat at BOOKRAT.COM
Sun Nov 11 01:19:14 UTC 2001

At 9:35 AM -0800 11/10/01, Gerald Cohen wrote:
>        "I've heard all the theories: That an old miner named Pete
>Steam used to make beer hereabouts. Other accounts say he was Jack
>Steam, or Frank Steam. I've heard that, in the prerefrigeration days,
>the pressure in the kegs used to get so high the beer would gush
>forth steamily when tapped. I've read that the open vat settling
>would give off an aromatic steam. But I never did ask Maytag which
>theory he subscribed to."
>---(G. Cohen): OED2 is silent on the origin of the term "steam beer."
>This question still seems to be open.

In _One Hundred Years of Brewing_ (1903), half a page is given to quoting
an article "from the pen of John Buchner, of the John Wieland Brewery, San
Francisco, and originally published in _The Western Brewer_ of February 15,
1898."  It does not mention the origin of the name, but does repeatedly
mention the pressure:

"From the clarifier the beer is racked directly into half barrels, where it
receives an addition of about fifteen to twenty per cent of _kraeusen_,
together with some fining.  In four to six days the beer has raised the
sufficient amount of steam (a pressure of fifty to sixty pounds per square
inch) in the package, and it is therefore necessary that the kegs should be
well made and sufficiently strong to resist this high pressure.  When the
kegs have been filled for about three days they are brought to the saloon
in lots of from twelve to twenty half barrels and placed in two rows upon a
long stand or rack, where they are allowed to remain at rest for one or two
days, when they are tapped by the saloonkeeper.  To draw the beer from
these barrels requires some skill and experience and is best accomplished
in the following manner: The faucet key should be held firmly and raised
slightly upward without turning the same, to release the exceedingly high

The clarifier described above is a shallow (12 inches or so) open secondary
fermenter, so the "vats of aromatic steam" theory cannot be immediately
dismissed.  However, at an ambient temperature of 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit,
it seems unlikely.

Ken Miller
Anacreontic Academy of Zymomusicology

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