This week at the taproom and around Flagstaff, we’re debuting a new beer called the Coconino Common. This is a beer that I’ve been mulling over for a little while now, and I thought it deserved a bit more depth of description as it’s a traditionally brewed beer that I really have trouble fitting into any sort of style bucket.
I’ll start with the meandering thought path that brought us to this beer, and that pathway actually starts with some of the pre-prohibition American beer styles.
It has been said that before prohibition here in the US, there was a vast multitude of beer styles. People were brewing lagers and ales; stouts and pales; German and British influenced beers; and even a few styles that are considered ‘indigenous’ to the US. Although there are many styles that have been studied from this pre-prohibition era, there really are 3 that fall into this indigenous category. The first (which most people are familiar with) is the California Common or Steam Beer. The second of these styles is a pre-prohibition lager, which is a maltier richer lager versus our light american lagers of today. Yeungling is a considered a modern example of this beer. The third, and far less common, is called a “Kentucky Common”.
I had a vision of a beer I wanted to produce several months ago which was a sessionable sour that fell into the amber color range and had a nice full flavor to it. I was trying to get some inspiration on recipes so I started searching for Amber Sour beers. My vision was something around a Berlinner-Weisse or Gose sourness level, but darker and richer. My searching eventually led me to uncover the style of Kentucky Common. I found it because this beer was produced using what was referred to as a ‘sour mash’ technique, although I came to find out that this technique is different than the sour mash we refer to in the beer brewing industry of today.
The sour mash used in the Kentucky Common is a technique of combining the fermentation and starch-to-sugar conversion in one step. Basically the grain, water, and yeast are all put in a tank together, mixed up and held at a moderate temperature (usually near ambient) for one to several weeks. The starch conversion, which we accelerate during the modern brewing process through increased temperature (during the mash) happens slowly at this temperature, but as that happens, the yeast is able to ferment those sugars as they become available. This is still the technique used today to produce the wash, or pre-distillation alcohol, in ‘sour mash’ whiskeys (and is probably the reason this beer was brewed in the same general regions that produce whiskey on a regular basis).
There is some debate as to whether this beer had an actual sour flavor to it, as this technique does not necessarily introduce any sourness to the beer (although it certainly could, in my opinion), but nevertheless the recipes presented by some beer historians on it got my gears turning. I put pen to paper and crafted my own twist on this style. I would intentionally sour the beer using our house kettle souring technique, and follow their recipe of using a small amount of ‘mid range caramel malt’ and a very small bit of ‘black malt’ to give it color and more flavor complexity. Instead of historical hops, I would use the modern quintessential American hop, Cascade, to give more of a modern hop profile. The historical recipes used corn grits in addition to the barley, but I had a notion that a crisp spiciness of rye would give this beer a nice clean finish and meld well with the sourness that we were imparting.
The result of this research and development has yielded an absolutely amazing beer that doesn’t fit in a style category, but instead defines a new one. I thought it only fitting that it was named after our local region, Coconino County and paid homage to the other two indigenous American styles which bear the moniker Common in their name.
I present to you, the Coconino Common.
This amber beer clocks in at 4% ABV and 19 IBUs. The aroma gives hints of the tartness contained within, but has notes of dark fruit and citrus. The mouthfeel is light and refreshing, and tastes of dark cherries and plums with a grainy backbone which gives way to a spice on the back of the flavor from the rye. The sourness is refreshing and allows the tart fruit flavors to really come through but does not become overwhelming. We filtered this beer to give it a beautiful brilliant clarity which complements the light white head.
The Coconino Common has already made it’s way out to a couple accounts around town, and will be on tap and available for growler fills in the taproom starting on thursday.