Brewing up a storm

By Derrick Perkins

Circumstance may have forced Port City Brewing employees to whip up a batch of California common beer a year ago, but popular demand is behind the drink’s recent return.

When a powerful derecho struck the area last summer, the lights went out at the company’s Wheeler Avenue brewery for a five-day stretch. The lengthy power outage put nearly 13,000 gallons of fermenting beer at risk.

To owner Bill Butcher’s relief, all but one of his tanks survived the lack of electricity unscathed. But the final batch of what should have been a lager fermented at higher temperatures than the recipe called for.

Rather than give up on the beer, Butcher and his team decided to see what would come of their accidental brew. The result: 60 barrels of California common beer, better known as a steam beer.

Word of Butcher’s unplanned innovation spread quickly, and the limited supply — tapped in August — of Derecho Common came and went as quickly as the storm for which it was named. The beer vanished from local taps so fast that Butcher began kicking around the idea of bringing it back on the storm’s anniversary.

“After we made that beer last year, there was only one tank, and it sold through very quickly,” he said. “It really ended up being a beer everybody heard about and nobody got to taste.”

Butcher’s staff recreated the original conditions as best they could, this time purposefully using two 90-barrel tanks for the effort. They released their creation with fanfare at the brewery Saturday and then again at Rustico a few hours later, handing out storm kits — keychains equipped with LED flashlights and bottle openers — to enthusiastic guests.

While it’s not one of the brewery’s official seasonal offerings, that could change.

“We’re going to see how it goes this year, and if the beer tastes really good and if people want more, we’ll take a look at it next summer,” Butcher said.

This time around, the California common beer will be available in bottles as well as on draft at local restaurants and watering holes through next month.

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