Welcome to the second in a series of 4 tests trying each of the varieties offered in Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp 12-pack. This month, I give the ubiquitously named California Common a try.
One of the first things that I took notice of regarding this beer was the style. The other three varieties of beer in this pack are easily identifiable (Spiced Beer, Double IPA, & Weizen Bock). They say so on the labels or are easily categorized based on description. California Common, however, presented a bit of a mystery to me. Was this a lager? A Pilsner? A....Common? I was a little perplexed. And, as with all my monthly tests, I do no research beforehand but rather allow the tastes, aromas, flavors, and colors help guide my thoughts on the beer. So upon initially tasting the California Common, it immediately struck me as a lager. Was it brewed with bottom-fermenting yeasts? No clue. But the scents and appearance reminded me of that of a mass-market BMC (Bud, Miller, Coors) beer. Or even one of the country's "premium" imported beers (funny story, while in a local bar this weekend, a couple from out-of-town came and sat down next to me & my wife and asked the bartender for a beer list. Now, this bar serves exclusively California Craft Brews. No exceptions, no excuses. Clearly, this couple didn't understand how they couldn't even have Bud Light available --- seriously, they said that out loud --- but when they asked if they carried any "premium" beers, the bartender was perplexed. She answered that many of their beers are seasonal releases, but none are labeled as premium. Well...too confused to continue, the couple put down the beer list and said they were going to go somewhere else because this place was weird. I guess that goes to illustrate that despite a growing craft beer culture here in Southern California, there is still a long way to go before it reaches the mainstream). Granted, there was a little more complexity to this particular beer than a Corona or Heineken; And it was certainly more tolerable with a better (neutral?) aftertaste. But as I continued to drink and made my way on to the second beer, the taste actually grew on me a little and lightened up a bit. That may not make much sense, but perhaps my palate was originally expecting something in line with an IPA (this is Sierra Nevada we're talking about here). However, as I drank more, I started to enjoy it more. Not particularly because of it's flavors but rather its texture. It was light and crisp and brought me back to the days of drinking in the summertime out in the yard while playing cards and getting wasted with friends. You know...what does everyone call them??? Oh yeah --- the good ol' days! By the time I was into my third beer, I thought that this was something I enjoyed because it was remarkably refreshing despite not being outstandingly flavorful. This may have been the first time that I appreciated a beer for something other than it's taste, appearance, or palate. What I appreciated most was its nostalgia!
Being the least potent of the 4 varieties in this pack and coming from the same brewery; I didn't think that there was any feasible way this beer could make me any drunker than last month's Double IPA. In theory, the brewing process, while inherently different because of the difference in style, should be somewhat similar. Same water, same facilities, same equipment. And in all likelihood they were using similar malts & hops (if not the same type, from the same provider and grown in the same fields). So, how could a beer with a lower abv (6.5% in the California Common versus 8.5% in the Double IPA) make me feel drunker? Of course factors such as my diet, rate of consumption, etc. would play a role. But in all honesty, I don't vary the variables all that much. On Saturday nights (when I almost always do these experiments) I often eat the same sort of foods at the same times of the day. And, being that most of these tests take place over the course of 2-4 hours, there isn't a whole lot of room for wildly different pacing in the consumption. Yet, Sierra Nevada's California Common seemed to get me a bit drunker. By the end of the third beer I was craving a fourth (a good sign that a nice deep buzz has set in). And I was hungry (another sign that, at 11pm, the alcohol has done it's job well). Who knows exactly how or why such an aberration occurred. All that mattered to me was that California Common one again proved itself to be a beer that reminded me of good times of days past.
So with all this nostalgia surrounding this interesting brew, would my hangover follow suit and provide me with the misery of my past? Well, after a decent sleep and waking up to help my wife paint our newly installed picket fence, I was nervous that it would! All the signs of death were there - headache, aches, pains, nausea, and sweats. The only thing that I couldn't confirm was the telltale signs of emitting alcoholic odors via my sweat. Whether that was present or not was masked by being outdoors and surrounded by fumes of paint. For the first hour or so, I was equally upset that a beer I enjoyed would do this to me, but also somewhat excited that perhaps I'd taken a big step in narrowing down a style of beer that I'm allergic to. California Common had all the traits of a Budweiser or Red Stripe or Coors Light. Except...you know...it was good! The other difference between this beer and those other, infinitely less appetizing beers was that unlike the hangover from those beers, this one disappeared rather quickly. After a couple hours of painting, I came in and had my coffee, took my shower and grabbed a quick bite to eat. Shortly after, I felt more or less fine. The intensity of my hangover from just hours earlier was all but gone. So whereas before I was conflictedly upset, now I was conflictedly elated. What was once a sure link between whatever allergy I might have to beer was now just another complication in narrowing down what (if anything) causes my body to react so harshly to certain brews.
With such a roller coaster ride of thoughts regarding California Common, one might think that this beer was the missing link in my drinking experiences. But having gone through the full spectrum of thoughts on something as trivial as a beer, I can safely say that in the end this beer was really just above average. I'd certainly drink it again should Sierra Nevada ever regularly produce it. But I also wouldn't seek it out while at a bar or restaurant. Instead, it's the type of six-pack that I'd get when stocking up for a trip to tailgate before a baseball game. Or a day at the beach. Or a bar-b-que at a park. Or a pre-concert parking lot party before a Springsteen concert. Ahhhh, yes...the days of our past. Where we can't go back and can only relive them in our minds and senses. So I'll drink California Common again and it'll help me remember my first summer in my first house.