Craft breweries make their bones by marketing big, unique beers to big, unique individuals. High alcohol levels, forceful flavors and innovative ingredients put many great brews on the map, but remain the characteristics of a niche product. Most of the “great” American beers, are a bit much for the casual beer drinker to have out on the porch with the sun beating down. Conversely, most “mainstream” craft beer styles, brown and pale ales come to mind, bore hardcore beer lovers to death. It’s hard for a brewer to win.
Three Heads Brewing, however, thinks they’ve found the perfect formula, and it is “The Common Man.”
Brewery co-owner Geoff Dale describes it as the beer that will unite the craft beer lover and casual drinker. Time will tell if he’s right, but it only takes one sip to discover that the Heads are onto something extraordinary. The Common Man blends an audacious idea with an “everyman” sensibility, yet with enough aggression to keep each sip extremely interesting.
When Dale told me the beer was a California Common I was skeptical. The style originated in mid-19th century San Francisco, where brewers, out of necessity due to lack of refrigeration, had to ferment lager yeast at warmer ale temperatures. The prime example is the astoundingly milquetoast Anchor Steam Beer, and other breweries’ attempts to jazz up the style either come off like a Ford Pinto with a hood-scoop or revel in the nasty off-flavors possible when this volatile method of fermentation goes horribly, terribly wrong. Damned if they didn’t pull it off.
The Common Man is a great beer. It is a superlative beer, and will serve as my primary summer refresher. And I’m not just saying that just because Dale drove me around on the launch day pub crawl and bought me a poop-ton of it.
The beer pours a deep golden color, with no trace of thinness, nor any dark hues that would lead a casual craft beer drinker to question its refreshment potential. Slightly aromatic, the beer presents a bit of plum and raspberry in the nose with a definite hop prickle. It pours enticingly, bubbly with a creamy head that pillows above the rim of the glass.
It takes a bit of self-discipline to keep a sip of this beer from turning into a gulp. The light body does not come at the expense of character. It’s a mix of uncomplicated malt and light fruit hints that mix together extremely well, creating a powerful flavor that easily recedes from the taste buds, with a lingering hint of blackberry on the exhale.
The Common Man finishes with a Kölsch-like hop snap. It doesn’t bludgeon you with a ton of bitterness or bury you in grapefruit. Just a wave of gentle herbal bitterness that doesn’t need to do anything more than serve as a lead-in to the next sip.
At 5.5% alcohol by volume, The Common Man can fit into the common appetite. It’s 3 Heads’ lowest-alcohol beer to date, and, while a touch on the strong side for a session beer, remains friendly enough to encourage the enjoyment of more than one.
There’s no doubt that The Common Man will have to overcome some prejudicial notions about gravity and alcoholic strength to be accepted by the big-beer community, but it’s worthy of consideration among the greats. As for everyday beer drinkers, this is the beer that will turn your light-swilling cousin on to craft brewing.
If The Common Man were slightly less awesome, it might go the way of your typical summer seasonal, faded by August and possibly re-released at the same time next year. As it is, I think this beer could become the next New Belgium Fat Tire. It’s that good, and that accessible.
In that respect, there’s nothing common about it.
Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at beercraft.wordpress.com. Find him on Twitter @beercraft. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.