Local Option Dampf Loc: Harldly Common

January 09 2012 - 8:55 AM

No nonsense.  I'm a fan of it.   So, I'm a huge sports fan and enjoy listening to Mike Francesa's show on WFAN out of New York which I can get online.  During one show he's talking NCAA tourney and he's talking to this caller about some of the upsets occurring during the first round.  Being naturally mindful of his audience, Mike expected all discussion to remain on how some of the upsets would affect the tournament as a whole.  

However, the caller complained, "Mike, do you realize that this has killed my bracket?"

Mike responds, "Sir, nobody cares about your bracket."

"Yeah, but, Mike", persists the whiner, "I don't know how my bracket is going to recover from -"

"Nobody cares about your bracket", snaps Mike.

I couldn't stop laughing.  Too many hosts on other such shows would have entertained the caller's subject matter regarding his tournament picks.  Seriously, who cares?   Your bad tourney picks are bad radio for the rest of us.  That's what Facebook is for.  Mike quickly recognized this and maintained the nonsense-free order.

All of this gets me to Local Option's Dampf Loc.  I've had this beer a number of times and it's so free of nonsense, extras, and bombast, yet so good, it makes me shake my head on the first sip.  This is due to lament.  There's not nearly enough like it out there.

Dampf Loc certainly gets the first part of its name from the traditional Bavarian style of beer called dampfbier, a lager yeast beer that, unlike lagers, is warm fermented.   It's called a California common ale, referring to the style of beers fermented in coastal northern California beginning around the Gold Rush days when it was a necessity for the commoners to keep the ingredients and brewmaking methods cheap.   Expensive cold fermenting wasn't going to be in play.

It's a style also known from the time of its origins as steam beer.   You may have heard this name because it's now a proprietary trademark of Anchor Brewing Company, hence Anchor Steam beer is the only "steam" beer so labeled.  Other beers of the style are legally dubbed as California common ales from the outset or they'll become pen pals with Anchor's lawyers.  This may be a pure legal fiction as Anchor's claim to having preserved the traditional Cally common ale in its ubiquitous Steam beer is dubious.   We can debate that over a beer. 

But when I first got into craft beer, Anchor Steam was a personal favorite.  And while it's certainly a very decent beer when fresh, it has grown more and more average every year largely because of beers like Dampf Loc. 

Dampf Loc, brewed by the Local Option bar in Lincoln Park at Dog Brewery in Maryland (not to be confused with Frederick, MD's Flying Dog) is a lean, sharp, crisp, to the point, no-nonsense brew.  It announces itself strongly but is never over-the-top.  It's dark amber brushed with a bit of grey.  The head has insubstantial depth.  I didn't get a lot on the nose, maybe a bit of bread and a faint degree of citrus.  What holds this beer together is its lean mouthfeel marked by substantial carbonation that provides a pleasant bite, and that astringent flavor with maybe a hint of citrus in the finish. 

It's really hard to describe the taste of this beer because, like most California commons, even Anchor steam, it defies obvious convention.  But this won't remind you of Anchor's signature brew and is everything you want in a great pub beer. It's flavorful, feels light, and the ABV is low. Its astringency is palate cleansing so it's great with pub food, but it's not some unremarkable pub ale lacking any vibrancy that seems like it's growing more stale with every sip.   You know the ones.

Like sours, I suspect that these common ales are going to  be a style that's going to show up more and more throughout 2012. 

 They're needed as they call attention to a growing void within the beer industry.  There are a growing number of very expensive imperial beers selling for $9 to $10 a glass that are great, but they're 8-10% alcohol which can often challenge your enjoyment and often won't fit your mood.   There are also brewers, even reputable ones, doing very average "session" type brews.  These fail probably because asking an exceedingly talented person to do something average challenges their DNA. Imagine if Jimi Hendrix were still around and you asked him to write a tune for Nickelback fans.   Grammy material there.

Filling the void between the elite, uber-expsensive, uber-boozy beers and the total cast-offs requires more brewers making lower ABV brews (under 6% please!) that deliver big on flavor.  Smuttynose Porter does that.  Dampf Loc, perhaps, does it even better and more economically.

I hope it's a trend.

Local Option
1102 W. Webster
Chicago, IL
(773) 348-2008

–M. Sheppard