Probably my favorite style to brew at home is California Common Beer (Category 7B in the BJCP guidelines), the ale-lager hybrid style made to be brewed during cool weather in northern California. When I briefly lived in Sacramento (a Coloradan exiled at 25 feet above sea level) I left carboys of California Common to lager on the covered patio during the chilly winter months, which worked perfectly. The style hasn't caught on as much as I would like, and I blame it on the awkward name that has been slapped on the style. Because originally the style was called "steam beer," but these days "steam beer" is a registered trademark of the Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco -- as the company keeps reminding everyone. According to Anchor, it only "seems" that Steam was the name for the lager style brewed at the cooler end of ale temperatures in 19th-century California.
The whole tiptoeing around Anchor's appropriation of the style name has become something of a joke in the craft beer world. Odell used to brew a "Colorado Stream" beer in the style. Formerly joking that they couldn't say the style because "someone might get steamed," Flying Dog now comes out and says that its Old Scratch is brewed in the "steam-style" tradition.
I assume Flying Dog got legal advice about saying that, because Anchor is aggressive in defending its claimed intellectual property right in the "Steam" name. A Good Beer Blog notes that up in Canada, there is a long running lawsuit between Anchor Brewing and The Sleeman Brewing & Malting Co., Ltd., in which Anchor is suing for trademark infringement over "Sleeman Steam" beer and Sleeman is counterclaiming to have Anchor's trademark declared void in Canada. Note that Sleeman's website expresses no ambivalance about the origin and meaning of the word "Steam" as applied to beer.
However the Canadian trademark case comes out, I doubt the "Steam" name will ever be freed from Anchor's claim south of the 49th parallel. But Anchor Brewing might end up better off over the long haul if it let other companies use "Steam" as a style name. It might help popularize the style, and people who tried "Steam" beers from other breweries would eventually want to try Anchor, the granddaddy of all "Steam" beers.
Bonus beer blogging: Hello Fort Collins! Rocky Mountain Bullhorn readers who are visiting this site this weekend may want to check out this old beer blogging post about my visit to the New Belgium Brewery back in February 2004.