Straw to Pale / 2 – 5 SRM
Very Low to Low / 8 – 20 IBU
ABV 4.2 – 5.6% (OG 1.042 – 1.055 with FG 1.006 – 1.012)
Balanced between malt & hops
If you’ve read our post on American Lager, you already know that tracing the history of a single style can often tell you a lot about the history of a place. Cream Ale is one of the few styles brewed today that existed before prohibition, and tracing its history gives us a unique window into the development of American beer over the last two and a half centuries.
Having come from the British islands, many of the early American colonists brought the ale brewing tradition they knew to the new world with them. Colonial Era beer was therefore most commonly brewed with top-fermenting yeast, mirroring standard practice in England at the time. With the increase in German immigrants in the early and middle nineteenth century, the demand for lager rose sharply, and August Busch was happy to oblige (see our post on American Lager for more). The explosion of pale lager’s popularity prompted American ale brewers to create beers that might capitalize on the trend. Pale in color, relatively light in body, and easy-drinking like the lagers of the day, Cream Ales were conceived of and brewed as competitors with a bit of flair.
After prohibition, American ale brewers returned to the style, which scrappily stuck around through the beer desert that was post-war America. Krueger Cream Ale was the first beer to be packaged in cans in 1935, and Genesee Cream (that’s “Jenny” to anyone who’s played Edward 40 Hands) was first brewed in 1960, and continues to be a not-so-guilty pleasure for craft lovers everywhere (myself included). In the past 5-10 years, many craft brewers have re-visited the style as an alternative offering to the flavorful and boozy beers that typically fill their taps. The story continues today as brewers (ourselves included) experiment with Cream Ales by making stronger versions, souring them, and conditioning them on fruit, all brewing techniques that are popular beyond the Cream Ale itself.
The name itself is admittedly confusing, and especially so in a world where you can find lactose in just about any style. Traditionally, these beers don’t contain dairy. The name might refer to the easy, light-bodied mouthfeel associated with the style, or it might be a hold-over from the United Kingdom’s “cream ale,” referring only to creamy texture derived from nitrogenation (to further confuse things, cask beers in the UK aren’t actually nitrogenated, they’re just carbonated much more lightly than American beer).
Cream ale is the classic American summertime lawnmower beer for people who can’t bring themselves to buy Bud or Miller. The best versions are delicate, lightly aromatic brews that can be downed by the pint, but also offer a small amount of interest and intrigue.
Aroma – Very light malt aroma, sometimes with hints of corn, little to no hop aroma
Appearance – Straw to Pale.
Flavor – Very low maltiness with bready corny notes.
Mouthfeel – Light body, Crisp, clean finish.
Serve fresh in the biggest glass you’ve got at 36º
A clean, well-attenuated, flavorful American “lawnmower” beer. Easily drinkable and refreshing, with more character than typical American lagers.
Medium-low to low malt notes, with a sweet, cornlike aroma. Low levels of DMS are allowable, but are not required. Hop aroma medium low to none, and can be of any variety although floral, spicy, or herbal notes are most common. Overall, a subtle aroma with neither hops nor malt dominating. Low fruity esters are optional.
Pale straw to moderate gold color, although usually on the pale side. Low to medium head with medium to high carbonation. Fair head retention. Brilliant, sparkling clarity.
Low to medium-low hop bitterness. Low to moderate maltiness and sweetness, varying with gravity and attenuation. Usually well-attenuated. Neither malt nor hops dominate the palate. A low to moderate corny flavor is commonly found, as is light DMS (optional). Finish can vary from somewhat dry to faintly sweet. Low fruity esters are optional. Low to mediumlow hop flavor (any variety, but typically floral, spicy, or herbal).
Generally light and crisp, although body can reach medium. Smooth mouthfeel with medium to high attenuation; higher attenuation levels can lend a “thirst quenching” quality. High carbonation.
Pre-prohibition Cream Ales were slightly stronger, hoppier (including some dry hopping) and more bitter (25-30+ IBUs). These versions should be entered in the historical category. Most commercial examples are in the 1.050–1.053 OG range, and bitterness rarely rises above 20 IBUs.
A sparkling or present-use ale that existed in the 1800s and survived prohibition. An ale version of the American lager style. Produced by ale brewers to compete with lager brewers in Canada and the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest states. Originally known as sparkling or present use ales, lager strains were (and sometimes still are) used by some brewers, but were not historically mixed with ale strains. Many examples are kräusened to achieve carbonation. Cold conditioning isn’t traditional, although modern brewers sometimes use it.
American ingredients most commonly used. A grain bill of six-row malt, or a combination of six-row and North American two-row, is common. Adjuncts can include up to 20% maize in the mash, and up to 20% glucose or other sugars in the boil. Any variety of hops can be used for bittering and finishing.
Similar to a Standard American Lager, but with more character.
OG: 1.042 – 1.055
FG: 1.006 – 1.012
ABV: 4.2 – 05.6%
IBUs: 8 – 20
SRM: 2.5 – 5
Genesee Cream Ale, Liebotschaner Cream Ale, Little Kings Cream A
Original Gravity (°Plato) 1.044-1.052 (11-12.9 °Plato)
Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (°Plato) 1.004-1.010 (1-2.6 °Plato)
Alcohol by Weight (Volume) 3.4%-4.5% (4.3%-5.7%)
Bitterness (IBU) 10-22
Color SRM (EBC) 2-5 (4-10 EBC)
More malt flavor and a bit more fruitiness than American Lager. Very similar to Kolsch, but often with a corny adjunct character.
A single infusion mash in the low range for saccharification is traditional to ensure a clean, light. Hopping rates are low throughout, often with a single addition at 60 minutes. Fermented around 68º for a clean yeast profile.
AT THE BREWPUB: Bar Peanuts
MAIN COURSE: Fish and chips
CASUAL DATE: Brunch
FROM BF DISTILLING CO: Black Flannel Distilling Crow’s Nest Aged or Spiced Rum
Add Crow’s Nest Spiced Rum and BF Cardamom Bitters to mixing glass with 3 x 1 inch ice cubes, stir 42 times. Pour into Munique Goblet and top with 6 oz Claw Hammer Cream Ale. Gentle stir and serve. Garnish with fresh cut lawn grass (or not!)
Ours is not a traditional Cream Ale. We added a heaping dose of Rye (just because we can) to give it a spicy, grainy flavor that adds a new and interesting dimension to the classic cream ale. From there, we used traditional ingredients – 2-row barley, flaked corn, white wheat and used some interesting new age German Ariana hops. Chico Ale yeast gives this the nice light fruity esters well regarded in the style.
This crisp and clean beer is brewed to be highly inviting and sessionable. Soft bready character on the aroma gives way to citrus pith and tart fruity esters. Refreshing on the palate with a finishing flavor reminiscent of cornbread batter and lemon peel, this may be the perfect “lawn mower” (or snowblower) beer heading into winter.