What is Cream Ale Beer

What is Cream Ale Beer? Your Guide to This American Delight

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The term “Cream Ale” has never appealed to me. This is until I tried them, and by God, they’re creamy. But what is cream ale beer? I hear you ask. Why don’t you pull up a pew and let ol’ Ale Affair explain? It’s the lovechild of Ale and Lager, resulting in this delightful, hybrid, creamy boy. Let’s dive in! PSA: If you are already offended by my overuse of the word “cream”, you should look away now.  

Cream Ale History

Cream Ale is a uniquely American style of beer that blends the smooth maltiness of ales with the crisp, refreshing nature of lagers. Its history is deeply intertwined with the brewing traditions and innovations in the United States, particularly during the 19th and 20th centuries. 

Origins

If we head back in time, Marty, Cream Ales can be traced back to the mid-19th century in the United States. These ales were a response to European-style lagers’ growing popularity among American drinkers. 

Local breweries wanted to create a beer that could compete with these lagers in terms of refreshment and appeal yet could be brewed more efficiently with the available equipment and ingredients.

As a result, Cream Ale developed as a hybrid style. It combines the top-fermentation process typical of ales with the cold fermentation and lagering techniques associated with lagers. 

Evolution through Prohibition

Before the evils of Prohibition in the United States (1920-1933), Cream Ale was a popular beer style, especially in the Northeastern states. It was generally considered a distinctive American alternative to the German-style lagers dominating the market at the time.

What is a Cream Ale beer - A march during the prohibition for more beer
We Want Beer!

Unfortunately, the Prohibition era had a devastating impact on American breweries, and many of them did not survive to resume production. As a result, the beer industry shifted towards lighter lagers and many traditional styles, such as Cream Ale, became less popular.

Modern Resurgence

In the words of Chumbawamba, Cream Ale got knocked down, but it got up again. In the late 20th century, the craft beer movement increased interest in traditional and innovative beer styles. Cream Ale became popular again as craft brewers and beer enthusiasts began to appreciate its unique characteristics and historical significance.

Today, Cream Ales are brewed by numerous craft breweries across the U.S. These breweries add unique ingredients like fruits, spices, and even coffee to create contemporary variations of the classic beer style. 

Defining its Characteristics: What is Cream Ale beer? 

The classification of a beer as a Cream Ale is deeply rooted in its unique brewing process and ingredients, creating a hybrid beer style that embodies the characteristics of ales and lagers. 

This duality offers Cream Ale a distinctive taste profile and brewing flexibility.

Hybrid Fermentation Process

Ale Yeast at Lower Temperatures: Cream Ales are primarily fermented with ale yeast, which is top-fermenting and typically operates at warmer temperatures than lager yeast. However, in the case of Cream Ale, this fermentation often occurs at the lower end of the ale yeast temperature range. This approach helps to produce a cleaner and smoother beer with fewer fruity esters and phenols than would typically be expected from an ale, bringing the flavour profile closer to that of a lager.

Lagering Phase: Cream Ales may undergo a lagering phase after the initial fermentation. The beer is stored at near-freezing temperatures for several weeks to several months during this period. This process is borrowed from traditional lager brewing.

How to Brew a Cream Ale

Ingredients and Flavour Profile

Light Malt Bill: Cream Ales typically have a light and simple malt bill consisting of pale malted barley. Some brewers add adjuncts such as corn or rice to reduce the malt sweetness and lighten the body further. This contributes to the beer’s light body and mild malt character, reminiscent of many lagers.

Mild Hop Character: The hop bitterness in Cream Ales is generally low to moderate, allowing the smooth, clean malt flavours to shine through. This mild hop character aligns more with traditional American lagers than with the often more hop-forward ales.

Clean and Crisp Finish: A hallmark trait of a Cream Ale is its clean, crisp finish, with a slight sweetness and a smooth mouthfeel. This characteristic is a nod to the refreshing qualities of lagers. At the same time, the potential for subtle fruity or floral notes from the ale yeast adds a layer of complexity not typically found in lagers.

Is There Cream in a Cream Ale? 

When I first heard of a Cream Ale, I thought of a beer-y milkshake. But there is no cream in a Cream Ale. The name “Cream Ale” does not refer to the use of dairy or cream in the brewing process. 

Instead, the term “cream” is thought to describe the beer’s smoothness and the creamy texture of its head when poured. The style gives you the impression of creaminess in terms of mouthfeel (gross sentence). However, this is achieved through the beer’s specific brewing process rather than by adding cream or dairy products. 

Cream Ale vs the World

Like Scott Pilgrim, let’s see how Cream Ale would fare against the world (other beer types). 

Famous Premium Cream Ale - Neuweiler Ale
Famous Premium Cream Ale – Neuweiler Ale

What is the difference between a stout and a cream ale?

Stout and Cream Ale are two distinct beer styles. They differ in origins, brewing processes, flavour profiles, appearance, and alcohol content. 

Origins & Flavours: Stout originated in the British Isles and is made using dark roasted malts. It has a deep colour and flavours of coffee, chocolate, and caramel. Cream Ale is an American beer style that combines ales’ fermentation process with lagers’ crispness. It has a light, clean, and smooth flavour profile.

Characteristics: Stouts are characterised by their dark colour and a thick, creamy head. Cream Ales are pale yellow to gold in colour and usually have a clear appearance with a light, frothy head. 

What is the difference between a light lager and a cream ale?

Light Lagers are light in calories and body, while Cream Ales offer a smoother experience with more complexity. They also differ in flavour and brewing techniques. 

Brewing Process: Light Lagers use lager yeast, ferment at cooler temperatures, and are stored cold to achieve a clean, clear, and crisp beer. As mentioned, Cream Ale combines ale and lager brewing methods with ale yeast fermented at warmer temperatures. 

Characteristics: Light Lagers are refreshing and easy to drink, and they are known for their clarity and light body. They use adjuncts for a light body and fewer calories. Cream Ales have a smooth, mild and more robust head (like Harry Maguire). 

Alcohol Content: Light lagers are often on the lower end of the spectrum to emphasise their lightness compared to Cream Ales. 

Cream Ale Brands: Top 9 to Try

I’m sure you’re bored stiffless from hearing me waffle about Cream Ales. So, to drown your sorrows, why not try one of these instant classics!

  1. Summer Solstice 5% (Anderson Valley Brewing Company): A creamy, satin-smooth body envelops a pleasantly sweet caramel flavour with a subtle, spicy finish. 
  2. Brew House Orange Honey Cream Ale 6% (Genesee Brewing Company): The beer pours bright orange-tinted yellow with an off-white head, with honey and orange both present.
  3. Calm Before the Storm 5.5% (Ballast Point Brewing Company): This lighter-bodied golden cream ale is infused with a punch of brewed Caffé Calabria coffee and a hint of vanilla.
  4. Wexford Irish Style Crème Ale 5% (Greene King): Based on a traditional Irish recipe from Wexford County, this ale has a smooth, mellow creaminess. 
  5. Sparkling Ale 5.8% (Coopers): This Australian ale has a cloudy sediment and a distinctive balance of malt, hops and fruity characters. 
  6. Regular Coffee 12% (Carton Brewing Company): A coffee blend was added to a high-gravity golden cream ale, contributing to the classic taste of “milk and 2 sugars.” 
  7. Cali Creamin’ Vanilla Cream Ale 5.5% (Mother Earth Brewing Company):  Mixed with vanilla to resemble cream soda, this ale is golden to pale in colour, with low bitterness and a white head. 
  8. Sunlight Cream Ale 5.3% (Sun King Brewery): A winner in multiple worldwide competitions, this beer balances smooth malt with a crisp, clean finish.
  9. Kentucky Vanilla Barrel Cream Ale 5.5% (Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co.): This cold-conditioned cream ale is brewed with a hint of flaked corn and bourbon vanilla beans and aged in freshly decanted Kentucky bourbon barrels. 

Let me know what you think if you decide to try any of these! 

Summary

Let’s summarise this mother. Cream Ale is an American hybrid beer style that combines ale’s fermentation with lager’s crisp qualities. Originating in the mid-19th century as a response to popular European lagers, it features a light malt bill, mild hop bitterness, and a clean, crisp finish without any cream. Differentiating itself from stouts and light lagers through its unique fermentation process and flavour profile, Cream Ale offers a smooth, refreshing taste. Notable brands include Anderson Valley’s Summer Solstice and Genesee Brewing Company’s Brew House Orange Honey Cream Ale, showcasing the style’s versatility and appeal.

FAQs

What is the Best Malt for Cream Ale?

The best malt for Cream Ale is typically a light pale malt or 2-row barley malt, providing a clean, crisp base. Adding adjuncts like flaked maize or rice can lighten the body and enhance its smooth, refreshing character.

How Should Cream Ale be Served? 

Cream Ale should be served cold in a pint glass or beer mug to enhance its light, refreshing qualities and showcase its smooth, creamy head and clear, pale colour.

What Food Pairs Well with a Cream Ale?

Cream Ale pairs well with light dishes like grilled chicken, seafood, and salads. Its crispness cuts through fried foods, making it great with burgers, fries, and spicy dishes. It also complements mild cheeses and fruit desserts.


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