Nick Carr on March 4, 2016 3 Comments History of Cream Ale Cream ale, along with California Common and American pilsner, make up most of the short list of beer styles that can claim indigenous American origins. Interestingly all three of these styles originated in the 1800s and have some common characteristics. They are all light colored and share roots in the German brewing practice of lagering. Cream ale’s birth in the latter part of the 1800’s could be called an innovation born of desperation. Up until the mid 19th century most brewing in America found its roots in English ale styles; porters, stouts, and milds. But this all changed with an influx of German migrants during the 1830s and 40s. They came to escape military service and economic hardship. German brewing knowledge made the journey with them, and no sooner had they landed and gotten settled then they started brewing and selling their native lager beers. These light, crisp, thirst-quenching libations were a big hit, and by the mid 1870s were outselling ales. Ale brewers needed to come up with something new to stay in the game. It would have to be something that could be brewed on their current systems, but be more lager-like then anything they were currently producing. Their answer: a broadly defined ale built around a flexible grist of six-row, two-row, and different adjuncts; fermented at slightly cooler temperatures with either ale or lager yeast — or perhaps both; and possibly aged for a short time, also at a cooler temperature. The result was a beer resembling a kölsch; a young-drinking, lighter, crisper ale with low fruitiness. It also helped the ale brewers that their newfound contender could be produced significantly quicker than the lagers. The populace responded well to this new creation and cream ale found a comfortable place in the American beer scene up until Prohibition. Post-prohibition brought a shift toward lagers conforming to a watered-down, mindless drinkability. It’s like the American public forgot what beer once was and recreated it out of some half-formed, but not at all vivid memory, and the brewer’s conforming to the whims of commerce, changed to suit. Most ales where relegated to some obscure small corner of American beer history. Today, most commercially produced cream ales are basically ale versions of the commercial lagers and have little in common with the pre-prohibition cream ale style. Craft produced examples cut closer to the historical line and, though still not overly popular, they have found a niche as a bridging beer. For brewer’s, it can be a bridge to America’s own proud brewing heritage and, when brewed correctly, they are an easy escape-bridge for the prospective customer; an easy introduction to those bored with the commercial mass-produced dribblings that have infected America’s libational load-out for way to long. Style Profile & Characteristics The guidelines for the modern Cream Ale beer style are set by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Committee. The below details are a summary of what an American Cream Ale should represent. Quick Characteristics Color Range: 2.5 – 5 SRM Original Gravity: 1.042 – 1.055 OG Final Gravity: 1.006 – 1.012 FG IBU Range: 8 – 20 ABV Range: 4.2 – 5.6% Appearance: Very pale, ranging from straw to medium-gold; Low to moderate head; Superb clarity; Medium to high carbonation. Aroma: Subtle & balanced blend of hops & malt; Maltiness should be low to moderate; Hoppiness will be low to none; Diacetyl may be present; Minimal fruity esters. Flavor: Well-attenuated; Low to medium malty sweetness; Hoppy bitterness will be low; Well-balanced hop flavors with spicy, floral or herbal notes; Low amounts of diacetyl; Fruity esters possible; Dry & Sweet finish. Mouthfeel: Medium body with light & crisp quality; Smooth with medium to high attenuation; High carbonation. The BJCP classifies this style under “Standard American Beer.” It can be found in their guidelines as category 1C. Other beer styles within this category include: American Light Lager (1A), American Lager (1B), and American Wheat Beer (1D). Appearance: It will be on the pale side, running a range between straw and a medium golden color. Very clear with medium to high carbonation. Head will be low to moderate with medium retention. Aroma: Aroma is a subtle, balanced blend of hops and malt. Malt aromas of a sweet corn-like quality range from low to slightly moderate. Aroma hops can be of any variety, but often have floral, herbal, or spicy qualities and range from low to none. Diacetyl may be present in low quantities, but is not a requirement of the style. May have minimal fruity esters. Mouthfeel: Body can be medium, but usually has a light and crisp quality helped along by high carbonation. Smooth with medium to high attenuation. High attenuation may create a thirst quenching quality. Taste: Usually well-attenuated, lending to a low to medium malty sweetness. Hop bitterness is low to moderately low. Malt and hops balance nicely with neither overriding the other. Light diacetyl may be noticeable along with a somewhat corny flavor. Low fruity esters are possible. Finish can be dry to slightly sweet, varying with attenuation. Hop flavor is low to medium and generally spicy, floral, or herbal. *Reference: The 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines Award-Winning Examples of the Style Rainier Lager from Pabst Brewing Company (Los Angeles, CA)Great American Beer Festival Winner, Gold, 2015. Available: Year Round. Olympia from Pabst Brewing Company (Los Angeles, CA)Great American Beer Festival Winner, Silver, 2015. Available: Year Round. Nuff from Dale Bros Brewing Company (Upland, CA)Great American Beer Festival Winner, Bronze, 2015. Available: Unknown. Primo from Pabst Brewing Company (Los Angeles, CA)Great American Beer Festival Winner, Gold, 2014. Available: Year Round. Old Style from Pabst Brewing Company (Los Angeles, CA)Great American Beer Festival Winner, Silver, 2014; World Beer Cup Winner, Gold, 2014. Available: Year Round. Colorado Cream Ale from Station 26 Brewing Company (Denver, CO)Great American Beer Festival Winner, Bronze, 2014. Available: Year Round. Icehouse from Plank Road Brewery (Milwaukee, WI)World Beer Cup Winner, Silver, 2014. Available: Year Round. Blue Boar from Blitz-Weinhard Brewing Company (Hood River, OR)World Beer Cup Winner, Bronze, 2014. Available: Year Round. A Few More To Look For: Spotted Cow from New Glarus Brewing Company (New Glarus, WI)Available: Year Round. Sweet Action from Sixpoint Brewing Company (Brooklyn, NY)Available: Year Round. Summer Solstice from Anderson Valley Brewing (Boonville, CA)Available: Summer Seasonal. Genesee Cream Ale from Genesee Brewing Company (Rochester, NY)Available: Year Round. El Toro from Fullsteam Brewing Company (Durham, NC)Available: Year Round. Narragansett Cream Ale from Narragansett Brewing Company (Providence, RI)Available: Year Round. Kiwanda Cream Ale from Pacific City Brewing Company (Pacific City, OR)Available: Year Round. Empire Cream Ale from Empire Brewing Company (Syracuse, NY)Available: Year Round on tap across New York. Original Cream Ale from Little Kings Brewing Company (Cincinnati, OH)Available: Year Round. How to Brew American Cream Ale Click Here to View All Cream Ale Ingredient Kits Many home and craft brewers have an aversion to the use of adjuncts mostly, I think, because of their popularity with the macro-breweries. If I’m describing you, it’s time to broaden your mind a bit. This American original cannot be given full justice without the use of at least one adjunct. But, rest assured you are not brewing some tasteless, vapid, watery concoction. The edges of the cream ale style are broadly undefined and there is little evidence to point to exactly what the pre-prohibition cream ales had going for them. So, brew it to today’s cream ale standard, or don’t. There’s plenty of wiggle room, as many craft brewers have discovered. Grain Bill: The grain bill for cream ale is about as straight forward as they come. Your base malt will be domestic 6-row or possibly a mix of 6-row and 2-row. All told this will make up around 80 to 90 percent of your bill. The other 10 to 20 percent will traditionally be a corn adjunct, such as flaked maze or simple corn sugar. That’s the simplest version. If using corn sugar as part of your recipe remember that it yields 42 gravity points per pound per gallon or one pound will raise the gravity of 5 gallons by about 1.0085. You can complicate things by adding up to 10% malted wheat for a creamy texture and better head retention, and/or 4% Munich malt to add some color and bready notes, and/or 5% light crystal to add some body. There are also other adjuncts to explore either in conjunction with corn or in place of it; Honey, flaked rye, maple syrup, agave syrup, and rice just to name a few possibilities. Extract Brewing Extract brewers can use American pale ale extract and half a pound of maltodextrin to approximate a cream ale. If steeping, use up to 2 pounds of 2-row malt along with any of the three specialty grains listed above. Hops: Though modern hopping rates are below 20 IBUs it is possible, even likely, that pre-prohibition versions were hoppier. Cluster hops would be traditional for both the bittering addition and the aroma addition. If not Cluster, most any low-alpha hop will do. Optional bittering hops could include Northern Brewer and Cascade, while aroma hop alternatives could include Crystal, Styrian Golding, or Mt. Hood. The Mash: A single infusion mash will work well if you plan to use a kettle adjunct, such as corn sugar, and/or flaked, malted, or torrified adjuncts. The second group of adjuncts can go directly in the mash a scarification temperature around 148-150°F for 45 minutes to 1 hour. You can do an iodine test to ensure conversion. Don’t stop you mash until you get a negative starch result. After the allotted time raise it to 168°F for mash out. If you are using an adjunct that has not yet been gelatinized, such as corn grits or anything else that has not been malted, flaked, or torrified, you will have to perform a cereal mash. Mash in your 6-row or 6-row/2-row mix at a lower temperature. This temperature will depend on the volume of your cereal mash and you should be able to use a decoction calculator to determine what it should be. The temperature will likely be somewhere in the range of a protein rest: 120-138°F. Make the cereal mash by combining your “raw grain” adjunct with about 10% 6-row barley malt or a slightly higher percentage of 2-row. Both the malted grain and raw grain should be milled. Add water and start heating until you have a thin gruel. In the case of corn grits you’d hold a temperature of between 143-165°F for 5 to 10 minutes and then let it boil for 30 minutes. Stir often here to keep the grains from sticking and burning. *Note that each grain has its own gelatinization temperature range. When the cereal mash is at the end of its 30 minute boil, start adding it back into the main mash. Do this slowly, stirring between additions to distribute the heat. Check the temperature when you feel you might be getting close to 148-150°F. If you reach the scarification temperature and find you’ve overshot your first step temperature a bit, just set the remaining cereal mash aside until it has reached the same 148-150°F temperature. Then add it to the mash. Yeast: The door is wide open on the yeast. You want a well attenuating yeast, but the choice of ale, lager, or both is completely up to you. Some likely ale choices are: Safale-56 “Chico” dry yeast, Wyeast 1056 (American Ale), or White Labs WLP-001 (California Ale). Possible lager yeasts include: SafLager S-23 dry, Wyeast 2272 (California Lager), or White Labs WLP-810 (San Francisco lager). Fermentation: Whether using ale or lager yeast you want your primary fermentation temperature to be at the bottom end of your ale yeast range or the upper end of your lager yeast range, probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 56-64°F. Traditionally cream ales were served right away or with a short maturation period at slightly cooler temperatures, but you can also lager it below 40°F for several weeks, as has become common in the modern hybrid styles. Cheers!