October 23, 2018

Designing the Perfect Cream Ale


It’s the time of year to start thinking about brewing a beer that you can enjoy on a hot summer day. One you can sip on a shady patio after doing yard work, with the smell of fresh cut grass in the air. A beer that is refreshing, crisp and, most importantly, drinkable. So, let’s discuss my favorite summer sipper... Cream Ale!

Cream ales can be overlooked as seeming too plain or dismissed as being uninteresting. However, if done right, cream ales are amazing. They are pale, lightly hopped, refreshing, and about as close to a lager that you can get but with more character. Like with most styles, there is a range of how cream ales can be brewed based on things like appearance, flavor, and mouthfeel. Each end of this spectrum will give an overall impression and a brewer can make decisions in order to brew their perfect cream ale.

Before I get into details, let’s talk about the two ends of this spectrum. On one end there are the fuller-bodied, often hazy, slightly maltier cream ales.  On the other end, the lighter-bodied,  non-cloudy, drier/crisper examples. A classic, full-bodied version can still include up to 20% flaked maize but if you want body without all of that maize, substitute some or all of the maize with flaked oats. You can also consider adding Briess Carapils® to achieve a similar effect without compromising flavor. If you are looking at brewing a lighter-bodied cream ale, add less corn, maybe only 5-10%. Also, add 5-10% corn sugar to help lighten the body and dry out the finish. Whatever end of the spectrum you prefer, or if you fall somewhere in between, picking the right proportion of ingredients will make all of the difference.

Some other ingredients to consider are the base malts, hops, and yeast. Standard 2-row is the perfect base and will give a clean foundation for any specialty grain or adjunct. Pick a clean bittering hop for the first edition and add it to the boil at about 60 minutes. Add another hop addition at less than 5 minutes left in the boil. For this addition, use low alpha acid hops that impart characteristics like floral aroma, spiciness, or hints of fruitiness. Do not choose hops that will distract the drinker. It is tempting to pick hops that will shine. However, cream ale should have only a subtle hop aroma. So, save the American citrus hops for your next batch of IPA.

The same idea can be applied when picking yeast. Use a non-distracting, clean strain like American Ale. When brewing a cream ale, the ingredients you choose should compliment each other and not outshine the others. Remember, cream ales are meant to be clean, easily drinkable, and as close to a lager as possible. I know from experience that using these tips will have you drinking your perfect homebrewed cream ale this summer.