A quality cream ale can provide the crisp refreshment of a light lager with the feel of a real beer. Though light on the flavor, they take some skill to brew well. Let’s take a look at some Cream Ale recipes and learn how to brew them!
Brew a refreshing Cream Ale by using soft water with a chloride lean. Use a simple grain bill made up of light American 2 and 6-row malts. As for hops, use one or two varieties that support a light malt profile. A clean fermenting yeast such as US-05 or WLP080 to ensure a dry beer.
There is much more to this beer style. From its origin in America to details on the brewing process, let’s explore the Cream Ale!
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What is a Cream Ale?
Your average Cream Ale has a light body, flavor profile, and aroma. It is by no means bland but is still quite sessionable. You would be forgiven if you compared a Cream Ale to an American Lager. However, this beer style tends to have a little more flavor and variability than an American Lager.
You may discover a light malty body when you try a Cream Ale. There can be hints of malt sweetness and even corn flavors. If there are hop notes, they will be balanced with the light malt. Common hop flavors include floral and herbal flavors.
The aroma that greets your nose will be similar to the flavors. Malty notes will be the main aroma with some hints of hop notes. Like the flavors, there may be little to the nose of this beer.
Like the American Lagers to which it can be compared, the Cream Lager will be light and refreshing. Its mouthfeel will be crisp, carbonated, and fairly dry.
- Color – 2 – 5 SRM
- Common flavor – Light malts, herbal, floral
- Aroma – Light breadiness, hop notes
- Mouthfeel – Crisp, highly effervescent, refreshing
- IBUs (Bitterness) – 10 – 20
- ABV – 4.2% – 5.7%
History of the Cream Ale
At some point in the mid-1800s in America, German brewers began outselling their American competitors. It seemed like people preferred the German lagers to the English-inspired ales of the day.
To compete with their German counterparts, American brewers began to brew an ale as if it were a lager. After what we can assume was some experimentation, the Cream Ale was born. It was light enough to compare to a lager but without being watery like modern light lagers.
The style enjoyed popularity until Prohibition. Canada kept the style alive until they reintroduced the beer to America after Prohibition.
Today, commercial examples of the Cream Ale are more in line with mass-produced lagers. Craft brewers are more likely to brew something closer to the original style.
Popular commercial Cream Ales
For the beer enthusiasts and the beer curious here’s a quick list of Cream Ales you should try.
- Genesee Beer’s Genesee Cream Ale – One of the most famous Cream Ales. Genesee Cream Ale has been around since 1960.
- Anderson Valley Brewing Company’s Summer Solstice – As the name implies, this beer evokes summer no matter when you drink it. Crisp and refreshing as any great Cream Ale this one is full of notes of spices.
- Sleeman Cream Ale – This Canadian brew is a perfect example of the original style. It brings a bit of the fruitiness of ales to the lightness of a lager.
- Little Kings Cream Ale – Characterized by its light sweetness and balanced by wheat flavors.
How to brew a Cream Ale
Once you’ve tried a few examples, you’ll want to put your own spin on it. In order to do so in the best way, you need to know the style forward and backward. To that end, I will break down everything you need to know.
Let’s start with important aspects of the recipe and ingredients. Then, we can look at brew day, fermentation, and bottling.
Recipe and ingredients
While fermentation is incredibly important, you can’t get anywhere without quality ingredients. Without this foundation, your efforts won’t go quite as well.
As always, start with your water. Then consider your grain bill, hops, and finally yeast. Each one can have a large impact on your final product.
A Cream Ale will benefit from a tailored water profile. If your tap water is balanced, you can start there. Otherwise, RO or distilled water is best. Adjust your water to be soft with more chlorides than sulfates.
As Cream Ales are not a hop-heavy style, you don’t want a high sulfate level. That said, you don’t want to eliminate the sulfates. The chlorides will reinforce the malt flavors a little bit to elevate your beer. The water profile for a Cream Ale is close to a Pilsner water profile with a lean toward chlorides.
You will also need to add some acidity to reach the mash pH, as the lighter grains won’t contribute as much.
Most of your characteristics will come from your grain bill, which will be relatively simple as compared to more complex styles. This style is easily a one-grain brew.
The best grains for a Cream Ale are American malts. Any pale 6-row American Malt (1.8° Lovibond) will do well for the majority of the grain bill. Another option is US pale 2-row at about 1.8° L. Both will provide light malt flavors.
If your goal is to brew a solid Cream Ale, the choice of an American 2 or 6-row won’t steer you wrong. These grains won’t bring too much color or undesirable flavors.
Alternatively, you can use a Pilsner malt–German or American–for higher crispness. This, however, won’t provide as much flavor as a 2 or 6-row so you’ll want another grain.
Specialty grains or other additions
When brewing a Cream Ale, you won’t typically use any specialty grains. Depending on your primary grain you may need an adjunct. Cane sugar, flaked corn, or flaked rice are acceptable adjuncts.
Cane sugar can provide an easily digestible source of food for your yeast. Flaked corn can add a touch of flavor and sweetness. As for flaked rice, it can lighten the brew like a pilsner malt.
Whether you include any of these additions is up to you and your goals. You can make a great Cream Ale with only one base grain.
Although hops are not the main focus of a Cream Ale you shouldn’t pass them over. In a Cream Ale, they will provide additional flavors and backbone. Almost any choice of hops will do fine in this beer.
Like the grain bill, the hops you include will be pretty simple. You will likely only use one variety for a bit of aroma and bittering.
Bittering hops added early in the boil will go through a process called isomerization. Since Cream Ales aren’t extremely bitter you don’t need hops with high alpha acid concentrations. Instead, choose dual-purpose hops.
The later in the boil you add hops the less bitterness you get. This also lends itself to retaining the aroma and flavoring of the hop. In this case, you don’t need more than one hop addition though you can. Here are some good choices for bittering hops.
|Name||Purpose||Alpha Acid %|
|Cascade||Bittering + Aroma||4.5-7%|
Aroma and Flavor
Aroma and flavor hops added towards the end of the boil don’t add much bitterness. Instead, they add oils that provide flavor and aroma. Again, in a Cream Ale, you don’t want overpowering hop notes.
These hops should support the light flavors in your Cream Ale without taking center stage. Choose a variety that pairs well with the flavor profile you’re aiming for. Choose the wrong hop variety and it will be fighting the overall flavor profile.
Here are a few good choices to get you started.
|Name||Flavor/Aroma||Alpha Acid %|
|Willamette||Floral, fruity, spice||4-6%|
|Saaz||Herbal, floral, spice||2.5-4.5%|
Last, but by no means least, yeast. Your choice of yeast can have a large impact on several aspects of your beer.
The best yeast for a Cream Ale is clean fermenting with high attenuation and flocculation. You don’t want many fermentation by-products if any at all. Lager yeast or ale yeast does not matter as much.
Since this is a light, clean ale in a lager style you can use any yeast that meets those requirements.
Below are some good dry yeast options for a Cream Ale.
Below are some good liquid yeast options for a Cream Ale.
|Wyeast 1056||73-77%||Low – medium||60°-72° F|
Brewing process for Cream Ales
After selecting and gathering your ingredients, you’re ready to brew! Before long, you’ll have a delicious Cream Ale of your own. Between you and tasty beer is the brewing process. Here’s a brief overview of the typical process for a Cream Ale.
First, decide whether you’re doing all grain, extract, or a partial mash. If all grain or partial mash you’ll need to calculate your mash duration and temperature. Then comes the boil with length and hop addition schedule. Then of course you’ll need to manage fermentation.
Each of these steps comes with several considerations you need to think about. Luckily none of them are particularly difficult when brewing a Cream Ale. Brew day won’t be much different than any other.
For a Cream Ale, mash around 150° F to ensure a dryer beer. You should mash for an hour to fully convert the starch into sugar especially if using a 6-row malt.
The mash temperature of around 148° to 152° F is best since you want fully digestible sugars along with your medium to high attenuating yeasts. This will ensure your beer is nice and crisp. Be sure to use 1 to 1.5 quarts per pound of grains.
The boil stage for a Cream Ale should be an hour long. When you add your hops will depend on the alpha acid concentration of your hop variety. If the concentration is low you can add some at the beginning and 10 minutes before the end.
A low AA concentration will allow you to add a small amount at the beginning. If the AA concentration is on the higher end add the hops between 45 and 30 minutes left. Since you want some hop aroma and flavor you should still add some hops toward the end.
Whirlpool or flameout
Instead of adding the hops during the boil it is also possible to add them just after during flameout or in a whirlpool.
Adding hops during flameout is another way to extract the flavor and aroma but none of the bitterness. If you are experimenting with a more hop-forward Cream Ale this is an option. However, this step is unnecessary.
That said, a whirlpool can still be useful to collect the trub. For this reason, you may still want to whirlpool even if you don’t add any hops during this stage.
Fermenting Cream Ales
When fermenting your Cream Ale, you should keep a close watch on the temperature. Start the process on the lower end of your selected yeast strain range. After a few days, raise the temp by a few degrees.
A common addition for Cream Ales is cold lagering after fermentation. This can help clarify your beer even further though it is optional.
Fermentation shouldn’t take any longer than usual. A week or two should be enough for this beer.
Although this is yeast dependent, there is a typical range that will be best for your brew.
Keep your fermentation between 60° and 65° F. If your yeast does not like this range, keep it on the lower end of its preferred temp range.
The lower fermentation temperature will discourage ester production, altering the final flavor profile. Fruity esters can be acceptable in this style but aren’t staples of the style.
Bottling or Kegging Cream Ales
The debate between bottling and kegging will go on for as long as brewers have a choice. It is truly up to personal preference and setup.
There is no preference between bottling and kegging for Cream Ales. Choose the method that is easiest for you.
Cream Ale recipes
If you aren’t one to create your own recipes, here are a few that you can follow for great results. Be sure to sanitize properly as always. These recipes are from various brewers as credited below.
- Vanilla Cream Ale (All Grain)
- Strawberry Rhubarb Cream Ale (Extract)
- Sleeman Cream Ale Clone (All Grain)
Vanilla Cream Ale (All Grain)
This recipe comes from user stikks on Brewer’s Friend.
- American – Pale 2-Row – 5.25 lbs.
- American – White Wheat – 2 lbs.
- American – Pale 6-Row – 2 lbs.
- Flaked corn – 0.5 lbs.
- American – Caramel/Crystal 20L – 0.5 lbs.
- American – Carapils – 0.5 lbs.
- Flaked barley – 0.25 lbs.
- Honey – 0.75 lbs.
- Cascade hops – 1 oz
- Saaz hops – 0.5 oz
- Vanilla extract – 3 oz
- Yeast nutrient – 1 tsp
- Vanilla bean tincture
- Wyeast 2565
- Prepare a vanilla bean tincture before brew day. (4 beans soaked in 2 ounces of vodka)
- On brew day heat 15 quarts of water to 168° F.
- Mash for 75 minutes.
- Stir before resting at 165° F.
- Collect 7.5 gallons of wort.
- Boil for 60 minutes. Add half of the cascade hops right away.
- Add the rest of the Cascade hops at 20 minutes left.
- Add the Saaz hops at 5 minutes left.
- Flameout and transfer to the fermentor.
- Pitch yeast.
- Maintain 58° F during fermentation.
- After fermentation transfer to the secondary fermenter with vanilla bean tincture.
- After a week in secondary rack to keg and force carbonate or bottle condition.
Strawberry Rhubarb Cream Ale (Extract)
This recipe comes from user Patmaguire19 on Brewer’s Friend.
- Dry Malt Extract – Light 4° L – 3 lbs.
- Corn Sugar – 0.5 lbs.
- Maltodextrin – 0.25 lbs.
- American – Pale 2-Row – 4 lbs.
- Flaked Corn – 8 oz.
- American – Caramel/Crystal 10° L – 4 oz
- Cluster hops – 0.5 oz
- Cascade hops – 0.5 oz
- Strawberries – 5 lbs.
- Rhubarb – 1 lb
- Start your boil. Add the steeping grains.
- Before a boil is achieved, remove the steeping grains.
- When you have a boil, add the extract and sugars.
- Boil for 1 hour. Add the Cluster hops right away.
- Add the Cascade hops at 15 minutes left.
- Flameout and transfer to the primary fermenter.
- Pitch yeast.
- Keep fermentation at 65° F to 68° F.
- After 1 week, transfer to the secondary fermenter with fruit.
- After another week package as desired.
Cream Ale – Prohibition Style (All Grain)
This recipe comes from PublicEnemy on Brewer’s Friend.
- American – Pale 2-Row – 8 lbs.
- Flaked corn – 2 lbs.
- Cluster hops – 0.5 oz
- Northern brewer hops – 0.5 oz
- Safale US-05
- Heat 12.5 quarts to 161° F.
- Mash for 1 hour.
- Collect 7 gallons of wort for boiling.
- Boil for 1 hour. Add the Cluster hops right away.
- Add half of the Northern brewer hops at 15 minutes left in the boil.
- Add the rest of the Northern brewer hops at flameout.
- Transfer to fermenter and pitch yeast.
- Keep fermentation at 68° F.
- After fermentation, package as desired.