Tap This: Cream ales are subtle, refreshing brews, shouldn’t be overlooked
The rise of craft beer has brought many beer styles to the market, but many of the macro-brewed lighter styles of beer tend to be less popular. The reasons are most likely tied to the turning away from macro beer by many craft brewers, not to mention the lack of flavor. However, some of these styles should not be overlooked, especially a refreshing cream ale!
So what exactly is a cream ale and what is it’s history? The cream ale style is actually an ale version of the American lager. It was originally produced by ale brewers to compete with lager breweries predominantly in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. Some breweries used lager yeast strains in this beer and, some also still do this for historical reasons.
The resemblances to lager do not end there as the beer is also cold conditioned, as a lager would be, to help with full attenuation. Although this is not a necessity for the beer, it helps develop flavor. The style has long been a favorite for many American beer drinkers and is thankfully starting to become popular among craft beer drinkers.
The main characteristic that comes through within this beer is a strong malt presence, similar to lager. Corn-like notes are often present with very little hop aroma or taste. The low ABV is also key and makes this a fantastic summer afternoon beer to enjoy during weekend chores.
While many craft beers can be aggressive on the palate, such as IPAs or barrel-aged stouts, the cream ale is more subtle. The balance within the beer leads to a crisp, light and refreshing quality. This thirst quenching ability also makes it a great beer for anyone to enjoy.
As summer begins to wind down, it is the perfect time to have as many barbecues with family and friends as possible. There are few beers that go better with any backyard get together. The low ABV and flavor is the perfect match with burgers, ribs, steak, pizza, sandwiches and salad. The light and semi-sweet characteristics make it the perfect beer to pair with a wide variety of foods including some spicier Mexican dishes.
So what are some great cream ales to try? It is a style that has a wide range of offerings, which may be surprising due to its light characteristics. Here are a few great cream ales to try right now:
Hardywood Park Craft Brewery — Cream Ale: Hardywood has a very wide ranging beer portfolio, but still brews one of the best cream ales available. At 4.4 percent ABV, this is a cream ale that is certainly crushable. The beer was actually brewed as a nod to a historical fact in Richmond, Va. In 1935, Richmond became the first place to sell canned beer, and it was, of course, a cream ale. The smooth body and crispness are perfectly balanced, and this is a must for any hot summer day.
Sixpoint Brewery — Sweet Action: Sixpoint is known for their world-class IPAs, but they certainly know how to brew a renowned cream ale as well! Sweet Action is incredibly smooth, and one difference within is the ever so subtle hop bite. The hops are not harsh, though, and instead provide great balance within the sweet bready malts. Sweet Action is a great beer to get for any non craft-loving beer drinking friends. It just may win them over!
Carton Brewing Company — Regular Coffee: This is by far the biggest beer on the list weighing in at an impressive 12 percent ABV. While this may fall outside the realm of a standard cream ale, it certainly has some great cream ale characteristics. The beer is meant to replicate a regular coffee with cream and has creamy coffee notes that any coffee lover would want to try. This is a seasonal beer from Carton and tends to go fast. It is great any time of the year but is exceptionally enjoyable during warmer winter months.
Genesee Brewing Company — Genesee Cream Ale: A true classic within the style. While many craft drinkers turn their noses up to this beer, they are the ones that are missing out! This 5.1 percent ABV beer has been a favorite among many of our fathers and grandfathers, but it is still a great beer for the current generation. Faint notes of corn and a creamy body that is very easy drinking are textbook for the style. This is the beer by which many other cream ales are judged and the price point can rarely be beaten!
Derek Warren is a beer fanatic, avid homebrewer and beer historian. Derek can be heard weekly on the Beer Geeks Radio Hour at noon on Sundays on WILK 103.1 FM with past episodes available on iTunes.