Cream Ale – Homebrew Recipe & Review

Cream Ale

Cream Ale, Refreshing, Crisp, Clean

Cream ale, for me, is a bit of a compromise beer. Within my circle of non-beer geek friends, I make no secret of my fondness for adjunct-laden light American lager. Within my beer geek and homebrew circles, however, I tend to be a bit more reserved in my endorsement for flavorless lager. This egocentric rationale is probably why I’ve never brewed the style myself.

Instead, I’ll often brew cream ale, which has the ability to fill my desire for a flavor-muted, low-alcohol session beer. It also seems to be a more respectable beer in the sense that there is a bit more flavor, as well as a good historic precedence. That said, I should probably just drop the self-consciousness, bite the bullet, and brew up some shitty American lager. Until then, here’s the recipe and review for my latest batch of cream ale.

Cream Ale Recipe

Size: 3.25 gal
Efficiency: 74%
Attenuation: 80%

Original Gravity: 1.051
Terminal Gravity: 1.010
Color: 2.84 SRM
Alcohol: 5.3% ABV (calculated)
Bitterness: 14.2 IBU

Malt Bill:
4.5 lbs. (72.0%) Weyermann Pilsner Malt
1.25 lb. (20.0%) Briess Flaked Corn

Sugar Additions:
0.50 lb. (8.0%) Corn Sugar (Dextrose)

Mash Profile:
149°F – 60m

Water Treatment:
Extremely Soft NYC Water
3 g. Gypsum (to mash)
3 g. Calcium Chloride (to mash)

28 g. Hallertaurer Mittelfruh (2.5% AA) – 90m

Kettle Additions:
0.5 ea. Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) – 15m
0.5 tsp. Wyeast Nutrient – 10m

Wyeast 1056 American Ale

Tasting Notes:

Judged as a BJCP 1C Cream Ale

Aroma (8/12):
The aroma is quite subdued and mellow, letting a very low fermentation character with hints of apple, pear, and, perhaps berry ester, come through. There is a low corn character that features a touch of sweetness which is somewhat vanilla-like. The pilsner malt character provides some doughy bread aroma that may be a touch high for the style.

Appearance (3/3):
The beer is very clear with only the slightest hint of haze. There is a nice, foamy white head with great persistence.

Flavor (10/20):
Like the aroma, the flavor is very subdued. Initially, there is a pop of fresh round malt that is bready, slightly sweet, and just a touch grainy. A slight touch of corn flavor is present, but not as apparent as some judges may be searching for. The hop bitterness is very, very low and leaves the beer finishing just a touch sweet.

Mouthfeel (1/5):
Beer has a very light body with sparkling carbonation. The residual sweetness and lack of bitterness leaves the beer feeling a bit flabby. My guess is that this is accentuated by the beer finishing at a relatively high pH as well. Perhaps some addition of pH-lowering mineral salts would help brighten up future iterations of this beer.

Overall Impression (5/10):
This is a pretty nice beer, but lacks the crispness that I would expect in a cream ale. Additionally, the beer is perhaps a bit too characterful for the style and could benefit from a more toned down pilsner malt profile.

Good (27/50)

Cream Ale Homebrew Recipe and Review

cream-aleIt’s with a heavy dose of irony that I admit that the largest proportion of beer I drink is industrial American lager. Much of this is attributable to the fact that my go-to after-work happy hour bar serves inexpensive buckets of Narragansett tall boys, but I can honestly say (without much irony) that I frequently enjoy drinking cold, effervescent, dry, and nearly flavorless adjunct lager. I am a firm believer that there is a beer for all occasions, and this is especially true for adjunct lager. The fact of the matter is there are very few craft breweries producing any sort of light American lager so when a situation calls for this type of beer, I am often reaching for an industrial macro lager. Whether it is the economics of tying up tank space or a reaction against Big Beer, it is somewhat sad to me that no one is taking up this style. The closest thing that can be found are cream ales or ‘blonds’; often feeling like they want to be an adjunct lager, but are too self-conscious to describe themselves as such. It’s along these lines that I brewed the recipe below—essentially an ale version of Budweiser with a little extra gravity and flavor. I really enjoyed drinking this beer, and apparently so did the judges at the National Homebrew Competition who gave it a second place ribbon in the first round.

Cream Ale Recipe

Size: 3.25 gal
Efficiency: 74%
Attenuation: 82.7%

Original Gravity: 1.052
Terminal Gravity: 1.009
Color: 3.0 SRM
Alcohol: 5.6% ABV
Bitterness: 17.0 IBUs

Malt Bill:
3lb (46.2%) Weyermann Pilsner Malt
2lb (30.8%) Briess 2-Row Brewers Malt
1lb (15.4%) Briess Flaked Corn
0.5lb (7.7%) Corn Sugar

Mash Profile:
151°F – 60m
170°F – 5m

Water Treatment:
Extremely Soft NYC Water
3g Gypsum (to mash)
3g Calcium Chloride (to mash)

22g Hallertauer Mittelfrüher (3.8% AA) – 90m

Kettle Additions:
0.5ea Whirlfloc Tablets (Irish moss) – 15m
0.5tsp Wyeast Nutrient – 10m

Safale US-05 Dry Yeast – 1 Packet

Tasting Notes:

Judged as 2015 BJCP Category 1C Cream Ale

Aroma (10/12):
Overall, the aroma is very muted. Malt is apparent with just a hint of bready pilsner character and a touch of graininess. There is a very low pear ester that reminds you this is an ale fermentation. I find a touch of corn in the aroma which I doubt I would have noticed it if I hadn’t brewed the beer myself. Surprisingly, there is a touch of herbal hop character that comes through against the generally muted aroma.

Appearance (2/3):
The beer strikes a very light straw hue with just a hint of haze. The beer is capped by a big white frothy foam with moderate to low persistence.

Flavor (18/20):
The beer is exceptionally clean with a very minimal malt character—just a hint more flavor than the beer’s adjunct lager cousins. There is a very low bready malt component that finishes with a touch of sweet corn and grainy husk. There is a very low bitterness, just enough to balance the slight sweetness attributable to the flaked corn addition. Overall, the beer is exceptionally dry, clean, and refreshing.

Mouthfeel (5/5):
This is an exceptionally lean beer with a spritzy level of carbonation. The beer finishes perhaps a touch watery, but not less than the style would dictate.

Overall Impression (9/10):
This is a great quenching and dry beer with enough snappy carbonation to make it very refreshing. A tall pint of this would be a great choice for hot summer days when you’re looking for a light lager, but want perhaps a touch more flavor.

Excellent (44/50)