american cream ale

American Cream Ale: An In-Depth Guide to the Classic Beer Style

American Cream Ale, a unique and versatile beer style, has its roots in the United States. This mild, pale, and light-bodied ale is often referred to as an ale, but can also be made with lager yeast, blurring the lines between ale and lager. Surprisingly smooth, it has become a popular choice among beer enthusiasts for its rich history and distinct flavor profile.

american cream ale

The origin of American Cream Ale can be traced back to the era before prohibition when it was one of the few indigenous American beer styles. Despite being nearly forgotten, this beer style managed to make a strong comeback after prohibition, and has evolved with new brewing methods and ingredients. Crafted with a malt base made of corn or specialty wheat, its flavors are often balanced between hops and malt, resulting in a refreshing, easy-drinking beer.

Key Takeaways

  • American Cream Ale is a distinct and versatile beer style with origins in the United States.
  • The style has a rich history, surviving near extinction during prohibition and making a strong comeback.
  • Characterized by a smooth mouthfeel and balanced flavors, it is an easy-drinking beer with mass appeal.

History of American Cream Ale

The American Cream Ale has an interesting history that can be traced back to the mid-1800s when it was first crafted in various breweries across the United States. During this period, the cream ale style was localized with different styles emerging across different regions.

Originating in America, cream ale is an amalgamation of German lagers and English ales. Many German brewmasters working in American lager breweries began applying their experience with German ales, such as Kölschbier, which led to the development of Cream Ale as a distinct style.

American brewers faced challenging times during the 1800s, as they started losing business to foreign lagers and pilsners. In response, ale brewers sought a competitive edge by creating a style that would be more appealing to a wider range of customers. The result was the creation of the American Cream Ale, a beer that combined characteristics of both ale and lager styles, making it a popular choice in the market.

The history of the American Cream Ale took a turn during Prohibition in the United States. With the sale, production, and distribution of alcohol being illegal, many breweries closed their doors or turned to alternative products. However, Canadian brewers took this opportunity to refine the cream ale style further. When Prohibition came to an end, the American Cream Ale had evolved into a more refined and desirable beer, retaining its popularity among consumers.

Characteristics and Flavor Profile

American Cream Ale is a popular beer style with a unique blend of characteristics that sets it apart from other ales. It is generally light in color, ranging from pale straw to golden hues, with an SRM (Standard Reference Method) color range of 2.5 – 5. This style is known for its medium body and brilliant carbonation, with fast-rising bubbles that create a refreshing and crisp mouthfeel.

The flavor profile of American Cream Ale is predominantly marked by a medium-low to medium level of pale malt sweetness. It is important to note that caramel malt attributes should be absent from this beer style. The hop aroma is usually minimal or non-existent, while the hop flavor is very low to low, with hop bitterness also falling into the very low to low category. Alcohol content in American Cream Ale can vary, but it is typically not detectable or mild, making it a refreshing option for beer enthusiasts.

In terms of esters, they are not common in this style, and any low fruity esters that may be present should not dominate the overall flavor. The finish of this beer can range from dry to slightly sweet, which can be influenced by the attenuation during the brewing process.

With its distinct characteristics, American Cream Ale serves as a versatile and enjoyable choice for beer lovers seeking a refreshing and flavorful beverage. Its unique combination of light color, moderate malt sweetness, and low hop presence make it a popular choice for those looking for a balanced and easy-drinking beer.

Ingredients and Brewing Process

Grain Bill

The American Cream Ale has a simple grain bill, primarily comprised of pale and/or pilsner malt. Light American 2 and 6-row malts are common choices to achieve the desired light, crisp character. Typically, adjuncts such as corn or rice are used to enhance the flavor and body while maintaining a light appearance. Be cautious with your grain choices, as the objective is to create a clean, refreshing beer.


Hop selection should support the light malt profile of an American Cream Ale. Cluster hops are commonly used to provide a mild bitterness (8-20 IBU). However, other hop varieties with floral, herbal, or spicy notes can be incorporated as well. Keep in mind that hop aroma and flavor should be subtle and balanced, ensuring it doesn’t overpower the malt or any adjuncts.


Clean fermenting yeast strains are ideal for American Cream Ales. Some popular choices include US-05, WLP080, and Wyeast 1056. These strains ensure a dry, attenuated beer with low fruity esters. Fermentation temperatures should be on the cooler end of the range for ale yeast (typically around 60°F) to promote a clean, lager-like profile.


Adjuncts are an essential component of the American Cream Ale. Common choices include flaked corn or rice, which contribute a subtle sweetness and a lighter body. The use of adjuncts also helps to keep costs low and ensures a higher yield. When using adjuncts, it’s important to strike the right balance, so the beer doesn’t become overly sweet or exhibit a strong corny flavor.

Notable American Cream Ales

Genesee Cream Ale: A classic example of an American Cream Ale, Genesee Cream Ale is known for its light, refreshing flavor, and crisp finish. Brewed since 1960 by Genesee Brewing Company, it is often considered the standard by which other cream ales are measured and has won multiple awards.

Little Kings Cream Ale: Introduced by Hudepohl-Schoenling Brewing, Little Kings Cream Ale is a nostalgic favorite with a light body and pale golden color. It’s often enjoyed in 7-ounce bottles, making it an ideal session beer for social gatherings.

Sleeman Cream Ale: A Canadian addition to the cream ale family, Sleeman Cream Ale is a blend of ale and lager, giving it a distinct taste and smooth finish. With a combination of top-fermenting ale yeast and bottom-fermenting lager yeast, this beer is known for its drinkability and balanced flavor.

Summer Solstice: From Anderson Valley Brewing Company, Summer Solstice is a seasonal cream ale that offers a slightly sweet, malty profile. Its creamy mouthfeel, rich amber color, and smooth finish make it an appealing choice for those looking for a refreshing ale during the summer months.

Regular Coffee: Brewed by Carton Brewing Company, Regular Coffee is an imperial cream ale that boasts a high ABV and bold flavor. Infused with coffee, this unique offering challenges the perception of what a cream ale can be and delivers a satisfying beer-drinking experience.

Spotted Cow: Hailing from New Glarus Brewing Company in Wisconsin, Spotted Cow is a hugely popular cream ale that showcases a fruity and slightly sweet taste. Its unfiltered nature adds to the beer’s depth and character, making it a must-try for any cream ale enthusiast.

American Cream Ales come in a variety of flavors and styles, with each brewery putting its own unique spin on this refreshing type of beer. From classic offerings like Genesee Cream Ale to modern interpretations like Regular Coffee, this versatile style has much to offer to both experienced beer drinkers and newcomers alike.

Pairing and Serving Suggestions

American Cream Ale is a versatile beer that can be enjoyed with a variety of dishes, thanks to its smooth, malty sweetness and balanced bitterness. When it comes to food pairings, this beer complements light and refreshing dishes well.

Salads with citrus dressings, feta or goat cheese are great matches for the beer’s light body and refreshing character. Mild shellfish dishes can also be enhanced by the cream ale’s easy-drinking nature, allowing the beer to play a supporting role without overpowering delicate seafood flavors.

In terms of serving, the optimal glassware for American Cream Ale is a flute. This allows for the beer’s fast rising carbonation to be showcased and highlights its brilliant clarity. The ideal serving temperature for this style of beer is between 40-45°F, ensuring that it remains crisp and refreshing on the palate.

Appearance-wise, American Cream Ale typically displays a straw to gold color, as a result of its ingredients and brewing process. It is important to note that the style is often made with adjuncts such as corn or rice to lighten the body, but all-malt versions are becoming more popular among craft brewers.

The original gravity of an American Cream Ale usually ranges from 1.042 to 1.055, which contributes to its relatively low alcohol content and easy-drinking nature. Its carbonate level is characterized by fast rising bubbles, adding to its refreshing quality and making it suitable for various occasions.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main characteristics of a cream ale?

A cream ale is a mild, pale, light-bodied ale. It is brewed using a warm fermentation with top or bottom fermenting yeast, followed by cold lagering. The taste is generally clean and crisp, and the alcohol content usually ranges from 4.2% to 5.6% ABV. Cream ales may also include adjuncts like corn or rice for added flavor and a smooth mouthfeel.

How does cream ale differ from lager?

Cream ale is somewhere in between a lager and an ale, often referred to as a hybrid style. While both use a similar brewing process, cream ales typically use ale yeast instead of lager yeast. The warmer fermentation of cream ales produces more fruity esters than in lagers, and cold lagering helps to achieve a clean and crisp profile similar to that of a lager.

What are some popular American cream ale brands?

Some popular brands of American cream ale include Genesee Cream Ale, New Glarus Spotted Cow, Lawson’s Finest Liquids’ Sunshine Ale, and Little Harpeth’s Chicken Scratch. These commercial examples are enjoyed by beer enthusiasts for their refreshing taste and smooth mouthfeel.

How is an English cream ale different from an American cream ale?

English cream ales generally have a more malty and fruity flavor profile compared to American cream ales, which focus on a clean and crisp taste. Additionally, English cream ales might have a slightly higher alcohol content and tend to feature more traditional English ale ingredients, such as English hops and malts.

What are the BJCP guidelines for a cream ale?

The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) outlines specific guidelines for cream ales. Some key attributes include a pale golden color with good clarity, a mild malt aroma with light fruity notes, a soft and well-attenuated mouthfeel, and low to moderate hop bitterness. The color range is typically 2-5 SRM, and the ideal alcohol content is between 4.2% and 5.6% ABV.

Are there any variations on the cream ale, like vanilla?

Variations of cream ales can incorporate additional flavors, such as vanilla or fruit. Vanilla cream ales often include vanilla beans, either during the fermentation process or as a post-fermentation addition. This can create a smooth, sweet, and distinctive vanilla flavor that complements the beer’s crisp, refreshing character.

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