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Cream Ale is a very fun, very light beer style that must have been made with BBQ’s and summer’s in mind. This beer has a lightly sweet grain characteristic that plays so well with the mild spice and fleeting lemon characteristics of late addition Liberty hops. Quite frankly, if you want something light and easy to drink, as well as something that you can have a few of without behind the drunk guy at your buddy’s BBQ, this is the perfect choice! This week, we’ll talk about our home brew kit, what’s in a cream ale, where we strayed from the traditional Cream Ale ingredients, and how you can make your own incredible summer favorite!
What’s a Cream Ale, Anyway?
Jamil Zainasheff put it best when, in Brewing Classic Styles, he said that a cream ale is like an American Light Lager with too much malt character. It’s crisp, light and clean, but distinctly malty. My favorites seem to be the perfect mix of an ESB and an American Light Lager, like the brewer started with the base malt and body you’d put in an English style beer, then added adjuncts and sugar to dry it out. It’s like the best of both worlds!
If you’re brewing to style, then Pilsner malt is the base for this beer, followed by 15% or so either Flaked Corn or Flaked Rice. If you want to dry it out even more, you can add up to 10% dextrose, too. This will dry it out quite a bit more, as well as help with the overall perception of dryness.
When people think cream ale, their first thought is vanilla cream ale, which is not a bad thing at all. While adding vanilla or lactose isn’t really to style, it sure is fun, although I personally stay away from the lactose part! While not a bad idea, it’s not necessarily to style, so if you’re trying to brew to style, keep things very simple and stick to American Pilsner and Flaked Rice or Corn, bitter and finish hop with Liberty somewhere between 15 and 20 IBU’s, and use the California Ale strain for fermentation. If you’re willing to brew outside of the box, then keep reading!
Some Drunk History
We are lucky enough to have a killer customer base, full of awesome brewers and fermentation enthusiasts who are making incredible beer on the regular. One of our favorite parts of homebrewing is sharing and tasting beer, so when two of our regular local customers brought in their cream ale for a taste, we knew immediately that this beer HAD to be a beer ingredient kit. The first taste was a light, sweetly malty beer with a dry and crisp backbone and perfect hop balance, and needless to say, the sample didn’t last long!
This is a recipe that these guys have brewed quite a bit, making small adjustments every brew day until they got it right where they wanted it, which was the final iteration that we got to taste. They have adjusted the base malt, tried different yeast combinations, and changed the adjunct percentages quite a bit until they found the perfect balance between the malt character, the adjunct flavors and the hop characters. The guys, Steve and Mike, wanted to call this recipe S&M Cream Ale, which we thought was perfect, even if you don’t know the origins! They sent over the recipe, and the rest is history!
What’s Different About Our Cream Ale?
My favorite thing about this cream ale is that is strays from tradition, but not so much that it becomes something different. The biggest difference is that, if you’re brewing the All-Grain beer recipe, the base malt is comprised of Golden Promise, a UK pale ale malt that is lightly sweet, but not quite as dry as American 2 Row. It really makes the difference, especially when balanced with moderate adjunct additions and 10% dextrose sugar. The corn and wheat in conjunction with the dextrose make up for the extra malt character from the Golden Promise, and actually go a long way towards accentuating the clean malt profile of this grain. It’s a great way to get more of that malty deliciousness in the beer without adding too many ingredients to compensate for the low mash temp and dry nature.
Many cream ales will also choose one adjunct, deciding on corn, rice or something else, such as flaked wheat or flaked oats, and leave the sugar out. This recipe actually incorporates flaked corn, flaked wheat, AND sugar to complement the base malt, and the complexity that comes from using all three makes a big difference in the finished product, as you will taste when you brew yours. For us, it’s not just one of these factors that really makes the difference, but bringing them all together that makes this such an easy to make and delicious beer.
For the extract brewing version of this recipe, the base will be Pilsner Liquid Malt Extract, but Golden Promise is in the steeping grains in small amounts to make sure that it’s flavor comes through properly and that we meet the right balance in the finished beer. Because of all of the adjuncts and the extra base grain in the extract, it will really be more of a mini mash to get some extra conversion from the corn. The flaked wheat will help with a little extra perception of mouthfeel, as well as head formation and foam retention.
All About the Yeast
Many cream ale recipes boast a clean, simple American ale yeast strain, such as Imperial Flagship or White Labs WLP001. While these are awesome strains and will work just fine, we’ve found that a big part of the complexity and drinkability of this beer. Our secret is ale and lager strains together. While this seems crazy, it’s not as off centered as you may think. Yeast blends, such as WLP060 American Ale Yeast Blend and WLP080 Cream Ale Yeast Blend are staple strains that can give you a lager beer crispness from the lager yeast and fruity complexity from the ale yeast.
While we recommend the Cream Ale Yeast Blend for this recipe, that’s definitely not the only way! Steve and Mike have made this beer with the WLP060, as well as by mixing Imperial Flagship with Cry Havoc or Mexican Lager to great success, so don’t be afraid to mix a clean ale strain with your favorite lager strain!
When mixing strains, you can do it a couple of ways. Many lager strains can produce more esters and some funky off flavors at ale temps, although not all of them do. That’s why the Cry Havoc strain is such a good choice for making your own blend! It ferments very clean at ale temps, and is easy and reliable. If you want to do something a little more drastic, we recommend pitching your lager yeast of choice on day 3 of fermentation. This will allow the ale yeast to do the majority of the work and produce what flavors it will, then allow the lager yeast to come in and help finish the job with minimal off flavor production.
Lager yeast cells will also eat any maltotriose that was produced during that mash, which will help both with actual dryness of your cream ale and the perception of dryness. While you want to get a nice, finished gravity of 1.010, it might go a little lower if your mash temperature dipped during the mash. Our test brew of this homebrew kit finished at 1.006!
With such a dry finish, we found that our S&M Cream Ale was a little overbittered. Not by much, but it was just enough to take a little something away from the finished malt character that we were trying to achieve. To combat this in future batches, we moved our 1/2 oz of Liberty 30 minute addition to a 15 minute addition. This should lower the bitter profile enough to keep the beer in balance if it attenuates lower than expected, but not affect the balance if you still finish at 1.010.
Taste-wise, this beer is incredible despite being slightly over-bittered! The Golden Promise shines through throughout the palette, giving a wonderfully light and sweet grain character followed by a distinct lager crispness that makes you want another drink. The way the Liberty dry hop comes through is a subtle spice that helps enhance the grain character with just barely a hint of lemon. ABV was a little higher than expected, coming in at around 6.5% due to a slightly higher efficiency on brew day and a higher attenuation, but not so much that it ruins the beer by any means! This keg is not going to last long, and with a 14 day turnaround and warmer months coming soon, this beer is going to be a HUGE summer hit!Thank you all for reading! Check out our video about brewing S&M Cream Ale on BrewChatter TV for even more tips and tricks! You can brew it yourself, in both Extract and All-Grain, by clicking the links! Let us know how it comes out in the comments below! Don’t forget to connect with us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all our our new recipes, videos and helpful brewing hints and experiments! Brew On!!
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