Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Style Spotlight: Cream Ale

A while back, I was trying to do a style of the week. It was going well for a while… and then work got busy – and stayed that way. But I really want to stick with style guidelines and talking about them for a few reasons. One, I think a lot of misinformation about styles swims around on the interwebs - such as the idea that a "Double IPA" is somehow authoritatively different from an "Imperial IPA". I'll never forget getting into a disagreement about that with a bartender in Seattle where I was told that he was right, I was wrong, and there was a reason he was BEHIND one of the country's best bars and I was not.

Someone didn't know how to earn tips.

Two, I'm taking the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) exam in September, and this will help me study. Knowing and understanding different styles is not just based in tasting them, but knowing what properties are typical of the style as well as their history. Finally, I want to focus on commercial examples of beers that not only exemplify styles but are available in the KC metro area. I'm going to stick with the BJCP guidelines for now because I think it's a good – and standard – starting point for style recognition. And seeking out commercial styles that I can get here will only help me study. (Study... yeah, that's the ticket...)

Today's style is Cream Ale, partially because I recently came back from Milwaukee and had a New Glarus Spotted Cow (which you can't get outside of Wisconsin or internet trades. What was I just saying about KC availability?). But also because I think it's a style that has several misconceptions about what it is. No, it doesn't have cream in it. It doesn't have lactose or anything dairy-based at all. And it's not because it's served on nitro or has a creamy mouthfeel (that's called Smooth Ale across the pond). It's actually a pretty old style, one which managed to survive Prohibition (shudder).

So what is it? It's one of the truly American styles (along with California Common) and was initially created by ale houses in the states to compete with American lagers. Though it is fermented with ale yeast (though some breweries, like Genesee, use lager yeast), it's fermented at cool temperatures then lagered for at least a few weeks. Ale yeasts typically throw esters at warmer temperatures, and fermenting them at lower temperatures keeps the fruity esters at bay. It also often includes corn as an adjunct (a very American ingredient!) to create a slightly sweet but still crisp flavor.

The result is a clean, light ale that is neither bitter nor malty, is highly carbonated, and very refreshing. It's the lawnmower beer of the ale world.

Some examples:

- Anderson Valley Summer Solstice Cerveza Crema (I need a beer just typing that out)
- Genesee Cream Ale
- Rogue Honey Cream ale

If you're ever in Wisconsin, do yourself a favor and pick up a Spotted Cow. It's definitely worth tipping (back). har har.


  1. Can't stand spotted cow. And everyone from up there makes a big deal out of it.

  2. Well, it's a very good representation of the style. What, specifically, didn't you like about it? Maybe you just don't care for cream ale as a style. :)

  3. I've been a big fan of Genesee Cream Ale for decades and drink it whenever it is available. It's my "go to" whenever it is available.

  4. Oh my! Someone else is a Genny fan? I used to drink it when I lived in Philly, but haven't seen it in 25 years. Glad to hear it is still brewed; wish I could get my hands on a 6 pack.

  5. Love the cow. We get a keg of it when we go up to lake vermillion

  6. You're probably right...I don't care for cream ale as a style. But two things stand out to me: 1) I've never seen spotted cow advertised as a cream ale - always a cask conditioned ale, if I remember correctly; and (2) in the cream ale style, I think there's better.

    I'm just amazed at all of the "second coming of Christ" responses that the mention of Spotted Cow elicits. But then again, I do the same thing when it comes to Tank 7... we all have our home teams.. :)

    BTW, I'm a new homebrewer.... digging your blog! I haven't done much research yet on area clubs. Can you point me in a direction?

  7. Hey Jason - well, take marketing with a grain of salt. :) Spotted Cow's a cream ale; "cask conditioned" basically means they claim to naturally carbonate, though there's some debate over whether that's true.

    As for the 2nd coming type comments... you'll get that over a lot of beers that are hard to get in a lot of places. If you're a BA person, you're going to find that a beer's ratings are directly related to its availability. I don't think Three Floyds' beers are all that, but they're hard to get and, as a result, highly sought. And as you noted - Boulevard has a similar following. ;)

    Welcome to home brewing :) There are several clubs in the area. Depends on where you live. ZZ Hopps meets out east of Lee's Summit, Lawrence Brewers Guild is in Lawrence (of course), KC Bier Meisters (the club we belong to) meet in Mission off S-M parkway & Rainbow, and Jayhops meets every so often (I don't believe they have a regular schedule). You definitely have your pick!

  8. No matter what, I do think it's great that the "2nd coming" phenomena exists. It encourages us to seek out hard to find beers and widen our horizons. I have yet to sample any Dogfish Head, but it's another one in that category as well.

    Overall, I think BA does a pretty good job of leveling the playing field, but alas, nothing is without subjectiveness on the web.

    I'll check out KC Bier Masters... I'm in Prairie Village.



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