The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) describes cream ale as “American lawnmower beer.” For an ale brewer, cream ale is as close as you can get to brewing an American-style lager. If you have a friend or relative who is a Bud/Miller/Coors drinker, and you want to brew something he/she will like, a cream ale is a solid choice. The style was developed by ale brewers seeking to compete with the pale lagers that were starting to dominate the market.
Corn is my favorite adjunct to use in beers where un-malted grains are appropriate. I have used corn in past cream ales, an experimental stout, an ESB kit, and a Golden ale. The craft beer community is starting to come around on corn, and move beyond the hyberbole of the 1980s. The other adjunct that works in the style is rice. In large quantities corn can give the beer a subtle sweetness and impact the flavor, while rice tends to increase the overall dryness of the beer. Of the big macro brewers Miller uses corn, while Budweiser uses rice.
If brewing an all-extract cream ale, Jamil Zainasheff recomends using rice syrup with the extract, as corn syrup is essentially just sugar. If an extract brewer can even do a very small partial-mash he/she will be able to get the lightness and character from the adjuncts by mashing them with some base malts.
When brewing with corn or light barley malts a rolling boil is very important to prevent DMS making it into the final beer. DMS imparts a canned corn or cabbage flavor in the finished beer, think Rolling Rock.
My recent beers have also been lacking in clarity which I partially attribute to trying to boil too much wort on my stove top. When I boil four gallons of wort in my eight gallon kettle, the boil is very soft. In addition to boiling off chemicals like DMS, a rolling boil promotes clarity. In hindsight I probably should have boiled for 90 minutes. To obtain a more vigorous boil, I boiled a smaller volume of wort and boiled in a 5g kettle. With its smaller diameter more of the wort is over the burner, and having less empty space in the kettle will maintain a higher temperature. The changes worked like a charm. I will probably do this for all of my batches brewed on my stove-top.
Cream ale is an American original, and I brew my cream ale with mostly traditional ingredients. I use 6-row barley, plenty of corn, and traditional Cluster hops. To give the beer a little extra body and malt flavor I included some Vienna malt and Caramel 10 malt. To further balance the beer there is a small late-hop addition. Many cream ales have no hop flavor or aroma. This beer should have a low levels of both.
Fermentation temperature is critical. The beer won’t taste exactly like an American lager, but generally the cooler you ferment ale yeast, the cleaner the flavor. My trusty swamp cooler should help hold temperatures in the low to mid 60s. My erlenmeyer flask cracked, so I used a packet of Safale S05 dry yeast. There are pros and cons to dry and liquid yeasts, but in this case the dry yeast should have no effect on the taste of the beer. Hopefully the beer will finish clean and crisp.
This is a re-brew from last summer. I brought two gallons to a cookout and left with zero. From what I recall the beer was excellent. Ideally I would have brewed this beer two months ago and it would have been ready for a beautiful summer weekends already. It should be ready for Independence Day weekend if I can bottle it in time.