By: Jesse Reynolds
Beer’s potential is infinite. From a blank slate, you can use a multitude of ingredients to build a recipe to be as complex as you want it to be.
But sometimes you don’t want complex. Sometimes, particularly on a hot day, you just want to sit in the sun and crush a cold beer or six. On such a day, what better to drink than a style commonly nicknamed “lawnmower beer”?
Cream Ale is an excellent style for the homebrewer because it has all the simplicity and drinkability of a lager, but doesn’t require low fermentation temperatures and cuts the time between brewing and drinking in half.
With roots in Canada and the Northeastern United States, this ale variety originated in the 1800s as an alternative to lagers which were becoming more popular at the time. Its light gold colour, somewhat corny malt sweetness and low-medium hopping offers a similar beer to a typical American Lager, but with slightly more character and complexity.
Highly carbonated, highly thirst-quenching and absolutely gorgeous to look at, the speedily-produced Cream Ale is an underrated variety nowadays. Some microbrewers are beginning to pay attention, and as the demand for craft lagers increases we may start seeing more Cream Ales on beer store shelves.
This recipe should produce a clean, crisp, straw gold beer with hints of sweet malt and corn. The balance of the finished beer is fairly even, but the malt and adjuncts do most of the heavy-lifting.
Using a portion of 6-row malt in addition to 2-row helps break down the sugars in the corn and rice, increasing fermentability and lowering the amount of corn flavour to a desirable level. The flaked corn also imparts colour and a slight sweetness, while the flaked rice keeps the beer crisp without adding much else. A bit of Carafoam will increase the body, which could otherwise be thin like a Light Lager, and provide a frothy white head.
The hop selection skews toward American hops, but these varieties were specifically grown to imitate the spicy, floral notes of German noble hops. 20 IBU is the upper limit as per BJCP guidelines, but increasing the amount of flavour and aroma hops at the end of the boil is a great way to achieve more character in this beer without straying too far off the beaten path.
As always, the yeast selection can have a huge effect on the beer, especially one that’s meant to be clean and crisp. A simple but effective US-05 or California Ale will do the trick, although some prefer to use Cream Ale or Kolsch yeast to provide more fruity esters to the finished product. However, the latter yeasts require more fermentation time to drive off sulfur compounds. I recommend brewing with California Ale the first time and taking it a step further if you’d like to have more yeast character.
A word of warning, once this beer starts flowing it doesn’t usually last long!
Cream Ale (BJCP Category 1C)
(all-grain, 5.5 gallons)
8.5 Gallons Tap Water (Treated w/Campden Tablets) or Spring Water
Add ¼ tsp Calcium Chloride to mash
4 lbs 2-Row
2 lbs 6-Row
0.5 lbs Carafoam
1.5 lbs Flaked Corn
1 lb Flaked Rice
1 oz Crystal, 17 IBU (60 mins)
1 oz Liberty, 3 IBU, (5 mins)
Safale US-05 Dry Yeast (re-hydrated) or White Labs WLP001 California Ale
Brew Day Instructions
Mash-in grains with 4.5 gallons of treated water to reach 153F (67C) and hold for 90 minutes. Use direct heat or infuse with boiling water to raise temperature to 168F (76C) and hold for 15 minute mash-out. Drain your wort into your boil kettle and slowly sparge until you have seven gallons of wort.
Bring wort to a boil for 90 minutes, adding hops at times directed above. Remove from heat and chill rapidly to 64F (18C), transfer to fermenter, aerate your hopped wort and pitch yeast.
Ferment the beer at 64F (18C) for seven days, then free rise to 68F (20C) to encourage complete fermentation. When the beer’s gravity has reached or surpassed FG and holds steady for three days, package, carbonate and enjoy! For best visual results, fine with gelatin or isinglass for several days before packaging.
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