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Despite its name, there is no lactose in a cream ale. What it does have is a smooth mouthfeel and endless refreshment. The style was created as an ale to compete with lagers, with the aim being an easy drinking beer that delivers on crispness but shows a creamy character.
Often, classic examples are called “lawnmower beers” because of how good they taste after a long day doing hard work in the hot sun.
Visually, the ale should be clear and ranging from straw in color to golden, with a minimal head but robust carbonation on the mouthfeel. The grainbill is dominant in flavor and aroma, often with simple cereal grain and corn coming through.
Simplicity is a calling card of this style, with the ingredients working in harmony and not competing for attention. More traditional varieties of hops are used, resulting in herbal or floral aromas. Heavy citrus, dank or tropical hops would be out of place in classic examples of the style. Sometimes, a fruitiness will be present and it can be a tad sweet on the finish.
Some brewers, notably Lee Lord the head brewer of Narragansett Brewery, have been on a social media crusade to make cream ale the official beer style of summer. The initiative makes sense because cream ale is one that lends itself to relaxation.
Because of its simple base, there are some brewers that use the style to play around with different flavors—like fruit or herb adjuncts. Others will go heavy on hops to showcase lupulin flavors. Those options can be enjoyable in their own way, but a simple, well-made cream ale with no fuss is one that delivers the most solid drinking experience.
Genesee Cream Ale; $10/12 oz 6 pack. Buy on Drizly. Clear and light golden in color with a robust head, the taste is a mix of light corn and faint fruitiness, but overall clean and refreshing… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW
Genesee Dry Hopped Cream Ale; $10/12 oz 6 pack. Find at Untappd. A vibrant floral bouquet of green vegetal hops greets the nose with the first whiff and stays through the finish… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW
Neshaminy Better Maize Ahead; $11/12 oz 6 pack. Find on Untappd. A well-balanced ale that is mildly fruity and sweet but crisp and corn-forward in taste and body… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW
New Glarus Spotted Cow; $9/12 oz 6 pack. Find at New Glarus Brewing Co. The brewery has long called this a “farmhouse” ale, but it is more akin to a cream ale than a saison… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW
Our Mutual Friend Pro Beer; $15/16 oz 6 packs. Find on Untappd. Soft body with a corn accented flavor and a low hop profile… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW
Urban South K&B Beer Cream Ale; $16/16 oz 4 Pack. Find on Untappd. An assertive cream ale with a medium body and a slight fruity vanilla undertone… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW
Wallenpaupack Paupack Cream Ale; $10/16 oz 4 pack. Find at Wallenpaupak Brewing Co. Golden and clear with a faint corn aroma and sweetness that appears with the first sip and follows to the finish… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW
Westfax Colfax Cream Ale; $13/16 oz 4 pack. Find on Untappd. Slightly sweet but still crisp at the finish, this medium bodied ale has corn undertones and a faintly toasted grain bill… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW
Wise Man Scoop Dogg; $12/16 oz 4 pack. Find on Untappd. A bit more hearty than traditional cream ales, this has a medium body and general smoothness midpalate with a slight crispness at the finish… SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW