Cream Ales: Industrial Lager for Bump City
Cream Ales may be the most misunderstood beer style. They’re currently being sold as strong as 12% ABV, and have contained elements like milk sugar, vanilla, and coffee. While I’m sure many are fine beers, they have no relation to the historically brewed cream ale style, which we like to brew at Drake’s. Our challenge is finding the best way to communicate what these beers actually are to customers, and a new style name for our latest beer might be the answer.
FIRST: A LITTLE BREWING HISTORY
Cream ales, in their original form, were created by American ale brewers in response to the popularity of pale lagers, brewed by German and Central European brewmasters in America before Prohibition. These brewers, primarily in the Northeast, took the ales they were making and lightened the body by using adjuncts, specifically corn. They also cut the hops and added some cold storage time to make a beer that spoke to the growing number of American lager drinkers.
Cream Ales have existed for a while now as sort of an adjacent style to American macro lagers. Over time they’ve evolved to being true mixed fermentation beers. Some lager brewers are making them by fermenting lager yeast a little warmer, and/or cutting back on storage time. Other brewers have even made true mixes, where the same beer was brewed with ale and lager yeast separately, then blended for packaging.
THE MODERN AGE
Craft brewers really haven’t done much with the style. There’s been sporadic interest from brewers wanting to make something like a macro lager, but weren’t set up for the long, slow fermentation a lager requires. The most prominent example is Spotted Cow by New Glarus. It’s a fantastic representation of the style.
Recently though, some craft brewers have expanded the definition of the style, to such an extent that it really doesn’t mean anything anymore. There’s almost an assumption that anything called a cream ale has either lactose in it, or vanilla, like a cream soda. By the way, we haven’t been able to determine why the term cream was ever used. The most popular theory suggests that cream referred to the beers tactile sensation, compared to more effervescent pilseners, roasty stouts, porters, or bitter ales.
Because of this, and because Drake’s is interested in the style, we’ve decided to call our cream ales Industrial Lagers. Our method for making these beers is to run our house lager strain at a warmer temperature during primary fermentation (60°F instead of 50°F ). The change yields a less “clean” yeast character, as it develops a few esters, giving it a slight “fruity” flavor more associated with ales.
The first Industrial Lager we’re releasing is Bump City, which is an old-school nickname for Oakland. The beer is a deliberate throwback, with corn added to lighten the body, and raw barley included to mimic the flavor of the less well-modified malts brewers were using in the past. We’ve also taken a mild bit of liberty with the mash, and threw in some aromatic malt, adding a touch of depth and richness to the body. Our choice of hops was understated, but rather interesting. Willamette is an American variation on a classic English ale hop, while Styrian Fox is a new school central European hop with spice and floral notes.
If you see Bump City or any other Industrial Lagers at the Barrel House, Dealership, or BARN, I humbly recommend you give it a try. If you crave something as simple as a beer flavored beer, you won’t be disappointed. Our goal is to brew any style to the best of our abilities, and I think the proof is in the pudding with this one.
CREAM ALES & CANS
Cream Ales hold the distinct honor of being one of the first canned beers. In 1935, the Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company of Newark, New Jersey, packed and sold two different beers in cans. The effort was a collaboration with the American Can Company. They installed their equipment at Kruger for free, and assumed all liability if the experiment failed. But of course, the experiment was a success, not only in the Northeast, but across the nation, as brewing became more industrialized and consolidated.
By John Gillooly, Brewmaster, & Eric Ortega, Tours & Education Program Manager