Cream Ale: An American “Lawnmower” Beer with Character

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When it comes to easy-drinking and refreshing American beers, Cream Ale stands out. It offers a clean, well-attenuated taste with more character than your typical American lagers.

Cream Ale pours a pale straw to moderate gold color, usually leaning towards the paler side. It forms a low to medium head with medium to high carbonation. The head retention is decent, and it boasts a brilliant, sparkling clarity.

You’ll notice medium-low to low malt notes in Cream Ale, accompanied by a sweet, corn-like aroma. While low levels of DMS (dimethyl sulfide) are acceptable, they are not required. The hop aroma is generally medium-low to none and can come in various varieties, with floral, spicy, or herbal notes being the most common. Overall, the aroma is subtle, with neither hops nor malt dominating. Low fruity esters may be present but are optional.

It strikes a balance with its low to medium-low hop bitterness. The maltiness and sweetness levels vary with gravity and attenuation, ranging from low to moderate. It is usually well-attenuated, ensuring a harmonious blend of malt and hops on the palate. You may detect a mild corny flavor, as well as light DMS (optional). The finish can range from somewhat dry to faintly sweet. Low fruity esters are optional. Hop flavor is generally low to medium-low, and while any variety can be used, floral, spicy, or herbal hops are commonly chosen.

Cream Ale offers a generally light and crisp mouthfeel, although it can reach a medium body. It feels smooth on the palate, thanks to medium to high attenuation. Higher attenuation levels contribute to a thirst-quenching quality. The carbonation is on the higher side.

In the pre-prohibition era, Cream Ales were slightly stronger, hoppier (with dry hopping), and more bitter (25-30+ IBUs). These historical versions should be categorized accordingly. However, most commercial examples today fall within the 1.050–1.053 OG range, with bitterness rarely exceeding 20 IBUs.

Cream Ale traces its roots back to the 1800s when it was a sparkling or present-use ale. It managed to survive through the prohibition era and emerged as an ale version of the American lager style. Ale brewers produced Cream Ales to compete with lager brewers in Canada, the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest states. Originally known as sparkling or present-use ales, some brewers used lager strains, but they were historically kept separate from ale strains. Many Cream Ales are kräusened to achieve carbonation. While cold conditioning wasn’t traditional, modern brewers sometimes incorporate it into their process.

The grain bill often includes six-row malt or a combination of six-row and North American two-row malt. Adjuncts can include up to 20% maize in the mash and up to 20% glucose or other sugars in the boil. Bittering and finishing hops can be of any variety.

Cream Ale shares similarities with Standard American Lager but offers more character.


IBU: 8 – 20
SRM: 2.5 – 5
OG: 1.042 – 1.055
FG: 1.006 – 1.012
ABV: 4.2% – 5.6%


Some popular commercial examples of Cream Ale include Genesee Cream Ale, Liebotschaner Cream Ale, Little Kings Cream