Brewing a Perfect Cream Ale: A Step-by-Step Guide

cream ale

The cream ale is a clean, light-bodied, well-attenuated, highly drinkable beer. It has more character than a light American lager, but it is still very restrained. Contrary to the name, there is no cream in this style. The cream ale is a wonderful addition to any homebrewer’s collection. The style guidelines are below.

  • Original Gravity: 1.042 – 1.055
  • Final Gravity: 1.006 – 1.012
  • Alcohol by Volume: 4.2 – 5.6%
  • Bitterness: 8 – 20 IBU
  • Color (SRM): 2 – 5

Cream Ale Ingredients

Malt

The cream ale has a very simple grain bill, with most brewers using only a pale and/or pilsner malt. Because there is slightly more malt character in a cream ale than in a light American lager, I like to use both of the above. You can use a 50/50 blend, 60 pale/40 pilsner for more malt character, or 60 pilsner/40 pale for a crisper finish.

In addition to these, I also like to add flaked corn. Flaked corn has been partially gelatinized, so you can add it right into your mash. Flaked corn will bump up the abv without adding much to the flavor or body of your beer. I would not use any more than 20% of your grain bill and would consider starting around 10% – 15% the first time to get an idea of its impact.

Hops

For the cream ale, I recommend using a hop that adds a nice clean bitterness. This can be done with a noble hop like Tettnang, Saaz, Hallertau, or a noble hop substitute like Liberty, or Mt. Hood. I would caution against pungent hops like Centennial or Columbus. You’ll want the bitterness to be right around 15-20 IBUs. The cream ale only has a low to medium-low bitterness, so you don’t want to go overboard. I would add between 12 and 15 IBUs at the 60-minute mark and an ounce of the same hop with 5 minutes left in the boil.

Yeast

For the cream ale, you want a strain that has a clean, crisp finish. You don’t want too much residual sweetness or fruity esters, but some are acceptable. If you want to cheat a little bit, you can use a high-pressure lager yeast. This will give you a lager-like beer with limited ester production at an ale fermentation temperature. If you are not able to do pressure fermentation, the following yeast strains are excellent choices.

  • American Ale – 1056 (Wyeast)
    • This yeast has a very clean, crisp flavor profile with low fruitiness and mild ester production. It is a good choice for malt-dominant beers.
  • California Ale Yeast – WLP001
    • This yeast strain adds a nice clean flavor to the beer and can be used with many different styles of beer.

Water

Last but not least, the water. For all beers we brew, we use a reverse osmosis filtration system and build up our water profile from scratch. Our water profile is below.

  • Calcium: 50 ppm
  • Sodium: 5 ppm
  • Sulfates: 75 ppm
  • Chloride: 60 ppm

Recipe

The following is a 5-gallon version of a cream ale. The numbers for this beer are listed below.

  • Original Gravity: 1.049
  • Final Gravity: 1.006 – 1.012
  • Alcohol by Volume: 5.3%
  • Bitterness: 17 IBU
  • Color (SRM): 3.0

Grain Bill

  • Pale Malt – 4 lbs (45.7%)
  • Pilsner Malt – 3 lbs (34.3%)
  • Flaked Corn – 1 lb (11.4%)

Hops/Miscellaneous

  • 1 ounce of Mittelfruh at 60 minutes (14.2 IBUs)
  • 1 ounce Mittelfruh at 5 minutes (2.8 IBUs)
  • 12 ounces of table sugar at 15 minutes

I add table sugar at the 15-minute mark to bump up the abv without adding anything to the color, flavor, or body of the beer.

Yeast

California Ale – WLP001

Mash

Have your strike water at the required volume and temperature for your system to have the mash drop to 152 degrees. For me, it is 2.5 gallons at 163 degrees. Mash for 60 minutes at this temperature and proceed to mash out. Sparge with 5.5 gallons of water. Pre-boil gravity should be around 1.042.

Boil

Boil the wort for 90 minutes and add the hops and sugar in as needed. At 10 minutes, I added yeast nutrients and at 5 minutes I added whirlfloc tablets as my clarifying agent. Once the boil is complete, whirlpool the wort for 10 minutes and then let it wind down for 10 minutes.

Fermentation

Knock the wort out in your heat exchanger so that the pitching temperature is 64 degrees and then measure the gravity/pitch the yeast. Initial gravity should be around 1.049. I let this free rise to 67 degrees as fermentation starts. Hold the temperature at 67 degrees for 5-7 days until the primary fermentation is complete, and then let the temperature free-rise up to 72 degrees to really finish off fermentation. Once your fermentation is fully complete, cold crash to 33 degrees for at least a day and then transfer to the brite tank to carbonate it to 2.6 vols. After 3 days in the brite tank, keg it, and enjoy!

If you decide to try this recipe, or another cream ale recipe, feel free to send us a comment and let us know how it went! And if you want to see more recipes like this, sign up for our newsletter below to be notified when a new post is released. Cheers!

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1 Comment

  1. Hi thebeerjunkies.com owner, Nice post!

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