In the May/June issue of Imbibe, I investigate the rebirth of that misunderstood American original, the cream ale—a style that, contrary to its name, contains no dairy.
The style gained popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as ale breweries in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic region looked to compete with ascendant lager breweries. By fermenting ales at cooler temperatures, brewers created crisper, cleaner, less fruity beers that were more in line with pale lagers. The hybridized specialty soldiered on after Prohibition before largely falling out of favor by the 1970s and ’80s.
After decades of disinterest, cream ales are once again rising as American brewers have begun embracing the style. In Rhode Island, Narragansett Beer recently revived its iconic Cream Ale, and North Carolina’s Fullsteam uses local barley and grits in its El Toro cream ale. Oregon’s Pelican Brewery found a flagship in its floral Kiwanda Cream Ale, and New Glarus’ Spotted Cow is one of Wisconsin’s top-selling draft beers. For other brewers, the cream ale is a springboard to innovation. Wisconsin’s Furthermore mixes apple cider and cream ale to create Fallen Apple, while last year Florida’s Cigar City released El Murciélago, a double cream ale spiced with cumin and lime peel and aged in tequila barrels.