I Know What You Brewed Last Summer (Cream Ale)

BrewedLastSummerI don’t know what it is…maybe it’s just that they are the perfect beer for the summer.  Perhaps it’s the fact that it when brewing one it requires a lot of restraint, or may it’s just because they’re real cheap to make…I love making (and drinking) cream ales.
At their core, cream ales are an American beer.  They were at one point an answer to European lagers.  They are top-fermented beers (unlike a bottom fermented lagers) that have a subtle bitter & malt profiles.

If you’re interested in converting some BMC* drinking friends of yours have them try a cream ale.  In the craft beer world they’re called “lawnmower” beers because you can drink them all day on a hot day.  As a matter of fact, I’m going to declare they are first session-styled American ale.  Ok, that’s a bold statement, but I have to cause a stir in the often neglected style.

I like making cream ales for a few reasons:

  • They are cheap to make.  This beer ran me about  $16.  I did happen to run into some cheap grain and but my hops in bulk, but neither of these are in any significant quanity.
  • They require a lot of restraint.  A lot of time homebrewers want to throw the kitchen sink at a beer.  Look at some grain bills and hop schedules you see in double IPA recipes online and you’ll see what I’m talking about.  Because everything is so light in these beers you can’t throw too much at it.  If anything, it’s a delicate beer style.
  • They make great starters.  If you ever want make a big beer, why make a yeast a small starter when you can make a 5 gallon starter?  I often make a cream ale when making a “big” beer like a double IPA or barleywine.  Since there aren’t too many flavors to overpower the big beer.  As a matter of fact, this beer as a starter for two beers.  I took some yeast from the cake of this beer and added to a second runnings of a parti-gyled barleywine [check out the video on parti-gyling here].  If you want to see the video of how I did the parti-gyle.
  • They are the perfect summer beer (IMHO).  Imagine working outside all day.  You’re tired, your thirsty, and all you want is a simple, refreshing beer.  Why not crack one of these open?


  • Bitterness: 18 IBUs
  • Color: 3.4 SRM
  • OG: 1.046
  • FG: 1.009
  • ABV: 4.9%

Grain Bill (5 gallon)

  • 5# Maris Otter (60.6%)
  • 2# 12oz Flaked Corn (33.3%)
  • 8 oz table sugar (6.1%)

Mash @148 for 75 minutes

Boil Additions

  • .75 oz Willamette @ 60 (5.5% for 15.2 IBUs)
  • .25 oz Willamette @ 5 (5.5% for 2.5 IBUs)
  • .5 oz Cascade (7.2% for 0.0 IBUs)


  • Safale US-05


Notes on recipe:

Truth be told, this beer is very close to something I made last summer (hence the name).  I had the Maris Otter on hand so I used it.  You could use 2-Row (or combo of the two) and get a little more crispiness from the mouthfeel.  I wanted to add a little more aroma, so I tossed in a little cascade.  It does add some floral notes, but not much.  I was also inspired by Drew Beechum’s “Brewing On The One’s” talk at NHC 2012.  Drew mentions that a simple beer can make a great beer.

Tasting notes:

Appearance: Pale straw color

Aroma: Subtle floral hints, but the aroma of the yeast is up front as well.  Hints of sweetness as well.  It is somewhat complex.

Taste: Low bitterness and maltiness. The “crisp” comes more from the 1/3 of the grain bill that’s flaked corn.  The corn obviously make the corny flavor which is certainly present.

Mouthfeel: Light and crisp.  It’s nearing the “thirst-quenching” level.  If it attenuated more, it would have certainly made it there.

Overall Impression: As I’ve stated already, this beer is a great addition to a summer wheelhouse.  It will satisfy you on a hot summer day and your *BMC friends at a BBQ.


*BMC = Bud, Millers, Coors

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