The Rediscovered Beer Style of the (Indiana) Cream Ale
So many styles of beer are prominent in Indiana. One that remains quite popular is the Cream Ale, one of three beer styles recognized as an American contribution to brewing. The success of Sun King’s Sunlight Cream Ale no doubt was an impetus that led to other breweries making the style. While readily available here in Indiana, the Cream Ale is not as prevalent in other states. I took friends from other parts of the country recently to Metazoa Brewing and they both tried the Nap in the Hammock Cream Ale and commented that the cream ale style was new to them. Neither of them were craft beer novices, so I did research and found Cream Ales are not as widely distributed nationwide as other styles. They are most popular in the upper Midwest and the Northeast. The style is prevalent here, and I hope the following discussion of Cream Ales is both interesting and thirst inducing–even in this cold weather.
The Cream Ale is an American creation with a rich history. I had once read that it has roots in the 1700’s, but my research found the style to not be quite that old. After the Civil War, the influx of German immigrants and other Europeans introduced lagers to the American public who had largely been ale drinkers up to that point. Very much an American answer to Kolsch, the Cream Ale was a light ale with a minor malt and hop presence, often containing corn and rice. Like the ones being produced today, there was quite a variety in recipes, and we can only guess on what it tasted like but they were most likely higher in ABV than the lagers. Noted for their crisp and clean flavor, the style saw popularity for many years. Then, like many things, prohibition signaled its death knell and for a time, the style became nearly defunct.
In 1960, Genesee Brewery introduced their Cream Ale and it quickly became a northeast favorite for this Rochester-based brewery. In 1997, New Glarus introduced Spotted Cow and it quickly became a Wisconsin favorite. Several others were available, but it was the first wave of craft breweries in 2009 that began to seriously tinker with the style.
Indiana’s brewing history is interesting and a subject for another article, but as it was Germans who largely comprised the brewers in Indiana before prohibition, I found no mention in any book of Cream Ales having a historical base in Indiana. So I am focusing my discussion of Hoosier Cream Ales solely on those on the market today. I am not going to mention every Cream Ale made in the state, but I feel the following five are a good cross-section of this popular Indiana-made style.
The five Cream Ales I will focus on each have excellent attributes, and there is something special about each of them. Two of them are available only on draft, and the other three you can find in cans at many liquor stores. I was able to drink four of them at their respective brewery, and found a lot of similarities as well as differences among them. These beers are good sellers for these breweries, and I delved into them to understand why.
Redemption Alewerks’s Four Fathers Cream Ale was not the first cream ale I tried, but one of the first that I instantly liked. It is flavorful and at 20 IBU’s, has just a hint of hops. They tout it as a “genuine pre-prohibition American Cream Ale featuring six row barley, pilsner malt, flake maize, and a hybrid ale/lager yeast.” The beer is tasty yet light, with good flavor and a superb crisp finish.
Sun King’s Sunlight Cream Ale is refreshing with a minor hop flavor on the end. It has light body with seemingly no malt presence in the taste at all. It is smooth and easy to drink. Sun King pioneered this style of beer here during the first wave of the current craft beer movement and has seen huge success with this beer.
Two Deep Brewing’s Knight Stick is a subtly sweet Cream Ale with a crisp finish. It also has a hint of citrus that comes from the hops. The light flavor makes this beer very refreshing. Andy from 2 Deep says Indiana is a blue-collar state, and the Cream Ale is a very approachable beer. The name of this beer is both a tribute to Bobby Knight, and an inside joke that involved a real IMPD night stick which serves as this beers tap handle at the brewery.
Metazoa Brewing’s A Nap in the Hammock might be the Cream Ale with the most prominent hop presence, and it layers over good malt flavor. It is a slightly bigger beer that the other Cream Ales, and it packs flavor with a crisp finish. I enjoy the way the foam laces the glass on this tasty, and delicious beer.
My last Cream Ale is Bloomington Brewing Company’s Kirkwood Cream Ale. It contains flaked maize which adds body, and a slightly sweet flavor. A touch of Amber malt add balance as well as color. Liberty hops create a crisp finish. More than the other four, the Kirkwood has a slight cream flavor that is rich and tasty. I enjoyed the Kirkwood for its complexity, and the flavor is great.
All five of these Cream Ales are great examples of this rediscovered beer style. Cream Ales have a rich legacy, and Indiana brewers are doing an excellent job with them. I want to mention that there are MANY other excellent Indiana made Cream Ales as well, and if you have not explored this style, I encourage you to try a few of them and see for yourself the ‘lighter side’ of craft brewing.