Cream ales confuse many beer drinkers

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If there’s a beer style in need of rebranding, cream ale might be it.

Long established and a common presence on craft brewery boards, cream ales often baffle new beer drinkers who either shun the style or think they’re ordering something with dairy content.

“People ask if it is made with cream, or after tasting it comment that it is not very creamy. It is a somewhat misleading style name,” said Gavin Anderson of Anderson Craft Ales in London.

A cream ale is, in fact, a lighter beer that pairs with summer fare such as grilled chicken or fish.

“Cream Ale are probably one of the first truly North American style of beer,” said Jon Downing of the Niagara College Teaching Brewery.

“Back when lagers were becoming popular in the late 1800s, the ale brewers had to come up with a beer that suited the market and their process, hence commonly a lagered ale or ale that has been cold-aged (stored) for a while to reduce fruitiness and improve clarity.”

They’re not aged as long as lagers, which is attractive for brewers because that saves time.

“As a substitute for a lager, I really like cream ales and they are a great gateway beer for many craft breweries to lure mass-produced-beer drinkers into the fold,” Downing said, adding the name comes from the fact it drinks smooth and creamy and is a descriptor for the head on the beer.

That and the fact the name made for good marketing, Downing said.

In the big beer world, Genesee Cream Ale from Rochester, N.Y., or Sleeman Cream Ale from Guelph are among the best known.

In the craft world, Anderson Cream Ale from London is among the best.

It nabbed a silver medal at this year’s Canadian Brewing Awards, a remarkable achievement for a brewery that has not yet reached its first anniversary. The gold medal went to Mt. Begbie Brewing Co. of Revelstoke, B.C., and the bronze to Cameron’s of Oakville.

“I think the judges responded well to the fact that it is a true to style, traditionally made cream ale,” Gavin Anderson said. “We use some older hop varieties and a simple malt bill to make a very clean, easy-drinking beer.”

Anderson uses flaked corn to give its cream ale a lighter body. It is 4.8 per cent alcohol, with a low IBU, both of which makes it versatile with food pairings and a beer of choice when company’s coming and you’re not sure what beer style they like.

“We have always planned on having a variety of mainstay beers available at the taproom,” Anderson said. “However, while I was set on the IPA, amber, and brown, we continued to experiment a bit with the fourth beer option. We figured we would know which one we wanted to make permanent when we tasted it, and we found that with the cream ale.”

Who knew it would be such a star attraction?

— — —

Toronto beer writers Jordan St. John and Robin Leblanc, authors of the must-have Ontario Craft Beer Guide, recently blogged about their top 10 new craft breweries in the province. Anderson made the list. No 1 was Half Hours on Earth in Seaforth.

Wayne Newton is a freelance journalist in London.

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