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Cream ale is an American beer which is characterized by having a mild flavor, a smooth texture, and a refreshing finish. Cream ales actually come in two varieties: beers which are served with nitrogen, which creates a distinctively creamy texture, and beers which are brewed to resemble the German beer known as a Kölsch. Kölsch is known for its pale golden color, mild flavor, and very creamy texture.
Brewers describe cream ale as a “hybrid beer,” because it blends aspects of production from both ales and lagers. Cream ales were developed in the late 1800s by brewers who wanted to combine the rapid fermentation process of ale with the taste and mouthfeel of lager, a beer which takes longer to ferment and mature. Cream ale is produced with top-fermenting yeast, like other ales, but then it is cellared at cool temperatures for conditioning, like lagers.
The result is a pale golden to straw yellow beer with a very mild flavor and a rich, creamy texture. Cream ale tends to be light on the hops, and the flavor may be further mellowed with the addition of corn during the fermenting process. The beer tends to hover around five percent alcohol by volume, and it is designed to be refreshing without being overly aggressive.
Cream ale was one of the original truly American beers, developed by brewers who turned European brewing techniques in entirely new directions. The success of cream ale encouraged brewers to develop other uniquely American beers, and now a plethora of such beers can be found on the market, in a wide range of styles and flavors. Cream ale itself is much more diverse than it used to be, thanks to advances in brewing techniques and changing tastes.
Cream ale is generally served at very cold temperatures, which inhibits the flavor. A particularly fine cream ale can be enjoyed at a cool temperature, which will allow the flavor of the beer to develop a bit more, but cream ale should not be served warm or tepid. Keeping in mind that this beer was developed as a refreshing beverage, cooler temperatures tend to be better in addition to being more historically accurate, as many cream ales don't have a lot of flavor to muffle with cold temperatures.
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