I attended a small private college (university, not a remedial school) in the Central Leatherstocking region of central New York. For the most part, college students will drink whatever they can afford, and that includes beer such as Old Milwaukee, Matt’s, Rolling Rock, and Genesee Cream Ale. I’m not going to pass judgment on any of these, but let’s just leave it at they are cheap beers. “Genny” Cream Ale had a reputation for causing really harsh hangovers, and after drinking it once or maybe twice myself, I swore I’d never drink it again. But that’s just my experience.
I thought it would be interesting to introduce some traditionally American beer styles to the West Midlands, but one could make the argument that there are only two true traditional American styles: California Common Beer, and Cream Ale. Cream Ale has a lot of possibilities. It should be a dry, crisp, refreshing summer beer with not too much complexity going on. Sadly, though, this means most commercial varieties end up being ale versions of the worst American lagers. Originally it was a style that evolved in the US from German brewers who were trying to make something more along the lines of a Kölsch-style ale. Just because a beer is unassertive and easy drinking, it doesn’t mean it is bland and flavorless.
In conversations with friends who’d spent time in central New York, I was challenged to create a better cream ale, perhaps one with more flavor and less pain the following morning. So I made an experimental batch of my own Cream Ale and I gave it lots more hops in the hopes of introducing a gentle hop aroma and a refreshing but moderate bitter finish. I chose Cluster hops because I like them and they are the oldest US strain of hops.
Cream Ale requires the use of sugar to increase the ABV and contributing to the dryness, and it’s usually cheap corn sugar. I chose to use a mild-flavored jaggery, which is a partially refined brown sugar that comes in blocks at the Indian grocery store. The sugar gets fermented while leaving behind some of its maply, creamy flavor.
I included a good measure of wheat malt to give it a little more body and a nice head, and the majority of the malt is premium Pilsner. A little bit of Munich malt adds a little color and breadiness.
And I wasn’t expecting this, but the whole thing took on a slightly Belgian flavor, which adds even more dimension to it, while still being a refreshing summer beer.
For the label, I chose a psychedelic dandelion with a bee on it – two things I associate with summer. Dandelions are an important source of food for bees, which we know are struggling to survive in an ever-increasingly toxic environment. Dandelions are also good for making beer & wine, and their leaves are amongst my favorite in salads, full of potassium and other minerals. Without bees, most of our food supply would not get pollinated and that would be disastrous for the food chain and biological diversity.
Gwenny Cream Ale will be available in 330-mL bottles on 2 August at Cotteridge Wines in Birmingham.