Homebrew Review: Flavor of Findlay Cream Ale

Findlay, the Flag City, is where I live. It is a pleasant town. The people are friendly and down to earth. Plus, it is an extremely affordable place to live with the cost of living being 10% lower than the national average and the cost of housing a whopping 30% below the national average. While perfectly flat Northwest Ohio is not known for its scenery, Findlay is beautiful in its own way. The city is surrounded by agricultural land and old barns with acre after acre of corn and soy bean fields. Findlay looks a lot like what non-Ohioans picture when they think of Ohio.

  • Style: Cream Ale
  • Size: 5 gallons, kegged
  • ABV: 5.2%
  • IBUs: 18.1
  • Cost: $25.49

For this brew, I wanted to make a beer that captured the essence of my town. The beer had to be affordable. It had to be something that would appeal to the Findlay palate, seeing that Findlay is a relaxed and unpretentious place where tastes tend towards mainstream American lagers versus obscure craft beers. And it had to contain corn.

Rather than just brew a Miller Lite clone, I wanted something with more of an Ohio history. Thus, I decided to brew a cream ale.

What is cream ale?

First off, there is nothing remotely creamy tasting about “cream ale”. Cream ale is actually the opposite of beers such as stouts or nitro carbonated beers that have a certain thick and creamy character. The “cream” term is just old-fashioned marketing. A cream ale is a light and refreshing ale that drinks like a lager.

Ales are traditionally heavier and more flavorful beers compared to lagers. But when ale is brewed as a cream ale it takes on much of the light and drinkable “Champaign of beers” qualities of lager.

Cream ale has a long history in Ohio. According to Randy Mosher in his excellent book Beer for All Seasons: A Through-the-Year Guide to What to Drink and When to Drink It, American brewers created cream ale as a product to allow all-ale breweries to compete with the growing dominance of lager in the late 1800s.

Lager is more difficult to make than ale as it requires fermentation at a cooler temperature and for a longer period. Without the proper brewery configuration and equipment, brewing a lager is impossible in many places until the rise of refrigeration. With easier access to refrigeration, breweries shifted output to clean lagers that became massively popular and remain popular in the form of the most popular beers in the world such as: Budweiser, Miller, Coors, Heineken, Stella Artois, Corona, etc…

As all-ale breweries disappeared, lager breweries adopted the cream ale style in a limited geography ranging from Boston to Pennsylvania and as far west as Cincinnati. The “cream ale” designation drifted away from being an ale brewed to taste like a lager to merely a designation for a brewery’s slightly more alcoholic lager. Popular examples of this style are Genesee Cream Ale from Rochester, New York, and Little Kings from Cincinnati, Ohio.

The first cream ale that I had was in 2016 when I was living in Cincinnati. Hudepohl-Schoenling brought Little Kings Cream Ale back to the market after a 15-year absence. I did not get to try Little Kings prior to it going out of production, but was excited to try this reintroduced product as a fan of regional beers and historical styles.

Little Kings Cream Ale

The most unique aspect of Little Kings Cream Ale is its little green bottle. Apparently, in the 1950s the famous Cincinnati ribs restaurant the Montgomery Inn wanted small bottles that it could use for chasing shots of whisky because cream ale pairs well with whiskey. (Note to self: I need try this pairing). So Little King’s brewer, Schoenling, introduced 7-ounce bottles, which became extremely popular. Interestingly, Little Kings Cream Ale also came in 40-ounce bottles and a massive half gallon, 64-ounce, size. Little Kings did not mess around.

An absolute unit.

Little Kings Cream Ale is a drinkable and refreshing beer. Excitement or novelty is not what it is going for. Rather, it is a light amber beer with slightly malty taste and slight hops. This is a beer for chugging on a hot summer day. It had a taste like big brand American lagers such as Budweiser or Miller, but with perhaps more flavor. Not a bad beer, and I appreciated the regional connection.

Despite an inauspicious history defined by marketing gloss and attempts to make a cheap product to keep outdated breweries afloat, the cream ale is one of the few styles of beer to originate in America (along with the California Common). While America does not have the rich brewing history and styles of Belgium, Germany, and England, unique American styles are still worth celebrating even without a classy backstory.

Recipe Design

As opposed to making a slightly more alcoholic lager, my goal was to make a true ale that was smooth and drinkable.

To design the recipe, I used 2 row malt as the base grain for it neutral flavor and familiarity. I added corn in honor of Findlay and to provide a sweet smoothness to the beer, which is in keeping with the cream ale style. I also added some corn sugar. Corn sugar, in moderation, can thin out a beer by adding alcohol, but no additional flavor.

For the hops, I decided to go with cluster, which is a type of hop that I had never used before. Cluster is the oldest hop varietal grown in America and in the 1800s was the most grown hop by acreage. Some have suggested that it is a hybrid hops imported by the English or Dutch and indigenous American hops. But no one knows for sure.

Cluster is much less popular now, though, as it has a bad rap among home brewers for supposedly imparting some bad flavors. I suspect that bad impression is from using cluster in too great of quantity or using it for purposes beyond just bittering. Cluster’s neutral floral flavor and traditional use in American beers made it a fitting addition to this cream ale.

For the yeast, I used SafAle US-05, American Ale, as it makes a clean and crisp beer at room temperature.

How did it taste?

The Flavor of Findlay Cream Ale turned out excellent. It was smooth and light like a lager, but with a slight malty ale character. There was a hint of corn. It took a few days for the yeast to totally flocculate, but once cleared, the beer was a perfectly clear light amber. with good head retention. The cluster hops were detectable and surprisingly pleasant. After so much exposure to citrusy hops, it was a refreshing change to taste hops that had a neutral bitterness with a floral aroma. The cluster hops really contributed to the beer.

As for capturing the essence of the great Flag City? I think the Flavor of Findlay Cream Ale did this. I shared some with my neighbors and they enjoyed it. The cream ale style is perfect for a hot day in Northwest Ohio. It was affordable, had hints of corn, unpretentious, and drinkable. It is perfect for grilled hamburgers and hotdogs. While this is one of the least “crafty” beer that I have brewed it was a fulfilling exercise to design a beer for a location and this beer is so drinkable that it will not go to waste. I suspect that this brew will become part of my regular rotation.

Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 2 row malt – 8 lbs
  • Flaked corn – 1 lb
  • Corn sugar – 8 oz
  • Cluster hops – .75 oz
  • SafAle US-05 American Ale yeast – 1 pack
  • Whirlfloc – 1 tablet

Brewing notes: Heated three gallons of water to 164° F. Single infusion mash at 152° F for one hour. Sparged with five gallons of water at 169° F. Add hops at beginning of boil. Boil for one hour. Add Whirlfloc tablet with 5 minutes left in boil. Fermented at 68° F for 12 days when fermentation decreased dramatically. Cold crashed and forced carbonated. It took about five days for the yeast to drop out of suspension and fully clarify.

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