The Oxford Companion to Beer definition of
Cream Ale, once a popular style in North America, can be summed up as a “bigger” incarnation of the standard American mass-market lager. In the days before Prohibition, cream ales were widely brewed in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, where they were often produced to compete with golden lagers. In this, the style bears a resemblance to German kölsch. See kölsch. Compared to modern American mass-market lagers, cream ales have somewhat more bitterness, sometimes more alcohol, and are often lightly fruity. They should be brilliantly clear and have no buttery diacetyl notes, but the “creamed-corn” aroma of dimethyl sulfide (DMS) is common. See dimethyl sulfide (dms). Adjuncts such as rice and corn are traditionally employed, though some craft brewers prefer to use all malt. Historical accounts describe brewers using lager yeasts; however, there are also reports of their having used ale and lager yeasts simultaneously for the primary fermentation, or ale yeast for the primary fermentation and lager yeast for conditioning. Others were blends of separately fermented lager and ale. It seems that brewers probably used whatever technique was expedient for each of them, creating beers that could face down popular lagers in the marketplace. Bitterness hops included Cluster and Brewer’s Gold or its progeny and aroma hops included US varieties such as Northern Brewer or German varieties. The cream ales that were particularly popular in the Midwest during the pre-Prohibition period are often described as having had notable hop aromatics and bitterness above 30 IBU. After Prohibition, cream ales used many different hop varieties, though by this time hop aroma was very low. In January of 1935 Krueger cream ale became the first American beer to be offered in a can. Current commercial examples include Genesee and Little Kings, and most contain about 10–22 IBU and alcohol of 4.2%–5.6% ABV and very lively carbonation. While the style has at times seemed as if it would fade from history, a slightly ironic sense of nostalgia seems to keep it afloat, and the occasional craft brewer will produce one as a “respectable lawnmower beer.” It should be noted that cream ales do not contain any dairy products or lactose and are different from UK term “cream ale,” which refers to the creaminess derived from nitrogenation and the resulting tight foam. See nitrogenated beer.