In his newest feature, DC Beer Senior Staff Writer and award-winning journalist Michael Stein compares and contrasts two–or more–beers of the same style. Or, two beers from the same brewery will be upheld to Stein’s analysis. And lastly, for the sake of the sheer joy beer can bring, two beers will be opened and sampled at the same time.

“WTF is cream ale?” You may be asking. Well for starters, it’s beer!

“But is it a lager or an ale?” You may ask. Yes! We can think of it in these terms. But let’s reductively just think of it as beer, a third option, before we get into the sensory characteristics of two local cream ales: Other Half Brewing Company’s Past & Present: American Cream Ale, and Liquid Intrusion Brewing Company’s (LIBCo) South of DC Cream Ale.

The Beer Judges Certificate Program guidelines states Cream Ale should be 4.2 and 5.6% alcohol by volume, whereas the Great American Beer Festival guidelines say it should be between 4.3 and 5.7% ABV. LIBCo’s South of DC Cream Ale and Past and Present: Cream Ale by Other Half are both 5% beers.

Taking a deep dive into history is not necessary to enjoy a cream ale, but a little historical background is helpful. In 1901, two brewing scientists, Drs. Max Henius and Robert Wahl, wrote and published the American Handy Book of the Brewing, Malting and Auxiliary Trades. The book notes that “more recently the American ale brewers are equipping their plants with refrigerating machines to brew a beer–brilliant or sparkling ale–that combines the properties of lager beer and ale, i.e., a sparkling, brilliant beer with an ale taste and aroma. Since these ales have been put on the market, top-fermented beers have gained some of the ground which they had lost in competition with lager beers.” Consider cream ale a brilliant or sparkling ale as it appears here.


Wahl and Henius make the case that cream ale could take market share from lager in 1901, smelling and tasting more like “ale” than the more neutral lager. But in 1960, a beer in upstate New York would come to dominate the hearts and minds of lager and ale drinkers alike.

The slogan of one of the most popular Cream Ales in history, Genesee Cream Ale, is “… a beer that’s smooth like a lager and crisp like an ale.” This is somewhat ironic given that crisp or “crispy” now has its own sloganeering often describing lager. At Columbia, Maryland’s Black Flag Brewing, “Crispy Boi” was a Vienna Lager. In Chicago, “Crispy Boy Pilsner” is a flagship of the Alarmist Brewing Company.

In Connecticut, another brewery issued a “crispy boy alert” for their canned cream ale. The 5.4% ABV beer was brewed with corn and rice. Friend to good beer everywhere, Em Sauter, owner/creator of Pints and Panels, even has a shirt and a pin for you that reads “crispy kid” if you wish to show off your favorite adjective. But back to the cream ales at hand.

LibCo South of DC Cream Ale

The first Black-owned brewery in Prince Georges County, LIBCo’s South of DC Cream Ale pours clearer than many craft breweries’ takes on the style. It has a great clarity, clear enough to read a 1901 brewing text through. Other Half’s pours cloudier. Not turbid and not murky, but with less clarity than the LIBCo take on the style.

After examining the cream ales, the aroma is clearly more prominent in the Other Half beer. While this version of Past & Present: American Cream Ale was not dry hopped, it’s impossible to ignore the aroma that leaps out of the can and expresses itself in your olfactories as you pour it into a glass. Other Half’s hops (US-grown Loral and Czech-grown Saaz) in their cream ale dominate the nose, though underneath that lupulin bouquet, the aroma is not entirely different from the LIBCo’s South of DC Cream Ale.

The LIBCo cream ale has a more prominent nose than the standard American light lager and its clarity is on par with that of a much cheaper beer. South of DC also has a greater sweetness in the smell compared to Other Half’s cream ale. There is also a bready-malt component in LIBCo’s cream ale, a bit honeyed, but also a bit savory; somewhere between a Lorna Doone and a Ritz Cracker with an inviting aroma of salty and sweet. While not a full fledged New Zealand Nectaron nose, the Other Half beer reminds one that the hops that are in it, Czech Saaz, are doing exactly as they’ve done for centuries: provide a robust aromatic depth. A hint of fresh-cut pineapple likely comes from the Yakima Valley-grown Loral hops, but there’s also a mandarin sweetness with a hint of matchstick twang that Czech Saaz hops famously bring to so many lagers.

LIBCo’s cream ale comes across as medium bodied at the first sip. A lingering sweetness cut with a slightly salty finish presents itself as the beer goes down. Very easy drinking with a nice, prickly carbonation, though a much fuller finish than something thinner like Michelob Ultra. This beer really toes the line between lightness and substance. It looks pale and very clear, as inoffensive and flavor-neutral as America’s top selling lagers (Bud, Miller, Coors, Modello), but it has a substance, too; the nose lets you know it has more malt character than those triple filtered beers. It is unclear if this beer has been filtered, fined, or centrifuged, but could a beer that’s been centrifuged still have this character? Possibly! 

In LIBCo’s South of DC Cream Ale there’s a bready character, balanced by a salty-water profile, and a little hug from hops to say “Hey! I’m here! I bittered this beer so it wouldn’t be too sweet!” The dryness is pleasant and reminds me why I so often gravitate towards corn lagers. It’s a lot like the corn lagers that macro brewers make, but with more malt character and more subtle bitterness that just isn’t there in those commercial examples in the “premium American lager” market. This beer could provide a great conversion beer for people who’ve only ever consumed light/lite beer. As one beer reviewer put it, I’d much rather have a sixer of this than one of the “macro giants” out there.

Other Half Past and Present Cream Ale

The aroma in Other Half’s American Cream Ale is a scent identifiable to those familiar with the lagers of Bluejacket that have used the Loral hop variety over the years, such as in For the Company and Love Cats. Mingling with the modern-hop aroma of Loral is an aromatic contribution form the Czech-grown Saaz, the landrace hop that’s been growing in Bohemia for centuries. A tad less clear than the LIBCo cream ale, Other Half’s version is certainly more hop forward. At first, it’s a tad more bitter, perhaps less lean, though it certainly meets the other cream ale in perceived dryness. Not too thin, not too thick, just dry enough to cut through the hoppy bitterness with a brisk finish that leaves you wanting more. But as you make your way through the 16 oz can, if you let the beer warm up, a sweetness presents itself. Am I experiencing a lupulin threshold shift? Are the once bitter aromatics giving way to a perceived sweetness? It certainly seems so! What was a bit like the medium bitterness of a well-steeped jasmine green tea has now become more rounded with notes of white tea, peach, melon, and a return to that pineapple I first smelled in the nose when the can left the fridge around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. More aromatic and more bitter, it’s interesting that both of these cream ales at 5% ABV can appeal to different drinkers in the craft beer segment.

Overall, both beers provide an enjoyable dryness that can be lacking in some blonde ales, or the sweeter, hazier, modern IPAs. And yet both beers also bring more to the table than a darker-looking lager like Yuengling, or a void-of-character-in-the-finish beer like Michelob Ultra.

I would recommend Other Half Cream Ale to your friend who drinks too much hazy IPA or double or triple IPA. I would recommend LIBCo cream ale to your friend who can’t seem to kick the Michelob Ultra habit.