A cream ale is a type of beer that is a tad unique in the brewing world. It’s a beer that tries to have it both ways, by having techniques and characteristics similar to both lagers AND ales.
How they get this way is a bit up for debate, with some people saying that it’s fermented with top-fermenting yeast which is similar to that of traditional ales, but then it is brought to age at cooler temperatures for conditioning, like lagers. Sometimes lagering yeast is added at this point, other times, lager beer is mixed in.
The result is a beer with similarities to American Standard Lagers, but with a mouthfeel notably different. Some would say taste differs as well, but the use of corn by same makes any variation in taste only slight when compared against their lager cousins. If you look at the judging criteria for both Cream Ales and Standard American Lagers, you’ll seem them quite similar, with the only difference being that a Cream Ale can be a little hoppier and thus a bit more bitter.
Being similar to American Lagers, Cream Ales are meant to be enjoyed the same way. That is to say, it’s a summer beer, chilled quite well and served as a refreshment against the heat. It also pares up nicely against lighter meals.