In Michael Weiner’s The Taster’s Guide to Beer (1977), he included a six-page narrative on malting, brewing, fermentation and packaging at Genesee Brewery in Rochester, New York.
The text is not in his voice and presumably was supplied by the brewery, entitled “The Production of Genesee Beer (1.8 Million Barrels per Year)”.
It deals in general with matters common to ale or lager production, but the fermentation section notes that Genesee Cream Ale is top-fermented, and produced in a separate building, the Cataract Brewery. A separate location was used, the report said, to preclude the yeast mixing with bottom yeast used for Genesee Beer (a lager).
The top fermentation “is … for approximately ten days at 50 F”. In contrast, lager fermentation “is continued for approximately ten days at 45 F”. There is no reference to blending ale and lager, a technique (among others) used by some brewers to produce a cream ale.
Carbonation was effected by krausening, where new beer is added to aged beer to cause it to re-work, 20% of the total volume. The account states all finished Genesee beer, regardless of package, had “12 pounds of CO2 pressure” or (its words again) “2.6 volume within the beer”.
It is not said if the Cream Ale was krausened but I would think it probably was, with ale krausen.* If the company couldn’t quite hit the pressure target it adjusted after filtration with “some small amounts of natural CO2 gas”.
12 Horse Ale is not mentioned by Weiner, I believe it was out of production in that period.
It seems Cream Ale is produced today the same way, a local news story in 2019 refers to use of top-fermentation but at cold, lager-like temperatures.
Therein we see the secret of Cream Ale, apart its pale colour, restrained hopping, and fizzy character (as most cream ales have). The range for lager fermentation is generally 45 – 55 F while ale goes (generally again) between 68 and 72 F. So Genny Cream is really fermented at lager temperature with an ale yeast that adapted to that environment.
It is the obverse of California steam beer fermentation, where a lager yeast ferments in a range closer to that of ale production.
(Source of image: Genesee website).
Genesee lager fermentation used 45 F, the low end for lagers. So not a huge difference between the two, but those degrees and the difference of yeast strain would impart some difference of character.
To my mind Cream Ale has always been a quasi-American lager. Genesee Beer, according to the 1977 account, used as adjunct, “powder-fine and oil-free corn grits”, the proportion not specified. Genesee Beer only is mentioned in that section, not the Cream Ale, but I’d think the Cream Ale used the same adjunct.
The rationale advanced for the corn is “starch to increase its ratio over proteins”, and this made the beer “lighter in colour, smoother in taste, and more pleasing to the palate”.
When the book was written Genesee, almost uniquely in the American business, did its own malting, at Sodus Point on a bay of Lake Ontario. This continued into the mid-1980s.
The building was built in 1880 by a Col. Parsons and still stands. Its arc is neatly described in this account by local historian Rosa Fox, reproduced on a Sodus Point historical website. Atmospheric photos complete the picture.
(From where I sit I can actually see quite far down that shore of the lake, although not so far as Sodus Point).
Genesee Brewery’s Louis Wehle did not arrange for Genesee to malt its own barley when brewing re-commenced in 1933. This took place later, in 1938. Jess Kidden’s page on American brewing maltings adds further background.
The switch to proprietary malting had a definite impact on the company’s brewing, not made explicit elsewhere to my knowledge. I’ll explain in the next post.
Note re image: first image above is used for educational and research purposes. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to lawful owner. All feedback welcomed.
*The krausening is confirmed in a description of Genesee Cream Ale in an earlier website of the brewery, early 2000s it appears. The krausen used almost certainly was, and presumably is, ale krausening. If as we saw Genesee was concerned not to blend inadvertently two production yeasts, it is unlikely it would use lager krausen to carbonate ale (although there are precedents for this in American brewing). I should add, the Genesee brewery, which now features a brewpub and museum, was extensively refitted a few years ago. Whether ale is still brewed in a separate facility is unknown to me, but the way Cream Ale is made likely is unchanged since the 1970s.