Adjectives from another time. How irritating. I mentioned this the other day somewhere folk were discussing steam beer. One theory of the meaning is it’s a reference to the vapor from opening the bottle. Another says something else. Me, I think it’s the trendy word of the year of some point in the latter half of the 1800s. Don’t believe me? Just as there were steam trains and steamships, there were steam publishers. In 1870 there was a steam printer in New Bedford, Massachusetts. A steam printer was progress. Steam for a while there just meant “technologically advanced” or “the latest thing” in the Gilded Age. So steam beer is just neato beer. At a point in time. In a place. And the name stuck. That’s my theory.
Cream is like that. Folk think it has a specific meaning. Static in time. The general theory is that cream ales started as top-fermented ales that receive an extended period of cold-conditioning or lagering. Another source closer to the ground tells me that cream ales are now just blends of basic pale ales and basic light lagers. Could be. But that up there is an ad from 1830. It’s from New York Evening Post from 13 August 1830, well before lager was a twinkle in an Empire State brewer’s eye. Mr. Swan of Roosevelt Street had some for sale. So other than the seemingly odd juxtaposition of street name and date – what does it mean? There are two obvious first choice. Cream is rich and it also rises to the top. Hmm.
Six years later, the first or perhaps just leading American brewing industrialist John Taylor was placing ads for his Albany Cream Ale. Here is an ad that was placed in The Ulster Republican of Poughkeepsie, New York from 25 May 1836. Three years later, Taylor is advertising his Imperial Cream Ale and add the tag line “No mistake as to its superior quality.” Here is an example from the Albany Evening Journal of 4 April 1839. Which is interesting. Not a call to strength. A call to finesse. Ten years later, in an article about a new sarsaparilla works, Taylor’s Cream Ale is mentioned in the 21 July 1849 edition of the Plattsburgh Republican as an example of something the new sarsaparilla maker exceeds in production. It’s become common parlance for quantity as well as quality. Half a decade after John passes away, his sons are still prominently advertising their Imperial Cream Ale, now fit “for family use” as you can see was stated in the Albany Argus of 20 January 1869.
These are just snippets but they do show something of either an arc of meaning or perhaps a versatility. A claim more than a descriptor. Superior stuff. Was it creamy? I have no idea. I hate records.