About seven or eight years ago, the cream ale came back. Once considered a hugely popular, locally specialized beer style (Genesee of Rochester, N.Y., or Little Kings of Cincinnati comes to mind), it combines ale and lager to produce something light and crisp, yet unorthodox and complex.

Cream ales are brewed like any other beer, using pilsner malt or some other lighter malt varietal, but could incorporate non-traditional un-malted grains, or adjuncts, like corn or rice. Cream ales won't have big hops; instead, you're looking for a combination of dryness, breadiness, and sweetness (mostly on scent), boosted by tons of carbonation. Ale yeast is typically used, but lager yeast may come in late to help round out the beer and smooth out sharpness. And the beer may be conditioned like a lager (cold, not at room temperature) to make it super clean. Oh, also, there is no actual cream in this beer. Ever.

All this is to say a cream ale is a lager-ish ale, the perfect beer for hot days and lazing around. For the brewer it's a hard beer to get right—the tweaks and fermentation options invite off flavors, and the lack of big hop power means it's hard to cover up mistakes. For you, drinker, a good cream ale should be the prototypical beer: sweet and botanical on the nose, crisp, bready, and refreshing in the mouth, but not "watery" or bitter. After one sip, you should know that you want another.

There are two ubiquitous Houston cream ales: 8th Wonder's Dome Faux'm and Eureka Heights's Buckle Bunny. Soon enough I'll tackle the former, today it's the latter, arguably the Heights brewery's core-iest core beer. It won gold at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival for American-style cream ale (impressive considering the number of cream ales out there over the past few years), and it's the kind of beer anyone can get into. 

Buckle Bunny is brewed with 2-row and carafoam malt (which is close to a pilsner malt and helps with strengthening the beer's body), plus flaked maize. Hops are Magnum and Willamette; the former is a clean bittering hop, while the latter is more floral, helping boost the beer's scent. Thus, Buckle Bunny is attempting to be pretty on target with the traditional definition of a cream ale. Coming in at 4.5 percent ABV with low hop strength, it's designed to be consumed more than once per afternoon. 

That's what I like about Buckle Bunny—I can enjoy two or three of them over a long afternoon and never think twice about what's going on in the beer. It's pleasant, what a beer should be, down to its bones. Maybe it can be a little more nuanced (for instance, I don't get much more on the nose than the sweetness of the corn and some bready maltiness), but if I wanted a beer to get me through, say, a day at the yard (front or baseball), I'll choose this.

Rating: 7.7/10


Explanation of ratings: 9.5-10: as good as the best beer in America; 9-9.4: the best beer in Houston; 8-8.9: among the better beers in Houston; 7-7.9: really good beer; 6-6.9: try this beer at least once; 5-5.9: if you’re stuck, this won’t hurt; 3-4.9: among the lowest-quality beers in Houston; 0-2.9: as bad as the worst beer in America.

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