Although a little late this year, my traditional first session is a Cream Ale. It's a lead in to Spring; A light, easy drinking brew, that doesn't have the attendant care and feeding, (and time commitment), of a lager.
The AHA guidelines for Cream Ale are:
OG: 1.044 - 1.055
Alc.: 4.5 - 7%
SRM: 2 - 4
My numbers come out at:
1.037 - 1.046
3.5 - 4.4
11.2 - 12.2
2.7 - 2.9
(2 recipes, one all grain, one extract)
What's On Tap?
You can see from this profile that it is indeed light. Light in color and kick, and also hop application. It is my answer to a traditional Pilsner, brewed instead with ale yeast for reasonable pot to pint glass time. I do a cool primary, around 65 degrees, which is the low limit for most yeast, and an extended secondary to allow complete fermentation at that temp. I have also read about using a lager/ale combo one for low temp action and the other to shorten the fermentation time. This is followed by cold conditioning (40 degrees) for a few weeks, to round everything out and develop some smoothness.
Warm process temps lead to development of more aggressive character, which in a beer with a higher malt bill are not a problem, even advantageous. However here, the objective is a less assertive profile, one that is at the same time balanced, having all of the attributes we appreciate, without one out-shouting the other. Light malt and low AA hops make this work, like a Fuggle or a Hallertauer. Some use of adjuncts here is also necessary, to build body without a malt heaviness that would be inappropriate for the style. I believe in judicious use of adjuncts. To me there is nothing worse than an insipid, flavorless, cidery (Bud) rice based brew. I use a little corn because I prefer the character it lends to the blandness of rice.
This is one of my favorites, one that is part of my cycle every year. With fresh ingredients and good yeast, it really shines. This is not one to skimp on with regard to those things. It doesn't hide flaws well. It needs to be clean, and well executed, and when it's good, it's very, very good.