Nick Carr on July 10, 2015 0 Comments History of Blonde Ale I could make some joke comparing the short and rather uninspired history and oft considered overly simplified profile of the Blonde ale to the short-of-smarts blonde, subject of so many poor jokes. It could go something like this… how do you confuse a Blonde Ale? Put her between a pale Lager and a Kölsch. But… that would be rude. And just as the jokes have no ground in representing real blondes, Blonde Ales’ short history and others belittling judgements do her no justice. The history of the Blonde ale finds its ancestors in the centuries old traditions of both pale ale and Kölsch. Its birth was likely a lighter version of the pale ale, which was brewed through the ladder half of the 1800’s and called a dinner or sparkling ale. Modern Blonde ales are now brewed across the world; from Belgium (actually its own distinct style) to Brazil, from France to the US. Each having its own slight variation on the same theme, usually centered around ingredients native to that particular country. It’s important to note that blonde does not just denote the color of the beer. It does, but there’s more to a true Blonde then mere color. This is something lost on many brewers, pub owners, and consumers. Calling a light colored beer a blonde does not make it of the “Blonde Ale style“. Granted characteristics for the blonde ale beer style are broad, and maybe that’s part of the problem. A general name, which at its simplest use denotes color; and broad guidelines that crossover and nudge at least two other styles; don’t do much to help the Blonde garner much of a second look. Paradoxically, other Blondes are lost, not in a sea of pseudo-blondes, but couched in names that don’t denote their true self. Like a spy hiding out in a foreign land these Blondes go unnoticed. An example of this is the “summer ale” and “golden ale” moniker. Not all, mind you, but some, when examined closely will reveal the Blonde moving beneath the veil. So, be on the lookout. Arm yourself with the knowledge of her character for there will be many decoys; blondes that aren’t Blondes, Blondes that are Blondes, but cloaked and hooded, disguised as something else. But you don’t want to stalk her either. She’s fickle, and may remain unrecognizable to overly eager admires. Sit, enjoy the beer in front of you, whether suspected or not. Let your senses search her out, and she might sit with you awhile. Style Profile & Characteristics The guidelines for the Blonde Ale style are set by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Committee. The below details are a summary of what you should expect from drinking a blonde ale. Quick Characteristics Color Range: 3 – 6 SRM Original Gravity: 1.038 – 1.054 OG Final Gravity: 1.008 – 1.013 FG IBU Range: 15 – 28 ABV Range: 3.8 – 5.5% Appearance: Ranges from pale yellow to rich gold. Superb clarity. Medium snow-white head. Aroma: Low-to-Moderate Sweet Malts, Hops & Fruity Esters. Fruitiness is Acceptable. No Diacetyl. Flavor: Sweet maltiness with low caramel notes possible. Light to moderate hoppy bitterness. Low to moderate fruit esters. Finish is dry & sweet. Mouthfeel: Smooth with medium-light to medium body. Medium carbonation. No astringency. Finish is slightly dry. Food Pairings: Roasted Chicken, Fried Shrimp, Chicken Caesar Salad, Spaghetti, Monterrey Jack Cheese, Sugar Cookies The BJCP classifies the Blonde Ale beer style under category number 18, “Pale American Ale.” The only other style in this category is the American Pale Ale (18B). Appearance: A Blonde ale can be anywhere from pale yellow to a rich gold with good clarity, sometimes verging on brilliant. A medium snow white head caps the top, which should have good retention characteristics. Aroma: Aromas of sweet malt, hops, and fruity esters are low to moderate across the board. The fruitiness is not required but acceptable. Hop aromas can be of just about any variety. No Diacetyl. Mouthfeel: Mouthfeel is of medium-light to medium body, pushed by medium carbonation. Should be smooth with no astringency or severe bitterness. Taste: Malt flavors are sweet, but can have some added character of light bread, toast, wheat, biscuit, even rye. Caramel is generally not part of the profile but can find a place at very low levels. Low to moderate fruit esters are common in most examples, but not required. Hop flavor can be from any variety; remains light to moderate and should never be harsh. Balance is on the malty side, with low to medium bitterness leveling the sweet a bit. Finishes slightly dry to slightly sweet. No Diacetyl. *Reference: The 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines Award-Winning Examples of the Style I have included the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) and World Beer Cup “Blonde or Golden ales” and “English Summer Ale” categories here. It is the same style. 5 Rabbit Golden Ale from 5 Rabbit Cerveceria (Bedford Park, IL) GABF Winner, Golden or Blonde Ale, Silver, 2014. Available year round. Gold from Heavy Seas Beer (Baltimore, MD) GABF Winner, Golden or Blonde Ale, Bronze, 2014. Available year round. True Blonde Ale from Ska Brewing Company (Durango, CO) GABF Winner, English Summer Ale, Gold, 2014. Available year around. 208 Ale from Grand Teton Brewing Company (Victor, ID) GABF Winner, English Summer Ale, Silver, 2014. Available only in Idaho, year around. Kiwanda Cream Ale from Pelican Brewery (Pacific City, OR) World Beer Cup Winner, Golden or Blonde Ale, Gold, 2014. Available year around. Alibi Blonde from Circle Brewing Company (Austin, TX) World Beer Cup Winner, Golden or Blonde Ale, Silver, 2014. Available year around. Steelhead Extra Pale Ale from Mad River Brewing Company (Blue Lake, CA) World Beer Cup Winner, Golden or Blonde Ale, Bronze, 2014. Available year around. Mother Lode Golden from Laurelwood Brewery (Portland, OR) World Beer Cup Winner, English Summer Ale, Silver, 2014. Available year around. Wild Swan fromThornbridge Brewery (Bakewell, United Kingdom) World Beer Cup Winner, English Summer Ale, Bronze, 2014. Availability may be limited in the U.S. *Note: I did not include beers that no longer appear to be available. Tips for Brewing Your Own Blonde Ale Recipe Ah, the Blonde. So misunderstood and underappreciated. Her creation seems an afterthought many times. A last minute fermentation, an attempt to appease those patrons new to the craftbeer scene and still seeking some reminiscent, but “craftier” form of the Light Beer Brigade. ‘Tis a pity she is thought so little of, for if done with love and thought she can truly open new doors to the laymen and hold her own, even stand out and giggle, in any craft pub. If you want to take a swing at being a hero, and doing this fine lady some justice here’s a few brewing tips. Are You Ready to Brew a Blonde Ale? The Grain Bill: If ever there was a time to pay attention to the quality of your base malt this is it. The base malt can take a couple different forms. You can either decide on what country you’d like to use ingredients from and basically build a Blonde indigenous to it, or do a mishmash of different ingredients from different countries and build a Blonde that has many passports. Both make good Blondes. If you want to make and American Blonde use domestic 2-row or domestic pale as you’re base. Looking for a more European Blonde go with European pilsner malt. Really it is up to you how you want to put the girl together. The Pilsner malts will create a greater depth of malt character. The main thing to remember, no matter the type of malt you choose is the quality. I’ll say that one more time: Take the necessary time to find the highest quality malt you can. This will mean visiting your local homebrew shop or brew pub and sampling some malts. Smell them, taste them, brew a tea with them if you can. Find the qualities you want to put into your beer. Extract Brewing: This goes for extract brewers as well. Quality is key (this is the last time I promise). Talk to your homebrew supplier and other brewer’s. Find out what they’ve had success with, be it specific extracts or trusted ingredient kits. At the very least this gives you a starting point. Specialty grains should be kept to a minimum here. You could add: a little light crystal (emphasis on light, 10–15L); some flaked wheat to help head retention; and small portions of Vienna, biscuit, or Munich could be added for slight biscuit/toasty flavors. Whatever you choose to use keep it under 15% of the total grain bill. Water: Because pale beers don’t garner any of the acidity provided by dark malts you also need to pay attention to the water you use. Unwanted characteristics of alkaline water become overly prominent in these lighter beers and the more hops you add the worse it becomes. Buy soft water to brew with or treat your hard water with gypsum or calcium chloride. There are online homebrew water treatment calculators to help you get the proportions right for your specific water. The Mash: If you want a lighter body to your beer go with a single infusion mash at 148°F for 60 to 90 minutes. This maximizes fermentability, ensuring a slightly dryer lighter bodied beer. If, on the other hand, you want a slightly rounder, fuller body, use a single infusion mash at 152°F for 60 minutes. The slightly higher temperature leaves more long-chain sugars unfermented creating more body and perception of malt. Hops: Hop selection is wide open in this style. If you want an American Blonde stick to American varieties, but really just about any hop will work. You do want to remember that most blondes are pretty well balanced, with the IBU to original gravity ratio being in the range of 0.3 to 0.6 (figured by multiplying your original gravity by 1000 then dividing you IBU’s by this number). Because of this balance, and the need to stay away from harsher bitterness/flavor, I would recommend sticking with low alpha varieties. I would also recommend using no more than two hop varieties per recipe, and sometimes one is all you need. When and where you add the hops is up to you. It can range from a single bittering hop addition at 60 minutes and an aroma addition just before flame out, to several hop additions throughout the boil. You can even dry-hop for added aroma. Check some recipes, experiment, learn, refine. Really the only wrong you can do is if you go too high on the hops ending with a pale ale, instead of the blonde you were aiming for. Yeast: Use a clean, moderate to highly attenuating yeast strain. Some fruity esters can be welcome in a blonde, but it shouldn’t be excessive. Yeast of moderate attenuation will give more fruity esters then a higher attenuating strain. Wyeast 1056 (American Ale) or White Labs WLP002 would both do. For dry yeasts, Safale US-05 or Danstar Nottingham would both work. Really though these are just a few that come to mind, the choices are numerous. You can even use a lager yeast if you have a mind to. Whatever yeast you choice, ferment at the lower end of its temperature range, which tends to bring out the clean, light malt character looked for in Blondes. Hold the temperature steady throughout the fermentation to avoid off flavors that may be created due to an unstable environment. After primary fermentation is complete, rack to a secondary and allow to clear, then bottle or keg. After carbonation is complete an option (depending on your patience) is to cold store (lager) it for a few weeks at 35°F to 40°F, but this is not absolutely necessary. Cheers!