While it is said that gentlemen prefer blondes, some homebrewers do as well. It’s also a very popular style with beer drinkers, with most bars feeling they have to serve at least one blonde ale to please the average beer consumer.
American blonde ales have been a staple of the American Craft beer movement since the 1970s. However, the blonde ale can be traced back to the late 1800s when in Europe it would usually be a lighter version of a pale ale or even a Kölsch style beer.
It’s quite sad the blonde ale beer style seems to have been swept aside in recent years by the craft beer revolution which favors more specialized and bolder beer styles like the IPA or even the American pale ale.
On a recent visit to the Great American Beer Festival, I noticed fewer blonde beers than ever before. Many of the commercial beer names may have “blonde” in their title but it doesn’t necessarily make them a blonde ale.
With its relatively simple grain bill and less complex hop profile, an American-style blonde ale is one of the easiest beers to brew at home and can also be one of the most enjoyable straightforward, and sessionable beers to drink.
A blonde ale is an extremely quaffable beer that is sometimes called a “lawnmower beer” as it’s the ideal go-to beer you can enjoy after finishing the daily chores, like cutting your lawn.
Let’s reconsider the blonde ale style and look at how you can brew your own at home for your next summer of mowing lawns and hosting great outdoor grill sessions.
The Style Profile for a Classic American Blonde Ale
Although blonde ales are brewed all over the world from Belgium to Brazil and even further afield, a US-style ale has its own distinctive characteristics which separate it from the more exotic styles often found in Belgian versions, or the maltier blonde beers found in the UK.
Often, any lighter beer, sometimes called summer ales in the UK, will be classified as a blonde or golden ale, but the blonde beer is about so much more than the color alone.
As the name suggests, a blonde beer will traditionally have a yellow hue, which may range from a very light straw-like yellow to, in some cases, a deep gold in color. It should be brilliantly clear with a low-to-medium white head and good head retention or lacing.
A blonde ale should feature a light-to-moderate sweet, malty aroma with maybe a hint of light bready or caramel notes to the overall impact. A low-to-moderate, slight fruitiness can also be found in the nose of this beer but is optional.
The hop aroma should be more subtle than other styles such as an American pale ale, with low-to-moderate hop aromas of floral, fruity, or spicy notes.
A soft, malty sweetness usually skews away from the caramel flavor, leaning more towards breadiness, toast, biscuit, or wheat detectable on the palate. Low-to-medium fruity esters may be present and can be a welcome addition.
Hoppy flavor should generally be low with just enough hop bitterness to offset a slight residual sweetness and keep it a balanced beer. With a lower alcohol level of 3.8% to 5.5% ABV, there should be little or no alcoholic warmth to the taste of the beer.
Easy to drink and balanced are the key factors to a blonde ale. With a medium-light to medium body, it should be a smooth beer that is neither too heavy nor too thin. With a medium carbonation level, the beer should exhibit a slightly dry or slightly sweet finish.
Being such a light beer, the American blonde pairs best with lighter foods, like chicken, salads, salmon, or bratwurst all being perfect accompaniments. Anything too heavy will overpower this lighter style of ale.
Cheeses such as Monterey Jack or some nutty cheeses will also go well with a blonde beer. For desserts again things that are lighter like a light apricot cake or lemon custard tart will work well with this kind of beer.
Brewing Tips for a Classic American Blonde Ale
Now we know what we are looking for, let’s take a look at a few tips on how to achieve this classic American beer style.
With a clean fermentation profile, you should always choose a quality malt or malt extract to allow the base malt flavors to shine through.
A domestic 2-row malt is recommended for most all-grain brewers but if you want a slightly richer malty background to the beer you could also use a North American pale ale malt for light bready notes.
Try to avoid British pale malts or European pilsner malts as these can add too much of a base malt character.
Extract brewers should stick to the lighter-colored malt extracts for this style of pale beer with a light malt character.
The majority of the character of a blonde ale should come from the base malt which makes up about 90% of the total grist.
Additional grains including specialty grain should be kept to a minimum, with light-colored crystal malts 10-15L being appropriate. Some brewers may also add flaked American wheat to aid with head retention.
A small portion, usually less than 10% of the total grain bed could include Vienna, biscuit, or Munich malt for some biscuit flavors or toasty flavors.
Hop selection can be pretty wide open, with milder hops like Williamette preferred for this style. Even though this is an American beer style the more pungent American hop varieties like Centennial, Simcoe, Columbus, or Cascade hops should be avoided as their flavor can overpower such a simple malt bill.
A bitterness-to-starting gravity (IBU: OG) should be in the range of 0.3 to 0.6 for this style of beer. Lower alpha acid hop varieties should be used for bittering at the 60 minutes stage. Aroma additions or flavor hops can be added later but should be no more than 2 varieties.
Dry hopping can be utilized to add more aroma to the beer if so desired. Be careful, however, as this can affect how easy to drink the beer is and may also cause some haze in what should traditionally be a crystal clear approachable beer.
A clean fermenting American yeast produces some fruity esters, but not too many should be used. Wyeast #1056 American Ale, White Labs American ale yeast (WLPOO2), Safale US-05, or Danstar Nottingham would be suitable choices.
Make sure you oxygenate the wort thoroughly before pitching an appropriate amount of healthy yeast for the batch of beer.
Fermentation should be at the lower end of the temperature range, around 67ºF(19ºC), while holding the temperature consistent throughout the fermentation process in order to bring out the clean light malt character expected for an American blonde ale.
American Blonde Ale Recipe (ALL GRAIN)
|YIELD||5 GALLONS (19L)|
- 10lb (4.53kg) North American 2-row malt (2ºL)
- 0.50lb (227g) Crystal Malt (15ºL)
- 0.82 oz (23g) of Williamette hops (5% alpha acids) or substitute with Glacier, US Fuggle, US Tettnang, or Styrian Golding Hops
- Wyeast 1056 (American Ale), White Labs WLP001 California Ale, or Fermentis Safale US-05 yeast
- Mill the grain if needed, or crack coarsely and dough into a mash using around 1.5 quarts of water for every pound of grain, you want to achieve a liquor-to-grist ratio by weight of about 3:1 using water which has been heated to 152ºF (67ºC). Hold the mash at 152ºF (67ºC) until the enzymatic conversion is finished, about 30 to 60 minutes. using near-boiling water. Infuse the mash while stirring or using a recirculating mash system and raise the temperature to a mash out of 168ºF (76ºC).
- Slowly sparse with water at 170ºF (77ºC) collecting about 6.5 gallons of wort in the boil kettle with an OG of 1.038.
- Bring the wort to a boil and the total boil time is 90 minutes. At the 60 minutes remaining stage add the bittering hops, then add the Irish moss or any kettle finings you may be using with 15 minutes remaining of the boil.
- Chill the wort to 67ºF (19ºC) and aerate vigorously before pitching the yeast. The correct pitch rate is 9g of rehydrated dry yeast. two packets of liquid yeast or one packet of liquid yeast in a 1.4 quart (1.3L) starter.
- Ferment for 7 days at 67ºF (19ºC) while keeping the temperature as steady as possible. Fluctuations in the temperature can result in the yeast flocculating too early or producing esters and solvent beer.
- When fermentation is complete, allow the lees to settle and leave the beer to mature for another two days without any pressure.
- Rack to a keg and force carbonate, or rack off to a bottling bucket and add priming sugar before bottling. You should be targeting a carbonation level of 2.5 volumes.
American Blonde Ale Recipe (Partial Extract Version)
|YIELD||5 GALLONS (19L)|
Use the same ingredients as the All-grain recipe but substitute the 10lb (4.53kg) of 2-row malt in the above recipe with:
- 6.3 lb (2.85kg) North American light liquid malt extract (2ºL)
- 5.1 lbs fresh, lightly dried malt extract
- Mill or coarsely crack the specialty malt, crystal malt from the above all-grain recipe, and place loosely in a grain bag. Try not to pack the bag too tightly, using more bags if needed. Steep the bag in about 0.5 gallons (2L) of water at approx 170ºF (77ºC) for about 30 minutes. After 30 mins, lift the grain bag carefully out of the steeping liquid and rinse with warm water. Allow the bag or bags to drip into the kettle as you add the malt extract. Avoid squeezing the bags as they may split.
- Add enough water to the steeping liquid and malt extract in the kettle to make a pre-boil volume of 5.9 gallons (22.3L) with an OG of 1.042. Stir thoroughly to dissolve the extract before bringing it to a boil.
- Once the wort comes to a boil, add the bittering hops and allow the wort to boil for a further 60 minutes. Add any Irish moss or kettle finings you may be using 15 minutes before flame out.
- Follow the all-grain recipe above from step 4.