Note: in the current (2015) BJCP Style Guidelines, Blonde Ale is Style 18A in Category 18 Pale American Ale. The old 2008 Category 6 Light Hybrid has been removed. Category 18 contains modern American ales of average strength and light color that are moderately malty to moderately bitter.
The information below is still valid, but for those studying for the new BJCP exam, it may be incomplete. Use it as supplemental reading for the style and I will endeavor to update the styles as fast as I can.
A blonde ale is much like a light American lager with more flavor or a Kölsch in that it is a light, refreshing malt-focused ale with lots of drinkability. It lacks the assertive hoppiness and stronger flavors of an American pale ale and is usually the lightest beer in a brewpub’s stable of beers. It was most likely developed for the American light lager drinker who would ask for the lightest beer on the menu.
In England, the word blonde is seldom used. Instead, they are labeled as “summer ales” and represent the same idea as our “lawnmower” beers. These will be brewed with English malts so they may be more malty than their American cousins. Other brewers use nondescript names such as “Prince Bishops Ale”, or “Town Crier” so do your homework if you are looking for an English version of this beer.
These beers may also be brewed as lagers, but to separate it from the other light lagers, a warmer fermentation is used to allow a light fruitiness to shine through. If using an ale yeast, keep it on the middle half of the yeast’s acceptable range of temperatures to reduce the esters and keep the beer in style. Try to use as simple of a malt bill as possible to keep the flavors clean. Too many malts just muddle everything up and confuse judges. Keep any caramel malts very low so the beer finishes only slightly sweet.
Blonde Ale Description
- Aroma: These beers have a light to moderate malty sweetness in the aroma and low to moderate fruitiness is optional, but OK. They may show a low to medium hop aroma, which can come from just about any hop variety. No diacetyl should be evident.
- Appearance: They will be light yellow to deep golden in color,and clear to brilliant in clarity. They should have a low to medium bright white head with just OK to good head retention.
- Flavor: They may exhibit an initial soft malty sweetness. It’s up to the brewer, but he may use a small amount of character malts for malt complexity such as a bready, toasty, biscuity, or wheat character but keep these malts to between 5 – 10% of the total grain bill. Caramel flavors are usually absent in a blonde ale. Low to medium fruity esters are present in many examples of this style. The hop flavors should be light to moderate and may come from any variety. Just keep the hop notes subdued. You will notice a low to medium bitterness, but the balance is normally towards the malt. Blonne ales tend to finish medium-dry to somewhat sweet. No diacetyl flavors should be evident so a 90 minute boil may be necessary with some very light malts.
- Mouthfeel: The mouthfeel is medium-light to medium in body and should have medium to high carbonation. These beers are Smooth without any harsh bitterness or astringency.
- Overall Impression: This beer is all about drinkability, after all, it is primarily brewed for those beer drinkers who would normally drink a light American Lager.
- Comments: In addition to the more common American Blonde Ale, this category can also include modern English Summer Ales, American Kölsch-style beers, and less assertive American and English pale ales. So, if one of your beers falls a little on the low side of these styles, try entering them in this category, you may be plesantly surprised.
- History: Currently produced by many (American) microbreweries and brewpubs to offer an alternative to the light American lager (ie. Bud Light and Coors light). Regional variations on the blonde ale exist. For instance, many West Coast brewpub blond ales are more assertive, like pale ales, but in most other areas of the country, this beer is designed as the entry-level craft beer.
- Ingredients: Usually brewed with all barley malt, but can include up to 25% wheat malt and some sugar additions to lighten it up. Any hop variety can be used. For a clean beer, use an American ale strain such as WY1056 American Ale or WLP001 California Ale yeast. Or for a light fruity English character, use one of the English varieties.You may enjoy using a Kölsch yeast but be careful with the diacetyl. If you have fermentation control, you may use a lager yeast, and/or cold-condition to mellow out the flavors. Some versions may have honey, spices and/or fruit added, although if any of these ingredients are stronger than a background flavor they should be entered in specialty, spiced or fruit beer categories. Extract versions of the blonde ale should use the lightest malt extracts they can find and avoid kettle caramelization.
- Vital Statistics: OG: 1.038 – 1.054 FG: 1.008 – 1.013 IBUs: 15 – 28 SRM: 3 – 6 ABV: 3.8 – 5.5%.
- Commercial Examples: Pelican Kiwanda Cream Ale, Russian River Aud Blonde, Rogue Oregon Golden Ale, Widmer Blonde Ale, Fuller’s Summer Ale, Hollywood Blonde, Redhook Blonde
References: Information for this page was adapted from the 2008 BJCP Style Guidelines and Brewing Classic Styles, 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew, by Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer.