Note: In the most recent BJCP guidelines in 2021, a Blonde Ale is classified as Category 18A. 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. Pale American Ale
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.
Blonde Ales are some of the most approachable beers of the American craft beer movement.
For anybody who is new to craft beer and maybe not sure of some of the bigger and bolder styles like IPAs, Porters, or darker beers, they are a great starter beer.
A Blonde Ale is an easy-drinking beer, low in esters, with a balanced flavor and just enough hops to compliment the barely-there-but-still-noticeable malt character.
Usually, lower in alcohol than their nearest beer style the American Pale Ale, these thirst-quenching ales are simple classics, neither too hoppy nor too malty.
Most brewpubs and tap rooms will keep at least one Blonde Ale in their stable of beers to appease those American beer lovers who are more used to a pale lager, as popularized here in the states.
They are normally the lightest colored beers in the beer cooler or on draft in most establishments and they pair well with almost any food.
That doesn’t mean Blonde Ales are just for craft beer newbies, they remain a very popular style of beer with many of us more seasoned beer aficionados, and they also make the ideal summer beer.
In the UK, the word blonde is seldom used to describe this style of ale.
It is more often referred to as a Summer Ale, while here in the US they are often called an American Lawnmower beer as you can drink a few of these lower-strength beers without losing the whole of the summer day.
A Brief History of the Blonde Ale
Blonde Ales, like many of the classic beer styles we brew here in America, originated in Europe – in particular from the UK.
Prior to the latter half of the 18th century, most brewers only brewed darker-colored beers which ranged from a dark brown to almost jet black in color.
It wasn’t until the 1700s that Pale Ales started to emerge. Basically, anything which was lighter in color would be placed under the umbrella category of Pale Ales, including such classics as English Bitter and the India Pale Ale.
Originally they would be called Dinner Ales or Sparkling Ales due to their ability to pair well with food offerings and their medium to medium-high carbonation level, but as these lightest colored beers became more popular they would be named after their blonde color.
Blonde beers are now brewed all over the world with many countries such as Belgium producing their very own distinctive style, often copied here in the US.
German versions of a blonde beer would often become known as the Kölsch style of beer, which would later be given protected status and only be allowed to be a Kölsch if brewed within the nearby vicinity of Cologne.
In the US, the Blonde Ale is often seen as a lighter, lower alcohol version of the American Pale Ale, which was brewed to suit the palates of the average American beer drinker more traditionally used to pale adjunct lager styles of beer.
Today, however, modern brewers have experimented with the Blonde Ale beer style, adding everything from coffee or vanilla beans to various fruits and spices.
An American Blonde Ale, as a result, often strays into the Pale Ale category or other closeby styles such as a pilsner.
BJCP Style Guide Lines for a Blonde Ale
Similar to Pale Ales and the previously mentioned Kölsch, Blonde Ales are very light, crisp, and smooth beers to drink.
It’s the easygoing nature of this beer and its drinkability that has made it one of the most popular go-to beer styles in the world.
An American Blonde Ale tends to have more of a moderate hop flavor and aroma than its European counterparts, which will use British base malts rather than American malts for a richer malty backbone.
But by no means should an American Blonde Ale have too many aggressive flavors.
With an ABV which can range from 3.8 to 5.5 percent, a Blonde Ale should pour with a crystal clear yellow hue from a pretty pale straw to deep golden color.
The judging guidelines for the Great American Beer festival state Blonde Ales should have a low malt sweetness balanced with a low to medium bitterness and a medium to high carbonation level.
For those of you studying for the BJCP exams, here’s a brief summary of their latest style guidelines for a Blonde Ale Cat 18A.
A light, moderate, malty aroma which can be generally neutral or grainy, it may have possibly slight notes of light bread or caramel.
With moderate fruit esters across the board, a fruitiness is not required but acceptable and often a welcome addition.
A low to medium hop aroma can be that of just about any type of hop, but citrus and floral aromas with fruity and spicy notes are more common in American Blondes.
There should be no diacetyl present in this style of ale.
A Blonde Ale can be anywhere from a pale yellow, almost straw-like, to a rich gold color with good clarity, often verging on brilliant.
A medium snow-white head should offer good retention characteristics.
Malt flavors can be sweet but some may have added tastes of light bread, toast, flaked wheat, biscuit, or even a rye flavor.
Caramel flavors are not generally part of the taste profile, but sometimes can be found as a very subtle background flavor.
Low to medium fruity esters are optional but are welcome. Hop flavors can come from almost any variety of hops but should remain light to moderate and not be overly aggressive or have harsh bitterness.
Medium-low to medium bitterness, but the balance is normally towards the malt or even between malt and hops.
The delicate flavor balance finishes medium-dry to slightly malty; an impression of sweetness is often an expression of lower bitterness rather than actual residual sweetness.
A medium light to medium bodied beer, the finished beer should offer medium to high levels of carbonation.
The finished beer should be smooth with no astringency, harsher bitterness, or be too heavy.
The 2021 BJCP guidelines go on to describe a Blonde Ale as an American craft beer style produced as a faster-produced alternative to standard American lagers.
It was first believed to be produced in 1987 at Catamount, and often positioned as an entry-level house ale.
- 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 pleasantly 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 of the Blonde Ale exist. For instance, in many West Coast brewpubs, Blonde Ales are more assertive, like Pale Ales, but in most other areas of the country, this beer is designed as an entry-level craft beer.
- Basic Ingredients: Generally all-malt, but can include flaked wheat to aid with head retention or sugar adjuncts in drier versions. American ingredients like quality domestic 2-row malt are often used. Any hop variety can be used, milder hops like Williamette or Nugget are preferred but often Cascade hops are occasionally used too. For a cleaner fermentation, American Blonde Ales tend to use a clean ale yeast like Wyeast #1056 American Ale or White Labs WLP001 California Ale Yeast. Dry yeasts like Safale US-05 can also give the clean finish needed for this style. For a light fruit character, you could use an English style of yeast and you could even use a Kölsch yeast but be careful with diacetyls, which can result from these yeast strains.
- Blonde Ales are often made with bottom-fermenting lager yeast strains, but at warmer temperatures to allow the fruity malty flavors of the base malt to shine through, and then cold conditioned for a crisper taste. Extract brewers of the Blonde Ale should use the lightest malt extracts they can find and avoid kettle caramelization.
Typically has more flavor than American Lager and Cream Ale. Less bitterness than an American Pale Ale. Perhaps similar to some maltier examples of Kölsch.
|IBU||15 - 28|
|SRM||3 - 6|
|OG||1.038 - 1.054|
|FG||1.008 - 1.013|
|ABV||3.8 - 5.5%|
- Commercial Examples: Firestone Walker 805, Kona Big Wave Golden Ale, Real Ale Firemans #4 Blonde Ale, Russian River Aud Blonde, Victory Summer Love, Widmer Citra Summer Blonde Brew.