Make Your Best Blonde Ale | Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine
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Make Your Best Blonde Ale

This Blonde Ale is more flavorful than your average "lawnmower" beer, so save it for after you mow. Once you dial in the recipe, this will be the beer that gets your non-beer-drinking friends started down the path to craft beer.

Josh Weikert 17 days ago

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It's more than a little ironic that "American" beer styles are characterized both by a borderline-absurd commitment to intense flavors and over-the-top interpretations of classic styles and barrel-aged this and smoked that…and by subdued versions of classic styles. For every American IPA there's a Light American Lager. For every American Stout there's an American Wheat or Rye Ale.

And there's the good old, inoffensive, approachable, non-aggressive-flavors-having American Blonde Ale. Please don't misunderstand my implication, though: this is still a beer I love to brew and drink, and I breathe a sigh of relief when I'm at a brewpub and have the option of ordering one of these and passing on the latest vanilla-bean-infused Triple Bock. I'm just pointing out that we American brewers have some range.

STYLE

So, what's in this style? The 2015 BJCP Guidelines describe it as an "easy-drinking, approachable, malt-oriented American craft beer, often with interesting fruit, hop, or character malt notes." The name also gives away that it's pale, hence "Blonde" ale! That milquetoast description conceals the reality, though. This can be a remarkably fun and interesting style. So long as you're talking moderate flavors that don't pull it into the specialty categories or one of the stock American "Ale" categories, you can have a lot of fun with flavor combinations, adjuncts, special ingredients, and more and still make a beer that "fits" in the Blonde Ale category. The malts generally skew away from caramel flavors in favor of toasted malt flavors, and the hops are usually American (though not exclusively so), but within that very loose set of strictures almost anything else goes! More important than the flavor profile is that this should be a smooth, drinkable, refreshing pint. It takes the American lagers and Cream Ale and bumps up the flavor volume a bit. Simple enough.

RECIPE

A certain suburban Philadelphia brewery produces a beer every Summer that people really seem to Love. I suspect it has Victory malt in it, but I don't feel comfortable plugging the Brewing Company who makes it. This recipe is for a beer that emulates this beer that I won't name.

Begin with a 50/50 blend of Maris Otter and Pilsner malt, about four pounds of each, which should give you plenty of good base malt flavors without adding much in the way of color. Just to be sure, though, add a pound of Vienna malt, which will add a bit of light rustic graininess. Finally, use half a pound of Victory malt to bump up the toast in the malt bill. This departs from the "declared" grist from the brewery, but in side-by-side tasting it holds up well! You should land at about 1.051, and have a barely-there but still-noticeable malt character.

Hopping is simple, but the varieties matter (much more than the malts, in this case). Bitter with one ounce of Tettnang at 60 minutes for about 15 IBUs, then add a half-ounce each of Simcoe and Cascade at 10 minutes remaining. You'll also add half an ounce of Citra in dry hopping.

Finally, get hold of some Wyeast London Ale III (1318), which we'll ferment cool to get a nice, light bit of berry ester.

PROCESS

Mash, lauter, sparge, and boil are all standard here. This is a pretty simple beer to make. The only real decisions are fermentation temperature and when to add the dry hops. Blonde Ale is (or, was, in previous guidelines) a "hybrid" beer - it can be made with either ale or lager yeasts, but the common thread is the temperature. You're either doing a warm ferment with a lager yeast, or a cool ferment with an ale yeast. In this case, target 60F, and hold there for the first week. After that, let it rise to a healthy 70-72F to reduce the risk of diacetyl (though it's not the worst thing in this style!).

I like to add dry hops for just a couple of days before cold crashing and packaging (2.5 volumes of CO2, incidentally). The beer's flavor profile doesn't require (and the style doesn't reward, necessarily) a big hops nose. It's more an impression of fresh fruit, lightly present, with a bit of grassy dry hop character. Don't go overboard and turn this into a Session IPA!

IN CLOSING

This Blonde Ale is more flavorful than your average "lawnmower" beer, so save it for after you mow. Once you dial in the recipe, this will be the beer that gets your non-beer-drinking friends started down the path to craft beer obsession! And you'll enjoy it, too.

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