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.
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. These beers are sometimes called "golden ales".
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 golden ales are usually brewed with all barley malt, but can include up to 25% wheat malt and some sugar additions. You can use any hop variety. 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 also use a Kölsch yeast but watch the diacetyl closely. 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 should use the lightest malt extracts they can find and avoid kettle caramelization.
Blonde Ale recipes may include a lager yeast, 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.
References: Information for this page was adapted from the 2008 and 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines and Brewing Classic Styles, 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew, by Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer.
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