Welcome to our second installment on different beer styles and how to brew them!

Today, I’ll be taking a look at a craft beer classic: The American Blonde Ale. Regarded by many as a “gateway” beer, the Blonde Ale can certainly be a far more interesting refresher than the average lager. But it is an awesome little beer in and of itself. Let’s see how to brew a great one!

 

American Blonde Ale: What’s it all about?

American Blonde Ales are supposed to be very refreshing, accessible beers that still offer interesting ale flavors. Here are the basics:

  • An almost perfect balance between malt and hops, but the creative brewer will sometimes allow either the hops or the malts to come out slightly ahead, depending on taste.
  • Malt flavors: somewhat sweet, light grainy, bread, toast.
  • Hop flavors: Often floral or citrus, but a wide variety of hop flavors are common. Often, Blonde Ales will feature only one or two hop varietals to really let their individual characteristics shine through.
  • Yeast flavors: Slight fruitiness and spice.
  • Moderate – high carbonation (2.5 – 2.8 vols)
  • Light  – moderate ABV (3.5 – 5.5%)

From the above you can see that this is a subtle ale that will require a bit of skill to pull off. There are no massive, face-melting flavors to hide behind!

Onward!

Recipe Formulation & Method

Blonde Ales are fantastic beers for homebrewers to master. Not only are they refreshing and great on a hot day, but people unaccustomed to craft beer really seem to be blown away by them. Perhaps it is because the Blonde Ale resembles a lager in terms of refreshment but comes with a whole different spectrum of flavor.

I’ve brewed tons of Blonde Ales over the years. Here’s what I’ve learnt:

Grain Bill

Blonde ales veer somewhat towards malt flavors, but their malt bills are pretty simple. You’re aiming for a very bright, light grainy flavor that is reminiscent of lightly toasted bread. 

So, to pull that off, you want to prefer malts like Pilsner and Pale Malts. Sometimes a touch of wheat can be added to further push the clean graininess, but again, this is not a wheat beer, so go easy!

Some lightly kilned malts like Vienna or a light Munich malt can also add a bit of interest, but keep these under the 15% mark of the total grain bill. If you feel creative, consider adding a touch of biscuit malt for additional depth.

For extract brewers, you’ll be using your DME plus some light caramel malts in the steep. Keep the percentage of caramel malt close to the 5-8% mark.

Hops

As I’ve mentioned, Blonde Ales tend to showcase one or two interesting hop varietals that compliment their light malt backbone. So here, you’re aiming for flavor over bitterness. This can be achieved in a couple of ways:

  • Use low Alpha Acid hops throughout the recipe, even when adding bittering hops.
  • Push most of your hop additions to later in the boil
  • Rely more on whirlpool hops than kettle hops.

The variety of hops you choose is not as important as making sure that it doesn’t overpower the subtle malt flavors you’ve created.

Ideally, you want the beer to showcase the malt and hops flavors rather than delivering a knock-out punch of bitterness or heavy malt richness.

Aim for an IBU level of around 15-28 and a bitterness ratio of around 0.4 – 0.5.

Yeast & Fermentation

Blonde ales can be a touch fruity and spicy, so allowing for that, you might want to select a more ester-producing yeast like a English Ale yeast rather than the cleaner, crisper American Ale varieties.

Even so, you still want to keep your fermentation relatively cool, so aim for around 18 degrees Celsius. Too hot and it will be way too fruity and not crisp enough.

I almost always cold condition my Blonde Ales at 0-4 degrees for 2-5 days, to ensure a very clear beer. Ideally, you want very little to absolutely no haze in this ale. I like a blonde ale that I can read through, so dry hopping will definitely not feature in my fermentation schedule! 

Bottling and Carbonation

Much like lagers, Blonde Ales are somewhat more aggressively carbonated than other ales. Aim for 2.5-2.8 volumes. So, in a 19 liter (5 gal) batch, use around 128-150 grams of bottling sugar (depending on your OG).

If kegging, you can carbonate at 5 degrees Celsius at around 16 psi.

Sample Recipe: The Refresher Blonde Ale

Now that we’ve gone over the basics, I’ll walk you through a sample recipe. Feel free to modify as you wish, but ty to keep the pointers discussed above in mind!

All-grain version (BIAB) – For a 19 liter / 5 gallon batch

The Grain Bill:

For base grains, we’re going to mix a good quality 2-row Pale Malt, like Marris Otter, with Pilsner Malt (about 50% each) to emphasize the slightly malt-forward profile of the Blonde Ale. Then, a touch of Vienna and Biscuit Malts will round out the malt bill. 

 Here’s the final malt list:

  • 1.7 kgs (3.7 lbs) Pale Malt
  • 1.7 kg (3.7 lbs) Pilsner Malt
  • 350 g (12 oz) Vienna Malt
  • 150 g (5 oz) Biscuit Malt

Hops Schedule

To get maximum flavor out of our hops without extracting overpowering bitterness, I’m opting for more whirlpool hopping in this recipe than bittering additions.

In fact, you’ll notice that there are no bittering additions: Only late additions are used for this one! I’m also just using one hop: Simcoe.

Feel free to experiment with other varietals, but Simcoe is one of my favorites and really works well in this recipe.

  • @10 minutes: Add 15 g (0.5 oz) Simcoe (13% AA). 
  • @5 minutes: Add 15 g (0.5 oz) Simcoe (13% AA). This addition will really punch up the tropical and pine flavors of the Simcoe!
  • In the whirlpool: Add 30g(1 oz) Simcoe. Make sure to only keep the whirlpool going for at most, 8 minutes or so before chilling. Otherwise, the beer may be overly bitter.

Yeast

For this beer, I’d recommend a English Ale yeast, something like Fermentis’ SO-4.

Method

Using the BIAB method, you’ll be mashing in using 26 liters (6.8 gal) at 71 degrees Celsius (160 F) for a mash temperature of around 67 degrees Celsius (153 F).

Mash for 75 minutes, then lift the bag and drain naturally

Boil for 60 minutes, whirlpool for 5-8 minutes, then chill rapidly and pitch your yeast at 22-25 degrees Celsius (71-75 F) .

Ferment at 18-20 degrees Celsius (64-68F) for 10 days, then cold crash for another 3.

Bottle with 138 g (4.8 oz) of corn sugar / dextrose, condition for 2 weeks before serving.

Extract with Specialty Grains Version

Instead of the base malts, use 2.36 kgs (5.2 lbs) of Dried Malt Extract (DME). For steeping, use 145 g (5oz) of light crystal malt (milled). 

Before the boil, steep the crushed grains for 30 minutes at 60-70 degrees Celsius (140-158 F). Keep the hops the same as the all-grain method.

Start with 22 Liters (5.8 gal) of brew water for a 19 liter (5 gal) batch.

Yeast, pitching temp and fermentation / bottling are all the same as the all-grain version.

The Numbers

Here are all the vital statistics you should know:

  • Pre-boil Gravity: 1.040
  • Original Gravity: 1.046
  • Final Gravity: 1.012
  • IBUs: 25
  • Bitterness Ratio: 0.534
  • ABV: 4.5 %

Final thoughts

Blonde Ales are more than just gateway beers and they can be enjoyed all year round, not just in sweltering summer days (although they are really, really good on those!).

By adding more late hops to the ale, you can create something truly special: A light, refreshing beer with plenty of flavor but without too much bitterness that might fatigue your palate.

Try this ale with pizza, pastas, or a good burger. You won’t be disappointed! Let me know how your Blonde Ales turn out in the comments section below.

Until later beer nerds! 

Slainte!

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