Blonde Ale or Golden Ale: The Keys to Perfecting the Style

Published: June 6, 2024
An outdoor photo of a blonde or golden ale from Jackie O's Brewery

With the summer season, lighter craft beers have gained traction and popularity among brewers and consumers. We’ve written about several more crushable beer styles that brewers should consider implementing into their brew calendars, including Mexican-style lagers, cream ales, helles lagers, and Czech pilsners, among others. Blonde, or golden, ale is another light, easy-drinking style for brewers to consider making for the warm months ahead.

We chatted with Maui Brewing Company Head Brewer James Newman and Jackie O’s Brewery Director of Brewing Operations Seth Morton to understand blonde ales or golden ales, top considerations when making one, the ideal grist, and how to subtly add hops for a well-rounded beer.

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How Do Experts Define Blonde Ale or Golden Ale?

A photo of Golden Ale from Cigar City Brewing with a tap handle and glass

Photography courtesy of Cigar City Brewing

Morton has been with Jackie O’s for over a decade, and he says they’ve made numerous versions of blonde or golden ale from a “utility beer” like Ricky to Cool Beans, a golden ale with adjuncts like coffee. Morton says if you’re looking to make a traditional blonde ale, there are a few things it needs to have.

“A really clean, crisp, well-attenuated beer with low to moderate bitterness and a low to moderate hop profile,” he says. “There are so many ways to make a golden. Stylistically, there isn’t a clear-cut definition. There is so much room to play within a simple beer.”

Their Ricky has a low cost to entry for the retailer and fills a gap in a bar profile.

“It’s a good entry point,” Morton says. “It’s such a great entry into craft beer.”

Newman says the best version of a golden or blonde ale is a balanced, easy-drinking beer with a pale golden color, a clean malt profile, and a subtle hop character.

It's easy-drinking and approachable,
James Newman - Maui Brewing Company

“It should have a light to medium body, low to moderate bitterness, and a smooth finish,” Newman says. “The aroma may have hints of malt sweetness, light fruitiness, and minimal hop presence.”

Newman adds that this beer style is often the gateway for many into the craft brewing world.

“It’s easy-drinking and approachable,” he says. “A well-made golden ale will always remind me of good times in the sun with good people and good food.”

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What to Consider When Brewing Blonde Ale or Golden Ale

A photo of I'm On a Boat from Monday Night Brewing

Photography courtesy of Monday Night Brewing

Newman points to four key considerations when brewing a blonde ale: balance, malt profile, clean fermentation, and water profile.

“Ensure a harmonious balance between malt sweetness and hop bitterness,” Newman says. “Use pale malts with a touch of specialty malts to provide complexity without overpowering.

Newman adds, “Choose a yeast strain that produces minimal esters and phenols to keep the beer clean and crisp. And have a soft to moderately hard water—that works best—with attention to chloride and sulfate levels to enhance the malt and hop balance.”

Two of those, Morton says, are paramount.

“There’s nothing to hide behind in this beer,” Morton says. “Water chemistry and yeast health are key.”

But Morton also points out that you need to find out which malts you need to work with and not overcomplicate things.

Water chemistry and yeast health are key.
Seth Morton - Jackie O’s Brewery

“Get a couple of base malts and do a benchtop mash lab work,” Morton says. “Do sensory on that, and find what you like.”

Adds Morton, “With recipe development, knowing what to do is important, but knowing what not to do is almost more important.”

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Challenges of Making Blonde Ale or Golden Ale

A photo of Akaula a golden ale from Maui Brewing Co.

Photography courtesy of Christopher Hofmann | Untappd

Morton admits that any brewer can make this beer, but it’s not that simple.

“It’s really about following best practices,” he says. “Depending on a brewery’s analysis tools, if there’s something messed up in your brewery, it will show up on this beer.”

Newman says some challenges you can encounter include clarity issues, flavor balance, and fermentation control.

“Blonde ales are visually appealing when clear and should not be hazy,” he says. “Cold crash and either use fining agents, filter, or centrifuge as necessary to achieve a bright, clear beer.”

For the flavor, Newman says malt and hop selection is critical.

“Achieving the right balance between malt sweetness and hop bitterness can be tricky,” he says. “Adjust your hop schedule and malt bill through taste tests to find the ideal harmony.”

He adds, “Another challenge is that inconsistent fermentation temperatures can lead to off-flavors. Use temperature control systems to maintain steady fermentation conditions.”

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What Is a Great Grist Bill for Blonde Ale or Golden Ale?

A photo of a blonde ale in a glass on a bar table

Photo by Josh Olalde on Unsplash

Newman says mash and mash temperature are essential for making a quality golden or blonde ale.

“A typical grist might include 85 to 90 percent pale malt like two-row or pilsner; 5 to 10 percent Vienna or Munich malt; and 1 to 3 percent Carapils or other light caramel malt for body and head retention,” Newman says. “Mash at 150 to 154 degrees Fahrenheit to create a balance between fermentable sugars and dextrins, resulting in a beer that is both drinkable and has a pleasant mouthfeel.”

As for water additions, Newman advises adjusting calcium levels to fifty to one hundred ppm, chloride to fifty to seventy-five ppm, and sulfates to fifty to one hundred ppm.

Morton says Jackie O’s keeps it simple.

“One hundred percent American two-row barley malt,” Morton says. “That was driven by what we were trying to solve for Ricky. We used two-row because it’s not expensive and cheaper to retailers.”

He adds, “American two-row is bred to be brewed alongside adjuncts. We mash it low, around 147 degrees Fahrenheit, for a target-specific gravity of 1.037.”

With their water, Jackie O’s spreads out the calcium for two parts chloride, one part sulfate, and a little lactic acid.

“We swing a little harder towards chloride,” Morton says. “Want something approachable and balanced as an entry point to our brand.”

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How to Incorporate Hops into a Blonde Ale or Golden Ale

A bucket of Dorchester Brewing cans of craft beer including golden ale

Photography courtesy of Dorchester Brewing

What initially started as a single-hop addition of Saaz in bittering, mid-boil, and whirlpool for Jackie O’s has been switched up recently.

“We’ve used Cascade in the whirlpool, but [it] was too aggressive, and then brought it back to Crystal,” Morton says. “And that is a really beautiful American old-school hop and grounds it as a good American golden ale.”

Morton adds to follow the BJCP guidelines for IBUs. Newman says to target fifteen to twenty-five IBUs for a balanced bitterness.

We’ve used Cascade in the whirlpool,
Seth Morton - Jackie O’s Brewery

“Add a small amount of hops at the beginning of the boil to achieve the targeted IBUs,” Newman says. “With flavor and aroma hops, add minimal to moderate late additions, about ten to fifteen minutes before the end of the boil or in the whirlpool at a quarter to half a pound per barrel.”

Newman adds, “At MBC, we mainly utilize whirlpool additions and refrain from bittering additions. Dry hopping is typically not necessary. But if used, keep it light, no more than a half pound per barrel.”

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What Is an Ideal Target ABV for Blonde Ale or Golden Ale?

Newman says to use a clean American ale yeast like Wyeast 1056 or White Labs WLP001 California Ale Yeast®, or even a British ale yeast for more ester character, with a knockout temp around 65-68 degrees Fahrenheit and a fermentation temp around 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit.

“A 4.5-5.5% [ABV] is ideal for a blonde/golden ale, making it sessionable yet flavorful,” Newman says. “A typical turnaround time from brew to package for a blonde or golden ale is three to four weeks.”

Morton says they use a Cali Ale yeast to get their ABV, knocking out at sixty-two or sixty-three degrees Fahrenheit and fermenting around sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit.

“We package at 4.5% ABV and get it down to 1.003 or 1.004,” Morton says. “So dry but not crazy bone dry.”

Morton says they ferment and send it to the centrifuge in ten days.

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Two Great Examples of Blonde Ale or Golden Ale

Ricky is 4.5% ABV. Fashioned after other macro beers, Ricky hits 4.5% ABV and does wonders at dive bars.

“In Athens, Ohio, if you would go to a local dive, if you asked for a Ricky, you would get a Coors Light,” Morton says. “Now you get slid a Ricky from Jackie O’s.”

Maui has its Aka’ula Golden Ale, a golden or blonde ale that’s 4.8% ABV with 35 IBUs.

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About The Author

Giovanni Albanese

Giovanni is a content writer for Next Glass, contributing to the Ollie blog. He is a writer by day and a brewer/business owner by night, owning and operating Settle Down Brewery & Taproom in Gilroy, California.

Giovanni is passionate about a number of things, including history, documentaries and sports, but none more than reporting/writing and brewing beer. After receiving a radio broadcasting degree then a journalism degree from Salem State College in his home state of Massachusetts, he relocated to California in 2008.

Then, his writing career kicked off – covering sports, business, politics and more along the way – while concurrently dabbling in home brewing. The home brewing turned pro in 2021 when he launched SDB Brewing Company. Settle Down Beer officially opened in February.

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