Blonde Ale Ingredients: Grains, Hops, and more!

In this article, I will talk about Blonde Ale, one of the most popular beer styles nowadays.

I will talk about the ideal ingredients, such as malts and hops to use, adjuncts (if they are actually used), as well as some procedures that will help you achieve a final product without sulfides, unwanted flavor, and diacetyl problems.

Without further ado, let’s get started!

What is a Blonde Ale?

The blonde ale is part of the family of “blondes” along with golden ale, american wheat, cream ale, kölsch, etc. This style is characterized by being balanced, without aggressive flavors and easy to drink.

It can also be characterized as “refreshing” and very “summery”. But, these more “neutral” styles tend to be tell-tale, as any imperfections are much more easily perceived, making blonde beers the hardest style to brew of all.

Best Grains for Blonde Ale Beer

In general, blonde ale and its variants contain a small fraction of special malts (almost always used to add color) and the rest is covered by the base malts which are always Pilsen and/or Pale malts.

Pilsen or Pale? This will depend on the beer profile we want. Pilsen malt will give us a lighter beer with less of a body, whereas the opposite is true for Pale, and we can use the latter if we want a biscuit/grain note to stand out very slightly in the final result.

Among the most used grains we can find:

  1. Pilsen.
  2. Pale Ale.
  3. Caramel 20.
  4. Caramel 15.
  5. Caramel 30.
  6. Carapils.
  7. Caramel Hell.

Adjuncts

Both oats and wheat are usually left out when making a blonde or any “traditional” lager, as these adjuncts add to the overall haziness, something not very desirable in these styles.

Exactly the opposite happens with rice and corn. If we want to obtain a lighter beer, with less body and easier to clarify, we can choose to include a percentage of between 10% and 30% of these components in the recipe.

How do they work? Without going into too much detail, you could say that they “replace” the malt, but without providing a complex protein or organoleptic load.

Most used hops in Blonde Ale Beers

To impart bitterness in this style the most used hop as always is cascade. Its alpha-acid percentage is between 7.5 and 11%, its aroma is citrusy and herbal, and it is widely chosen for its quality/price ratio and also for its reliability in isomerization.

In some cases, a citrus note is sought in this style of beer, and for this, two hops are generally used: East Kent Golding and Styrian Golding.

Here’s a table with the most used hops for blonde ale and their substitutes as well:

NameTaste and AromaUtility% Alpha% BetaSubstitutesBeer Style
CascadeFresh and citrusBitterness7.5 – 11.5%5.5 – 7.5%Mapuche, Ahtanum,Pale ale and ramifications
Styrian GoldingSpicy, Spicy and Earthy.Flavour and aroma4-7%2,5-4,5%Fuggle, WillametteBitter, English Ales, Belgian Ales
East Kent GoldingSpicy, honey, earthy and orangeAroma4.0 – 6.52.0 – 3.0Fuggle, WillametteEnglish Ales
CentennialCitrus and floralFlavour and aroma8.0 – 11.5%3.5 -4.5yellowAles in general

Best Hops to Generate Bitterness in a Blonde Ale

  • Cascade
  • Magnum
  • Apollo
  • Bravo

Best Hops to Generate Taste in a Blonde Ale

  • Cascade
  • Nugget
  • Northen brewer
  • Brewers gold
  • Herkules

Best Hops to Generate Aroma in a Blonde Ale

  • Styrian
  • Golding
  • East Kent Golding
  • Yellow (in low quantities)
  • Centennial

When to add Hops

Hops are added at different times due to the fact that depending on the amount of time that they are boiled, they will add different characteristics, such as bitterness, flavor, and aroma. You can find more information in the article on when to add hops.

Here we will simply say that during the boil, the process of isomerization will be accentuated and this is where we will obtain bitterness. 

But the oils that produce flavor and aroma will evaporate during the boil (the aroma oils will evaporate at a faster rate). Therefore, when you want to achieve either of these two things (flavor and aroma), the additions are made late in the boil. 

There are also additions when the boiling is finished, or in the fermentation/maturation stage, among others.

Blonde Ales usually require a bit of a citric note in their aroma, but for this a dry hop will not be necessary since the risks of oxygen incorporation do not merit it. If we make an addition at the beginning of the boil (Bittering Hops) and another addition at the end (whirlpool/hop stand) we will get the desired results without the risk of oxidation.

To summarize:

For bitterness make an addition as soon as the boil starts. In case you are looking for citrus notes in the taste, make an addition 35 minutes before the end of the boil. In case you are looking for citric notes in the aroma, make the addition when the boil has finished. If you want to combine both, you can, but blonde ales are generally not brewed that way it is possible.

I do not recommend dry hopping when brewing blonde ales.

Quantities to be used

Of course, blonde ale is not a hoppy beer, so the hops serve a balancing function, but, as with any beer, the bitterness needs to be perceptible. The human palate can perceive bitterness at five IBUs and above (discussed in the next section), and even in beer drinkers more accustomed to IPAs, sensing 5 IBUs might be even harder.

Using 1.3g/l of hops split between bitterness and aroma/flavor, we are likely to achieve the desired IBUs and the flavor and aroma profile we are looking for.

For example, for a batch of 20 litres we could use:

  • 13 grams of cascade at the start of the boil.
  • 13 grams of Styrian holding 5 minutes before the end of the boil.

What is IBU and what does it represent?

The IBU (International Bitterness Unit) is a value that quantifies the bitterness of beer. It represents the amount of dissolved alpha-acids, so 1 IBU is equivalent to 1 milligram of alpha-acid per liter of beer.

Something very important to take into account when calculating this is the moment to add the hops, since the optimum moment to extract all the possible bitterness is 60 minutes before the end of the boil, on the other hand if what we want is to take advantage of the aromas, the addition should be done 10 minutes before the end of the boil.

That said, how do you calculate IBU? It would be very simple if you just take into account the Alpha Acids that a hop variety has and how much of it is added to the beer. Then, at the final liters of boil, calculate the grams of AA according to the percentage of AA.

Now, if we want to make a more accurate calculation, we must calculate the amount of AA that is isomerized in the must, for this we must add to the equation the utilization coefficient. To measure this coefficient the most used method is the one created by Randy Mosher.

It is a graph formed by curves that relates the minutes of boiling with the characteristics of the hops used.

Blonde ales, according to the BJCP, tend to hover between 15 and 28 IBUs as they are not generally considered “bitter” beers.

Recommendations when brewing Blonde Ales

As I said in the beginning, these styles of beer are usually very transparent and any imbalance, defect or unwanted note will be very easy to perceive and therefore will critically affect the quality of finished beer.

Water

For brewers who already have control over the water they use, I recommend that it be demineralized or “soft”, as this will improve its drinkability. The brewer, biochemist and microbiologist Marcos Ragoni, for a blonde ale recommends 80 mg/l of total dissolved solids (mineral support) and a sulfur/chloride ratio below one.

Remember that, if we start from a demineralized base, the minimum calcium requirement is 50 PPM.

One advantage of beer which helps against bacteria is that it is usually acidic, however, if we work with a very alkaline water, the pH of this will not lower enough causing problems in the process.

Mashing

In the mashing process we can gauge what the body of our beer will be like. For this we must understand the two enzymes that act in this process: alpha-amylase and beta-amylase. They will act respectively according to the mashing temperature and perform the conversion of starches differently from each other.

  • Alpha-amylase will produce dextrins, which are not fermentable. Therefore, they will survive the metabolism of the yeast and will allow us to obtain a fuller-bodied beer. Its temperature range is between 67ºC and 73ºC.
  • Beta-amylase on the other hand will produce fermentable sugars. This will result in a somewhat more alcoholic, lighter and drier beer. Its temperature range is between 55°C and 66°C, with 62°C being recommended.

The mash lasts between 60 and 90 minutes. To know when it is finished we can do the iodine test, which consists of pouring a few drops of iodine on a portion of wort and see its reaction: If it turns black or purple, the conversion of starches is not yet complete and, if the iodine drops acquire the color of the wort, we can begin to recirculate. Remember to recirculate well as clarity is very important in these styles. 

If you want to know how to achieve a crystal clear beer you can check my article on how to clarify beer.

Yeast

Fermentation is the most important part of the process for any style, but in this case, the final result of our beer will depend entirely on a healthy and correct fermentation. 

How to achieve this? Well, the main thing is to maintain the temperature according to the working temperature of the yeast, and for this we must be able to measure the temperature of the fermenter, if possible directly from inside the fermenter itself for a more accurate reading.

Is it only the temperature that we have to keep track of? Well, density is also a very important factor. It is advisable to take two readings every day until fermentation is complete.

As for the yeast (ale of course), the most common is US-05 and, in case we are looking for a less fruity touch (more neutral), perhaps the option is the K-97, a German strain generally used for the Kölsch style. 

Conclusion

So, is this beer recommended for beginners? Most people might think of blonde ales as being a beginner-friendly beer because of the recipe is very simple, however, this is a double-edged sword because being so “simple” means that any defect will stands out. 

My recommendation would be that, if this is one of your first beers, do not try to brew a blonde ale because it is much more complex to achieve a good result than with other beers. Only try this one if you really know how your stuff or if you’re willing to make a lot of mistakes along the way.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the best hops to add bitterness to a Blonde Ale? To add bitterness to a blonde ale it is best to use a hop specially designed for that purpose, such as cascade, which is undoubtedly the most used one, but there are also other options with a higher amount of alpha-acids, such as magnum. 

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