While style guides are essential tools for both brewers and beer enthusiasts, the market and the makers (drinkers) frequently change the path for a flavor profile. With Golden Ales and Blonde Ales (our view on the styles), this is the situation. Without a geographic modifier, ordering a Blonde or a Golden infers you are getting the locational variant of the style that connects to the bar, brewery, or package store you happen to be in at the time. How ‘standard’ is that?
Styles provide a framework for understanding and categorizing beer styles available, but when a beer style that adapts to a local market can gain popularity and then spin out a newly recognized style, that framework becomes a popularity contest. Ukrainian Golden and American Blonde/Golden Ale are in different phases of this contest to ‘be recognized.’ At the same time, Australian and New Zealand’s Blondes and Goldens will have a long road to separate their unique classes of beers from the generic Australian Pale Ale and New Zealand Pale Ale designations worldwide.
The question to ask yourself is what beer will you receive if you ask for a Golden Ale in Wellington, NZ? Does their colonial history with Britain mean you should expect a beautiful English Summer Ale or a Golden Bitter? Or do you expect an easy-to-drink session beer with a simple hop profile like Raglan Golden Ale? Is Monteith’s Summer Ale a British Summer? If they had a Golden Ale, would it confuse patrons that consider Golden Lager a staple?
(I lived on Monteith’s and Epic Pale Ale for nearly a year in New Zealand. Now a db brand, Monteith’s has been around since the 1800s, so if you were going to make a case for these naming choices being the actions of a young NZ craft brewery, think again.)
The fact that unless you’ve had these beers, you don’t know what you’d be receiving at the bar tells the story of a confused naming convention in need of locational/geographical modification to differentiate.
British Golden Ale, sometimes known as Summer Ale, is a style that was introduced as an enticing alternative to the rise of lagers, aiming to provide a light, refreshing, yet flavor-packed ale suitable for warmer months. With its clear golden hue, moderate strength, and a delicate balance between malt sweetness and hop bitterness, the British Golden Ale is the beer style most American Blondes and American Goldens would say this style is where they are derived.
Silver Bluff’s Golden Ale is a hybrid of American interpretations of Golden Ales and original British Ales. The original recipe’s creator and Co-founder, Kevin Coyle, explains, “Although light in color, this golden ale has additional specialty malts utilized to enhance its body and flavor. Willamette and Sterling hops are utilized to create a subtle floral and spicy aroma. The finish is crisp with balanced mild bitterness.”
The character of British Golden Ale typically leans on a clean, grainy-sweet malt character, achieved through the use of pale malts like Golden Promise or Maris Otter. This malt profile is balanced with medium to high hop bitterness with most breweries using EKG, Fuggles, or variants/ploids of those. The hop character can also bring a range of flavors and aromas from moderately low to high, often highlighting floral, earthy, or fruity notes, which are hallmarks of British hop varieties.
I’m drinking a JHB, Kevin has a Nitro Stout. We’re on a boat. In London (Westminster). I’m wearing a Brewsters Hat, because my favorite Canadian Brewery is the right choice for a hat when an American goes to London. Follow me here if you’d like!
Belgian Golden Ale is typically referring to a Belgian Golden Strong Pale Ale and is a style recognized worldwide for its potent alcohol content and complex, multifaceted flavors. The beer’s appearance golden to light amber, accompanied by spritzy carbonation that results in a rich, foamy head.
The flavor profile of these ales is fruity and spicy notes with a touch of sweetness. Distinctive Belgian yeast strains used in the brewing process, which contribute significantly to the beer’s unique esters and phenols. Despite their strength, these ales are known for their excellent balance and smoothness, which can disguise the high alcohol content, making them deceptively drinkable.
When Will Melvin and I made a Belgian Table Beer earlier this year for the taproom, we toyed with building a 10% Belgian Golden Strong with Fantôme yeast and then using the second runnings to drive a one-of-a-kind Parti-gyle Table, but ended up brewing it straight up with a custom blend that was modeled after La Chouffe’s yeast. Some Silver Bluff Tafelbier reviews from that limited release are here.
Duvel, a globally recognized Belgian Golden Ale, is an archetype of this style. With its intricate blend of delicate hops and fruity, phenolic yeast character and a dry finish, Duvel sets a high benchmark for Belgian Golden Ales.
The trademark for great Belgian Golden Ales is that even when they get to nationwide distribution, nothing changes and quality standards are maintained. Duvel is a great example of this and is still winning competitions with the flagship.
American Golden Ale, also known as Blonde Ale, is a beer style that emerged amid the rise of the craft beer movement in the United States. Golden Ales often incorporate distinct American hop varieties, adding a uniquely citrusy hop character that distinguishes them from their British counterparts.
American Golden Ales are typically light in color, and strike a delicate balance between malt sweetness and hop bitterness. They a gateway to craft beer for those used to macro-lagers and pilsners. The clean fermentation profile, coupled with low to medium hop bitterness, ensures approachability with quality.
Golden Ales are not exclusive to the UK, Belgium, and the US. This versatile style has inspired interpretations across the globe, including countries like Australia, New Zealand, and Ukraine. These regional variations often incorporate local ingredients and brewing traditions, resulting in beers that both reflect their origins and contribute to the diversity of the global beer landscape.
In Australia, for instance, brewers craft Golden Ales that often lean towards the lighter side in terms of flavor and alcohol content, appealing to the country’s warm climate. These ales often embody a subtle balance between malt and hops, sometimes featuring tropical or citrusy hop notes courtesy of Australian hop varieties. Most Australian breweries have a Golden Lager and XXXX Gold and the Gold Coast drives a lot of names towards the use of the term Gold in marketing.
New Zealand Goldens and Blondes tend to feature their distinctive hop varieties. These unique hops offer a range of flavors from tropical fruit to white wine, which brewers incorporate into their Golden Ales, resulting in beers with a vibrant, fruity hop character.
In Ukraine, Golden Ale carries a rich history and cultural significance. While not as widely known, the Ukrainian Golden Ale is notable for its hearty character, often having a more pronounced malt profile and a higher alcohol content compared to the British style. It’s currently being campaigned for official recognition, testifying to the beer’s significance in the country’s brewing heritage.
Given the distinct qualities of each regional variation, it becomes evident that the terms “Blonde Ale” and “Golden Ale” should not be used interchangeably without a geographic modifier.
Instead, labeling these styles as British, American, Belgian, or Australian Golden Ales would more accurately capture their unique regional characteristics. This distinction not only enriches our understanding of the Golden Ale style but also honors the cultural heritage, local ingredients, and craftsmanship behind each brew.
As we move forward in the era of craft beer, the regional variations of Golden Ales are expected to continue evolving and diversifying, adding even more depth and complexity to this beloved style. By adopting a geographical designation for these ales, we facilitate a deeper understanding and appreciation of each beer, ultimately enhancing the beer-drinking experience for connoisseurs and casual drinkers alike.
If you don’t think a country’s Golden Ale deserves its own category, take a flight.