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Golden, Blonde & Kölsch Ales

by: BeerAdvocate on 07-17-2002
As with drinkers of other alcoholic beverages that switch to lighter concoctions for the summer months, many beer drinkers seem to switch to something lighter as well – and we don't mean light as in Bud Light. Is this indeed a trend, a subconscious thought or a real physical craving? Who knows? In fact, it's probably a combination of all three.

Over the past several years we've seen a micro beer movement toward summer seasonal beers, as well as year round beers leaning towards lighter styles. Obviously this is what the masses want, however, there are alternatives to that usual "summer-like" American or imported lager or ale without getting too complex or bitter for that heat stricken head of yours. Golden and Blonde Ales come to mind, as does the old German-Style Kölsch Ale that has seen a mini revival throughout the US, and is quite similar to Golden and Blonde Ales. These are simple beers, meaning they are balanced and again not too complex. They are often very drinkable with a deep refreshing quality that comes in handy during the summer.

So how did Golden and Blonde Ales come about? Some say it was just a part of the Microbrew Revolution, while others turn to legendary old-school beers like Ballantine XXX Ale or lighter English style ales as the explanation for the inspiration. Regardless, Golden and Blonde Ales actually have many lager characteristics, like a clean crisp flavor, light color and good balance between hops and malt. Malt base is primarily American pale ale malt, which is the base of most ales in the US. Some use malted wheat, which is also light in color and adds to the crispness and head retention. These brews also exhibit a thin malt sweetness, but nothing too dominant and nothing too sweet or caramel-like. Alcohol is moderate; ranging from four to five percent alcohol by volume, though some examples can contain a bit more. Color is typically pale straw to gold, very bright and clear, and capped with a pure white head. Bitterness should at least balance if not have a spicy and/or citric bite to it. A nice, dry finish is the last trait of this kind of ale.

Sounds similar to a Kölsch to us.

An old and original style, that in our opinion has inspired many American breweries, is the German-Style Kölsch Ale from the city of Köln, Germany. To give you some depth, without getting carried away in beer history, the first recorded document of this style of beer dates back to 873 AD! Though the style is indigenous to the Köln area, many US breweries have more than embraced the style. They might not call it a Kölsch, but breweries are producing the style, or rather using it as a guide and adding their own twist.

Now in our experience, the biggest difference from the Kölsch and American Golden and Blonde Ales is the Kölsch’s use of German ingredients, primarily where the hops are concerned. In a Kölsch the hop bitterness will not have any kind of citric flavor but rather more of a spicy bite. And sometimes a lager yeast strain is used in the bottle or in the final cold conditioning process.

For those interested, here are some of the more obtainable examples of the above-mentioned styles:

Golden & Blonde Ales:

Boston Garden Golden (Boston Beer Works – Canal St. and Fenway, Boston, MA)
Buzzard’s Bay Golden Ale (Buzzard’s Bay Brewing – Westport, MA)
Catamount 8 Lives (Harpoon Brewery – Windsor, VT)
Geary’s American Ale (DL Geary Brewing – Portland, ME)
Oregon Golden Ale (Rogue Brewing – Oregon)
Redhook Blonde Ale (Redhook Ale Brewery – Portsmouth, NH)
Regatta Golden (Cambridge Brewing – Cambridge, MA)
Shipyard Summer Ale (Shipyard Brewing – Portland, ME)
Summerworks (Boston Beer Works – Canal St. and Fenway, Boston, MA)

German-Style Kölsch Ales:

Colonial Kölsch (John Harvard’s Brewhouse – Cambridge, MA)
Harpoon Summer Beer (Harpoon Brewery – Boston, MA)
Kenmöre Kölsch (Boston Beer Works – Canal St. and Fenway, Boston, MA)
Reissdorf Kölsch (Brauerei Heinrich Reissdorf – Köln, Germany)
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