I hope all our readers had a wonderful Thanksgiving and have plenty of leftovers for the next few days.
This is the conclusion of our series on golden ales. I’ve defined golden ales as a subset of what some might call light or blonde ales (and what the BJCP labels blonde ales) with the following attributes: Moderately dry. Malt character almost entirely from a high quality base malt (and often with a grainy edge). Not lacking in hop character (in fact, the malt/hop balance can be tipped slightly towards hops).
The big tip for extract brewers attempting this style is make a moderate-sized partial mash. This will infuse your wort with malted grain aroma. When malt extract is made, some of the volatiles that contribute to malt aroma are lost in the process. Making a partial mash compensates for this. At a minimum, for a 5.0-gallon (19-L) batch, a 3.0-b (1.4-kg) partial mash should be made — and bigger would be better in this case.
The little tip for extract brewers is to scale the amount of Irish moss (or whirlfloc) you add to the percentage of your “grist” that comes from malt (as opposed to malt extract). For 5.0 gallons (19 L) of all-grain wort, 1 tsp. of Irish moss usually does the trick. Over that amount and some of the character can start to get stripped from your beer. Brewery grade malt extract has had the break material removed from it. In an extract brew, you really only need to add Irish moss to take care of the portion of your wort that comes from a partial mash (or steeping grains). So, for this beer, take the weight of your malt and divide that this sum — the weight of your malt plus the weight of your malt extract. Multiply that by 1 tsp. to get the amount of Irish moss to add (in tsp).
This is a light colored beer, so the usual advice to add some or all of your malt extract late in the boil is a good one. With a partial mash, you can withhold all of your malt extract until the last few minutes of the boil. Ladle some wort into a small pan holding some or all of the malt extract to dissolve it, then stir it into the boil. Repeat as needed until all your extract is stirred in.
Hops and the Boil
Once the sweet wort — the unboiled, yet to be hopped, wort — has been made, the brewer will follows the same procedures as any other moderate-strength ale.
Hopping levels, at a minimum, should provide enough bitterness for balance and a noticeable amount of hop flavor. And you can even increase the hop levels to the low end of the American pale ale range — as long as you don’t completely overshadow the malt character. Since the malt character comes almost entirely from the base malt, and is not very intense compared to beers with lots of specialty malt character, a little restraint is required.
Some beers that fit the blonde ale mold are lightly hopped and the hop varieties used are neutral or have a mild varietal character. Although this is not an IPA (or even an American pale ale) there’s no need to dial back the hop character to a bland nothingness.
For this type of ale, I like to aim for 25–30 IBUs. This is mostly between the BJCPs recommendations for blonde ale (15–28 IBUs) and American pale ales (30-45 IBUs). I add late addition hops to levels a little below that for an American pale ale. As a rough rule of thumb for 5.0-gallon (19-L) batches, add up to 1.0 oz. (28 g) of flavor hops (hops added from 20 to 5 minutes left in the boil) and up to 1.0 oz. (28 g) of aroma hops (from 5 minutes left in the boil until knockout). However, don’t let the total of these two additions climb over 1.5 oz. (43 g). Again, the idea is not to overshadow the malt flavor and aroma.
Either neutral hops, such as noble hops, or a blend of neutral hops and more assertive American hop varieties will work well. The hop character does not need to be neutral to the point of being boring, but shouldn’t be quite as “in your face” as in an American pale ale. In the example recipe, “Freya’s” Eyes, I use a blend of Willamette (which is fairly mild) and Cascade and Amarillo (which are classic American aroma hops). You can dry this beer, but dry hopping usually causes a little haze and golden ales should really be crystal clear.
Any of “the usual suspects” for American ale fermentations will work when choosing a yeast strain. The classic “Chico” strain — available to homebrewers as Wyeast 1056, White Labs WLP001 or Fermentis US-05 — is a good choice. Any British (or Irish or Scottish or other European) strain that can be manipulated (through pitching rate and fermentation temperature) to ferment reasonably cleanly will also work.
Weirdly enough, one other strain that can work well is Wyeast 3787 (Trappist High Gravity) or White Labs WLP530 (Abbey Ale) yeast. This strain, which reputedly originates from Westmalle, is best known for making tripels. Slightly underpitching it to a high-gravity wort — followed by a fairly warm fermentation — yields the characteristic “spicy,” estery aroma of a Belgian tripel. However, if you slightly overpitch this strain to a moderate gravity beer, and ferment it on the cool side of the ale temperature range, it’s like an entirely different yeast. It produces a clean ale, but a different kind of clean than the usual American ale strain. This strain is also highly attenuative, which is desirable in this kind of beer.
Carbonation and Conclusion
Once the beer has fermented and fallen clear, let it condition for a few days, then rack it to the keg or your bottling bucket. If the beer is slow to clear in the primary fermenter, racking it to a secondary fermenter and cooling it down may speed the process. Be careful to limit the beer’s exposure to oxygen if do rack to secondary, however. Avoid splashing and rack to a carboy with little headspace. Carbonate the beer to the normal level of American craft beers (in the ballpark of 2.4 volumes of CO2). This will accentuate the crispness of the beer.
A golden ale, brewed in the manner described, can be a “gateway” beer — one that interests craft beer novices and leads to them trying other styles. However, the kind of beer described here is for the knowledgeable brewer who enjoys diversity and doesn’t need every beer he drinks to knock him over the head with hops, booze or bourbon barrel flavors. Those can be nice, but sometimes what really hits the spot is a simple, balanced beer. And that’s what golden ale can be.