Blonde ale drinkers may feel a bit put off by what we’re about to disclose, but friends, the future is golden. Golden ale might be the new kid on the block, but trust us, it’s got plenty of street cred behind its flashy new name.
When considering a golden ale, it’s easy to get lost. What differentiates it from those straw-golden, old-world Belgian ales that are so light and crisp they seem low-gravity but pack a higher ABV? And what do we now do with blondes? Aren’t they kind of… the same?
At TapRm, we pride ourselves on our beer knowledge. We may not be professional cicerones, but we’re ardent beer enthusiasts with a passion for identifying and classifying beer. We’ve collected all the information you need to know about golden ale, so the next time you’re discussing the differences between a Belgian strong blonde and a golden ale, you can impress your friends.
First, let’s get a baseline for the conversation by defining what an ale actually is. Yeah, it’s a lot different from a lager or a sour.
What Is an Ale?
Ales, lagers, and sours. You know they aren’t the same. From a flavor standpoint, it’s easy enough to tell them apart from one another. From a brewing standpoint, you might need a little education. We’ve got you covered.
The biggest difference between the three styles of beer above is how they’re fermented. A sour, for instance, is wild fermented, using wild yeast and bacteria that results in the dank, farmhouse flavor for which they’re known. Lagers are bottom-fermented with lager yeast in a cold wort.
Ales are top-fermented in a hot wort. When the boiling wort has cooled only slightly, ale yeast, usually Saccharomyces cerevisiae, or “S. cerevisiae,” is added, and fermentation begins. This yeast starts activating on the top of the wort, creating a thick foam of science project-esque interactions. Thus, the ale is “top” fermented. Ale fermentation is also faster than lager fermentation.
What Does an Ale Taste Like?
From a flavor standpoint, lagers are easy to drink, highly sessionable, and malty with very little hop influence or bitterness. Ales, on the other hand, are hop-forward. They are usually bitter, full-bodied, and bold. Massive beer like stouts and porters are ales.
Ales are the playground of the craft brewer. Highly complex, the Brewer’s Association recognizes over 90 styles. Their list is ever-changing and is updated regularly. The juicy IPA, for instance, was recently granted its own style category in 2021. The adjuncts added to an ale during the brewing and fermentation process result in these classifications.
The Golden Trio
Now that we know what ales are, defining a golden ale should be as simple as narrowing down the category by the golden ale’s specific traits. But somehow, it’s not that simple.
Confusion surrounds the golden ale because beer drinkers find it difficult to define it as separate from Belgian style strong blonde ale and regular blonde ale (the straw-colored, easy-drinking beer you love in the summer).
Let’s break it down.
Belgian Style Strong (AF) Blonde Ale
Belgian style strong blonde ale is a sneaky, easy-drinking beer with an ABV strong enough to be a big beer. Classically, Belgian-style strong blondes are straw-colored, have a small amount of chill haze, and feature a well-balanced malt versus hop flavor.
Combine this crisp, easy flavor with fruit esters, spices, and the occasional inclusion of Belgian candy sugar, and you’ve got a slightly sweet, light-bodied beer with an ABV that will wipe you out in two pints.
These beers historically have an ABV above 5%, so drink with care.
The Blonde Ale (Golden’s Predecessor)
Maybe predecessor isn’t the right word. Blonde and golden are essentially (get ready for it) the same thing. We said what we said.
Blonde ale is straw to light amber in color, has a low chill haze viscosity, low malt and hop flavor and aroma, and low bitterness. It’s a low to medium-bodied beer that’s as low gravity as it is light and drinkable.
Essentially, with a classic blonde ale, what you taste is what you’re getting. It brings real sessionability to the table along with its flavor.
Before we get into why blondes and goldens are essentially the same, let’s talk about how the blonde came into existence.
History of Blonde Ale
Before the 1800s, most beers were pretty dark. The method used for drying malt was primarily over an open flame. This fire-drying method resulted in dark malt (sometimes even scorched), which meant the resulting beer would also be dark.
Lighter beer (think pale ale) came from the Brits. They began drying their malt grains with hot air as opposed to open flame. This gave them the ability to exert better control over not only the color of the beer but the consistency of flavor.
Air drying malt in a kiln was all the rage, and pale ale, Indian pale ale, and lighter colored, medium-bodied ale became the standard. These beers still had a decent ABV, somewhere between 5-7%.
Then the world wars happened.
During World War I and World War II, supplies for making beer were scarce, and workers needed to be kept sober. Thus, laws were passed that limited the amount of alcohol beer could contain. What happened? Beer got even paler and contained a bit less alcohol by volume.
Back Home in the U.S.A.
The world wars affected beer production globally, and in the U.S., beer brewers turned to good ole’ American corn to make booze on the cheap. Originally brewed as lagers, these beers were easy drinking and popular.
By the 70s and 80s, the craft beer movement was in full swing, with small brewers taking risks with original recipes to create newer, more complex beers. To make sure their early beers were still well-received, they created ales similar to the easy-drinking lagers of the post-war era. Thus, the blonde ale was born in its drinkable, low-gravity glory.
But What About Golden Ale?
It’s the same as blonde, friends. According to beer experts (the people who actually judge beer in competitions) and most knowledgeable craft brewers, blonde ale and golden ale are one and the same. The only nuance is the name.
There are various theories about why there’s been a shift in the name.
- The gender theory. “Blonde” ale usually conjures up images of tall, slender women with cascading blonde hair and red lips. Could this prevent some people from drinking it? Maybe.
- The better representation theory. Arguably, golden is a better adjective to describe the true color of these ales. Golden elicits shimmer or sparkle, an almost champagne-like reference that can capture both the level of carbonation in a golden ale and the color.
Whether or not either of these theories is true, or if blonde ale just decided to reinvent itself through the hands of a few craft brewers, we may never know. What we do know is that it's absolutely delightful.
What’s So Golden About Golden Ale
We briefly described blonde ale above, but to hone in on some of the measurable aspects of the golden/blonde beer, we’ll give some more detail.
On the nose, golden ale has a low to medium maltiness and hop. You may pick up cracker or biscuit notes from the yeast.
Unlike a triple hopped IPA, a golden ale has a very low to medium perceived bitterness level, usually measuring somewhere between 15-25 IBUs.
Golden ales are low to medium-bodied, incredibly smooth, and have medium carbonation.
Even though golden ales are malt-forward, they aren’t so malt-forward that they taste like a lager. The maltiness is balanced by low to medium hop. The resulting flavor is cereal-like, a combination of grain and sugar.
Unlike their Belgian strong blonde cousins (who would totally kick your ass in a bar fight), golden ales are just here for a good time. Their ABV rests comfortably between 3.2-5.1%, making them completely approachable and highly sessionable.
Golden Ales to Try Right Now
The sparkling beverage of your dreams isn’t just for the summer months. You can grab hold of these beers right now simply by hitting up the TapRm website and having them shipped right to your door.
- Oyster Bay Brewing Company Honey Ale. Craving something perfectly sweet and sustainably sourced? This is your beer. Made with real, local honey from responsible beekeepers, this honey-golden ale has a smooth finish, a beautiful yellow-gold color, and a moderate 5.2% ABV.
- RH Brewing Four Color Demons. This crip, golden ale has a 5.5% ABV 5.5% that’s fizzy and easy to drink.
- Side note: It’s based on a comic book serious about a motorcycle club. Pretty cool backstory to share with your buddies while you throw back a few of these smooth, sessionable beers.
Keg & Lantern Brewing Company Keg & Lantern Golden Ale. We love this beer because it’s a classic take on the original blonde ales of the post-war era. This golden ale “drinks like a lager,” which is exactly the way beer brewers intended their blonde ales to drink during the early onset of the craft beer movement.
This beer has a 5.2% ABV and a smooth taste you’ll love on its own or with a meal.
Flagship Brewing Company Tunnel to Towers Bravest Golden Ale. The difference with this golden ale is in the hops. Brewed with Huell Melon and Cascade hops, this golden ale has a noticeable hop flavor, minus the bitterness, which is perfectly balanced with its toasty maltiness. With the lowest ABV of any of the beers we’ve covered (4.8%), you could easily make this a game-day or boat day beer.
Our selection of golden ales is ever-changing and evolving. Because we work with the nation’s best and most exclusive craft brewers, we often have beers that are offered only in limited supply or seasonally. When you see something you like, grab it!
Golden ale is blonde ale remade… but only in the name. So now you know, and you can use this knowledge to annihilate your friends on trivia Tuesday.
While you’re schooling them on golden ale, let them know about TapRm. By connecting craft brewers who are obsessive about their beer with passionate consumers, we’re building a better beer infrastructure.
Blonde, golden, a name is a name. For the best in golden ales, you know to check TapRm.