Blonde Ale

This is going to be the first post in a series about brewing "to style" beers that were entered into the Delaware State Fair's inaugural home brew competition. The purpose of this was to challenge myself, my recipes, and my understanding of flavor development contributed from the myriad of yeast, barley, and hop choices available to the contemporary brewer to re-create classic beer styles.

First off, I have mixed feelings about brewing "to style". A large part of me honors the past, the unique circumstances in which all beer styles were created. Whether being ingredients available, water profiles, gruit taxes (increasing hops popularity in brewing), or yeast strains present (ales in England, lagers in Germany, phenolic Belgian strains for example) all styles are steeped in history, tradition, and dogma. Ultimately though people were generally just trying to create a delicious libation with what was available and what we have available today is global by comparison, but back to brewing to style.

For this brewing exercise I relied more than usual on the BJCP style guidelines since it was a sanctioned event. The guidelines are cliff notes for styles, with ingredient lists, stats (og, ibu, etc) and commercial examples listed. Also, most of the beers in this to style series we're also poured at my first brewery in planning (Tap Vermont) tasting party that I hosted in July in Vermont so I'll include those descriptions as well as the judges comments and scores.

Blonde Ale
Briess Two Row
Wheat Malt     22%
Flaked Barley   8%
Cara Pils           6%

mash 151*f

Willamette :60   1 oz. whole leaf
Willamette :0     1 oz. whole leaf
Centennial :0     .2 oz pellet

13.4*P (1.053sg)
Safale US-05

It was left in primary two weeks longer than I'm comfortable (total 4 weeks) is my only concession going in.

#1-fruity, green apple, hop aroma low, malt aroma subtle, no diacetyl, phenolic, plastic
#2-fruitiness (cherry, bubblegum) seems to overpower whatever malt character is present. Strong green apple. Smells like a fruit roll up, no hops.

#1-light burnt/rusty range, hazy, thin white head, good retention
#2-light copper with thin white head that sticks around. Decent clarity

#1-grainy malt, a little caramel, hops are low. Both bitterness and flavors are low, balance is toward malt, finish is very dry, fruity aftertaste, light fruit esters present, green apple and plastic phenolic signs of under attenuation
#2-Malt sweetness, with orange citrus followed by a sweet finish with a low level of hop bitterness. Green apple not nearly as present in aroma. Very fruity.

#1-medium body, medium attenuation, low warming, low to medium creaminess, medium astringency, drying
#2-medium body, medium carbonation, no alcohol warmth or astringency

Overall Impression
#1-Seems underattenuated - yeast derived acetaldehyde present and phenolic - could lower fermentation temperature. Also make sure to use a starter and make sure more yeast is healthy. Get a quickly starting fermentation and make sure to complete before bottling. Just to be sure check sanitation procedure. Good try
#2-Too sweet to be an "easy drinking" beer. Be sure to pitch plenty of healthy/viable yeast, watch fermentation temperature and if all grain adjust mash temp. Up hop bitterness/dryness and lower sweetness to increase drinkability.

#1-Recognized-  25/50
#2-Certified-      29/50
Overall 27/50---Good (21-29)

Alright, so what's to learn from this entry to make the next batch better. First changes will be to lower the mash temperature to 149*f to create a more fermentable wort. Next the fermentation temperature needs to be kept lower, if someone says it "smells like a fruit roll up" it's too warm a ferment and not a to style character in a Blonde ale. I do suspect that the green apple and plastic phenolics one judge kept picking up is from leaving the beer in primary for too long causing flavors from yeast autolysis to enter the beer. It also appears I need to increase the hop presence in the finish. The color was also a little darker than it should be for a Blonde ale, the carapils malt I used is 10*Lovibond, so that's the culprit. This was my first shot at a blonde ale. I think a few minor adjustments will get this beer to score over 30, whatever that means.

This beer went over well at the tasting party. Some people scored it as their favorite of the nine that were served. I called it Dirty Blonde and the description was as follows: "Refreshingly crisp golden ale, brewed with barley & wheat malt. Lightly hopped with whole leaf Willamette for bittering and flavor with a touch of Centennial for aroma. Flavors of toasted bread and floral hop aroma create a balance for this easy drinking ale." 
An inspiration for this series was Peter Kennedy's post More Homebrew Lessons Learned.. Where his beer entries performed less than favorable and I think it took some cajones to post about it. One sentence struck me as positive critical thinking when he said, "Maybe it is time to go back to basics and reset".

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