When the weather heats up in August, finding a heat-beating, thirst-quenching beer becomes a priority. May we suggest a blonde?
Blonde ales are essentially an American invention, an inoffensive beer with no extremes in flavor whatsoever. Many early breweries made one as a starter beer -- a brew to woo customers, who weren't familiar with the newfangled microbrews. Blonde ales helped people understand that beer could have flavor without being heavy, and that there was more to beer than the low-calorie light lagers made by the big breweries.
As the market has matured and beer lovers have become more sophisticated and knowledgeable, you see fewer blonde ales. That's a shame. In many ways, these ales are perfect summer beers. They're light-bodied, with simple, clean and unassuming flavors. The best exhibit a nice balance that is neither too hoppy nor overly malty sweet, just middle-of-the-road. If they lean in any direction, it's toward the malt. Hops should be present, but always in the background, never too aggressive or dominating. A touch of fruitiness can be acceptable, but it should never overshadow the flavors, just lightly complement them. Simply put, these are smooth ales that are dry on the palate, crisp and thirst quenching.
In a sense, they were session beers before that was a concept. They're generally of average strength, between 4 and 5 percent alcohol by volume, although the percentage can be lower. But they're light and refreshing, exactly what you want on a hot August day.
Fun with blondes
The name -- blonde or, sometimes, golden ale -- is, of course, a nod to the beer's color. They're sometimes labeled English Summer Ales, American interpretations of Kölsch beers, milder versions of pale ales or, less often Canadian ales. (Although the latter tend to use adjuncts -- typically corn or rice -- and are essentially an ale version of the macro-brewed light lagers produced by the large beer companies.)
There are fewer examples of this style today, but happily, a number of breweries make a blonde -- or blondelike -- ale. Here are just a few to put on your summer shopping list.
In Northern California, try Beautiful Blonde by Knee Deep Brewing; Brette Davis Eyes, from Drake's Brewing; California Blonde Ale, from Eel River Brewing; Celt's Golden Ale by Moylan's; Liquid Sunshine Blonde Ale from Hoppy Brewing; Isabella Blonde, by Kern River Brewing; Poor Man's Blonde Style Ale, from BarrelHouse Brewing; South Park Blonde from 21st Amendment; and Happy Hops or Aud Blonde from Russian River.
These ales are brewed outside the Bay Area, but available here: Big Sky's Summer Honey Ale; Deschutes River Ale or Twilight Summer Ale; Ommegang's Gnomegang Blonde Ale; New Belgium Brewing's Spring Blonde or Skinny Dip; Redhook Blonde; and Rogue's Oregon Golden Ale.
I'm not sure if blondes actually do have more fun, but when it comes to blonde ales, you can certainly have fun with blondes, a blonde ale, at least.
As you may recall, we recently lost a leading member of the beer community, Mark "Fraggle" Martine, who co-founded Oakland's Beer Revolution. On Aug. 24, Oakland's Linden Street Brewery will host Fragglefest, a charity event and beer festival. Try beers from 20 local craft breweries; enjoy food truck fare from Hella Vegan Eats, Fist of Flour Pizza Co. and Souley Vegan; and listen to music performed by Fracas, No Limbs, United Defiance, The Divvys and Kicker. Tickets are $10. Find details at fragglefest.com.