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Blonde Ale Brewing, Recipes and Beer Style Overview

BeerSmith

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Blonde Ale Brewing, Recipes and Beer Style Overview
    http://beersmith.com/blog/2013/03/21/blonde-ale-recipes-and-beer-style/

Cheers,
Brad
 

tom_hampton

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Brad-

I think you missed pointing out most of the critical factors in brewing a blonde ale.  Brewing a blonde ale is, at least, as much about technique as it is about "recipe".

Brewing any beer with a low SRM requires some special considerations.  I use 10 SRM as my cutoff, for when I give the extra attention.  The farther below 10 the SRM is the more these things matter.  With these low SRM beers, there is no intensity of flavor to hide behind, so any mistakes that you make will be front and center.

so, what matters?  Well...everything: Water, Mash, Boil, Sanitation, Fermentation.  But, the details matter more. 


Water
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In many areas of the world the local water comes through the ground and has some significant quantify of dissolved minerals.  Without writing a treatise on water chemistry, the primary factor that matters for Blonde ales is disolved carbonates.  The carbonates will allow cause the mash pH to be high, if not managed.  In my experience, anything over 50 ppm as CaCO3 (from your local water report) will be too high to brew a Blonde Ale without manipulation.  Even at 50ppm, I still have to measure and correct my final mash pH. 


Second, as Brad pointed out...Blonde's are generally malt forward.  As such, you want a neutral to malt biased Chloride to sulfate ratio.  Sulfates really emphasize hops and are great for an IPA (or IIPA) style, but in a Blonde sulfate driven hop flavors would be overpowering.  I like a ratio around 1.5:1 (Cl: SO4).  I also generally keep the total levels of Cl and SO4 low. 

All beers need calcium for good yeast health and flocculation (greater than 100 ppm in the fermenter).  This is slightly at odds with the goal of keeping Cl and SO4 low.


So, how do I do this?

Extract
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For extract, you are already locked into the mineral profile included in the extract based on the water used by the Malster.  So, as a general rule you will make better extract beer by using distilled (or reverse osmosis) water as your entire brewing water. 


All Grain
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Use a mash pH/water chemistry tool.  I use EZ water 3.0, but there is Brun'Water, John Palmer's spreadsheet (or nomograph), and Kai Troister's new tool looks very promising (as everything from Kai does).  These spreadsheets allow you to enter your water profile, grist, and mash/sparge volumes.  They will then predict your resulting mash pH, and final mineral profile mash, boil kettle, and the fermenter. 

The first thing to do is to dilute your water with distilled, in order to get your CaCO3 below the 50ppm threshold.  That, of course, dilutes everything else (Ca, Cl, SO4), too.  So, then you start adding back calcium cloride, and calcium sulfate (gypsum) to bring these back to desired levels.  Use the necessary amounts of each to keep your Cl/SO4 ratio around 1.5:1.  And the needed combined amounts required to get your Calcium ppm up over 100 ppm. 

There are two points of addition for CaCl and CaSO4: mash and boil.  Mash additions are there to control the mash pH---you use just enough to get the pH into the 5.4-5.6 range.  The boil additions are there to get the Ca level up to 100ppm for the fermenter. 


Mashing
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For the Mash I like to use Calcium additions to get my mash pH to around 5.6 (room temp), according to the spreadsheet.  Then I will plan to use an acid on brewday to tweak the final pH down to 5.5 (room temp).  This usually requires 1-2 mL of 88% lactic acid to achieve.  You CAN do it without using any acids, but it can take a LOT of mineral additions to get there.  the taste threshold for Lactate is somewhere between 1 and 2 ml PER GALLON, so at 1/5th of the lower end of that range it is WELL below anything that anyone can taste. 

I use a pH meter during the mash.  You CAN get away without one for blonde beers, just by using a spreadsheet like easy water.  The spreadsheets will get you within about 0.2 of the actual pH. 

I take my pH measurments 5 minutes after mashing in.  The chemistry of the mash takes a little while to stabilize.  I add my mash salts directly to my crushed grain.  that way they get stirred in directly with the grist.  Then I wait 5 minutes, and take my pH reading. 

For my water, I know that it takes 0.15 ml of 88% lactic acid per pound of grain in the mash to change my pH by 0.1.  So, for a typical mash my measurment is usually around 5.6 (as planned).  I'm always aiming for a final mash pH of 5.5, so I expect to adjust by 0.1.  For your typical 5 gallon batch with 10-12 lbs of grain, that's 1.5 - 2 ml of acid.  I usually add HALF of the calculated addtion, and remeasure and fine-tune.

This approach is for new batches that I haven't made before.  For repeat batches I just add exactly what I added last time...and skip the measure and tweak approach. 

My local water doesn't change much throughout the year.  So, I have found that I do NOT need to make changes seasonally.  But, some places use different water sources during different parts of the year.  Seasonal changes like this can have an impact on the resulting mash pH...and therefore, your needed additions. 


Sparging
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Sparge pH can impact the flavor of the beer, as well.  if the final runnings pH of the sparge gets above 6.0...then grassy, grainy, husky flavors can be extracted.  For these Blonde beers, this can be a real perceptible problem.  so, again in areas with significant CaCO3 content...attention is required.  But, unlike the detail required for the mash...the solution is simple. 

I add 0.5 ml of 88% lactic acid per gallon of sparge water.  So, for my typical batch I use 4 gallons of sparge water and therefore add 2 ml of lactic acid to my HLT.  Again, this is based on my sparge water having 50 ppm of CaCO3.  You may need more or less accordingly. 

This pulls my sparge water pH down to around 6.0.  Since my mash is already around 5.2 (at mash temp)...this pretty much guarantees that my sparge will not rise above 6.0 (that's not strictly true, but I've done enough batches to know that it is practically true). 


Boiling
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Once all of your wort is in the kettle, its time to add the remaining calcium additions.  These should be calculated so that your final post-boil concentraion of Calcium is, at least, 100 ppm.  The calcium is important for the yeast during fermentation and helps them flocculate.  Second, balance the use of CaCl and CaSO4 in order to adjust the Cl:SO4 ratio to the 1.5:1 range.


Next is to ensure that your boil pH is below 5.6-5.8.  If you have managed your mash and sparge pH as described above, this should take care of itself.  A slightly lower pH for a blonde is helpful to prevent excess color from developing.  Color develops during the boil as a function of the boil intensity and pH.  The higher the pH the darker the resulting beer will be. 

If the pH is too high 5.9-6.0 then an adjustment can be made, again using acid.

Finally, the boil itself:  you don't want a splashing, vigorous boil.  That will develop too much melanoidin character, and too much brown color.  I describe melanoidins as the taste of the crust on a heavily grilled piece of meat.  In subtle amounts it adds nice complexity.  But, 90 minutes of a splashing, hopping boil will literally make it taste like licking the dark side of a steak. 
...ask me how I know....


Fermentation
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Fermentation is all about proper nutrition, aeration/oxygenation, and temperature control. 

Make a starter of the appropriate number of cells.  Use fresh yeast---nothing good is going to come from that 6-month old vial that you found in the back of the fridge.  Add yeast nutrient to your starter, and grow it on a stir-plate...or at least, shake it often. 

Crash and decant your starter.  Have you tasted a starter before?  They don't taste like good beer.  Blonde's have nowhere to hide that oxidized or watery flavor that you get from starters.  Don't put more than 1/10th of your batch size of starter beer into your final beer (1/2 liter in a 5 gallon batch). 

Keep your temperature down for, at least, the first 48 hours.  For your typical yeast, this means below 68-70 degrees.  After 50% of the fermentation is complete (48 hours usually), you can get away with less control without adding much yeast flavor.


Sanitation
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I can't talk about making great beer without mentioning sanitation.  As with everyting above, sanitation is key to all beers.  But, with these light blonde, generally lighter flavor beers, any flaws in sanitation will have nowhere to hide.  It takes a long time for any infections to overpower the flavor of a Russian Imperial stout, or a coffee-chocolate porter.  But, that 15 IBU blonde?  There's nothing to cover up the tart/sour flavor from lactobacillus, or the cherry of pediococcus. 


None of the above is SPECIFIC to making a Blonde ale.  As I said numerous times above, its just that Blonde's aren't very forgiving...so they amplify the perception of any flaws introduced by mistakes in any of the above processes. 

the rewards for making a truly great Blonde Ale are hopefully obvious.  beyond having a good summer beer to drink, if you can make a good blonde then you have a good indicator that your advanced brewing techniques are good and solid.  And you can "graduate" to making other beers that require similar levels of attention to detail---those that you might store and age for years or even decades. 

 
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