Continuing our look at the many beers of Belgium, this week’s column features one of the most common and varied styles of Belgian beer—the Golden or Blonde Ale. For the sake of this column we’re going to put Golden and Blonde Ales under the same umbrella. Outside of color, the common thread through many Golden Ales is the use of Pilsner malt and bottle conditioning, either through the beer being unfiltered (and left to condition in the bottle) or by adding yeast to a filtered beer causing an extra fermentation. Golden Ales tend to strike a fine balance between their bright, slightly citrusy notes and their alcohol level (which can range anywhere from 6-9% ABV and up).
Duvel is probably the best-known Belgian Golden Ale in the U.S. today. With a spicy yeast character, full-bodied malts and robust hops Duvel has not only become a favorite of Belgian beer drinkers, it’s established the style in parts of the country previously unaware of Belgian beer. Duvel can be found on tap at many bars and restaurants as well as your local grocer or wine shop.
For beer fans in the Northern Virginia area, Delirium Tremens is a legendary Golden Ale. Brought into the country by local company Wetten Imports, Delirium has become a go-to beer for those seeking a raucous good time all over the States. At 10% ABV with rich hops and an intense yeasty palate, the pink elephant on Delirium’s label is an icon of Belgian Ale. For many (myself included), Delirium Tremens is a great introduction not only to the power of Belgian beer, but just how much fun Belgian beers are too.
Those seeking a more everyday beer can find the classic Leffe Blonde in many locations these days. As a relatively inexpensive (though still not cheap) six-pack, Leffe provides a more laid-back experience for drinkers not looking for the more high-octane Golden Ales. Grimbergen Blonde is a slightly fuller-bodied beer that falls under the same category (when available though, it does tend to be a bit pricier) with a slightly spicier flavor than Leffe.
If you’re looking for something a little more modern or experimental, consider Antigoon. Originally developed with the crew at D.C.’s Brasserie Beck and served at Chef Robert Wiedmaier’s restaurants, Antigoon now can be found at retailers around the area. Antigoon has a pinpoint focus that lets its spiciness come through yet stay refreshing. A personal favorite of mine is Urthel Hop-It, a Golden Ale that has a level of hops added to it that is usually reserved for IPAs. Hop-It has a nice backbone of bitterness and is more refreshing than the average big Belgian.
Of course, our own breweries here in the U.S. have gotten into the act with their own takes on Golden and Blonde Ale. Pranqster by California’s North Coast Brewing Company is a fine Belgian-style Golden Ale that can be found for a reasonable price. Victory Golden Monkey is a great rich, intense Golden Ale that is especially nice because, being brewed in Pennsylvania can usually be found relatively fresh. Avery Karma is a nice seasonal Blonde brewed from April through August every year; bright and refreshing; Karma manages to combine big flavor and drinkability.
Whichever Golden or Blonde Ale you choose to try, keep in mind these are beers meant for fun. These are beers with which you can alternate between introspective appreciation and pure enjoyment. The seemingly endless variations of Golden Ales can provide a lifetime of experimentation; try every one that interests you and you’ll find your favorites in no time.