Sunday, 2 November 2014
I Have A Thing About Blondes
I Have A Thing About Blondes
In which I argue with myself about a style that frustrates me
I have a thing about blondes, they just don't excite me any more, and to be honest it's been an awful long time since I saw one that turned my head.
Obviously I'm talking about blonde ales here, or golden ales if you prefer, those straw coloured, malt forward, English pale ale variants.
They used to start appearing on bars in late April and early May, a trickle at first becoming a flood by June and gradually fading away around mid-October when the darker, stronger beers began to muscle there way back onto the scene. In some pubs they often are the only style of beer you can get in the Summer, and now they have tendency to pop up at any time of year, whatever the season.
They're easy to spot too, hovering around the 4.0% abv mark and with names that usually begin with the words, Summer, Sun or Sunny, or more predictably Golden or a misogynistic play on the word Blonde (or Blond) with an equally (dis)tasteful pump clip or bottle label to match.
"I mean, we're all lads together aren't we, you know, and it's just a bit of harmless fun. I ain't a sexist or nothing, some of my best friends are women and they'd tell you so. It's just beer anyway, and men drink it and we all like women don't we, right?"
The title of this piece is no mistake.
Exmoor Ales produced what is regarded as the first modern Golden Ale back in 1986, but it was Hopback's Summer Lightning that first brought my attention to the style back in the early nineteen nineties and these were both different enough for drinkers to take notice and embrace it fully. I have to admit that I still have a penchant for both of these beers and even though there were of course many copiers at the time, they would show up sporadically here and there and in fairly limited quantities which made them rather sought after. To use a well worn phrase, those were the days, and now things are markedly different.
It's not just these reasons however. I now find that these beers are just bland.
Last night I was in The West End Tap in Lincoln. This is a fine pub, previously called The Vine, but now rejuvenated and reopened as a Free House with a good selection of well kept and well chosen beer, cask, keg and bottle. I'm afraid I'm going to have to single out a beer here as it was this beer that got me thinking about this style and that beer was Atom Brewery's Blonde Ale. This is by no means a rant against Atom Brewery, I've enjoyed there beers every time that I've had them, their pump clips are easily identifiable (it's a kind of atomic cloud-like design in case you don't know) and the beers are clean tasting and refreshing. I had however just finished drinking Anarchy Brew Co.'s excellent Quiet Riot, and the Blonde Ale afterwards just tasted safe, nice enough but just well just like it should. I would say as well that the Atom was one of the best I've had, and before anyone wants to put me straight I am fully aware that Anarchy's Blonde Star is their biggest seller.
There are lots and lots and lots of blonde/golden ales out there and much as every US brewery seemingly has to have a big hoppy IPA in it's stable, the same can be said of British brewers when its comes to a Blonde. They're popular too as this article from the Guardian in February 2013 reports, this beer is seen a rise in sales being championed from all sides as the 'gateway' to real ale, weaning the lager drinker off their diet of fizzy 'Euro-lager' onto a more traditional English-style of beer (and we could argue that one for a while), but could it be the reason that they are so popular is that drinkers are swapping one bland style for another?
I'm not including Belgian Blonde ales in this mix of course, they are a different style entirely often full of fruit and/or spices, often high in alcohol and with a characteristically dry finish. They're a style I like a lot, and it should be noted that this post is my own opinion (although in discussion with my wife she was inclined to agree with me).
So, having said the blonde ales are bland, generic, ubiquitous and wide-open to puerile sexist imagery I'll draw this piece to a close. Sales of Golden Ales are apparently booming so people are clearly buying and enjoying and it is therefore obviously a good thing for the beer industry as a whole. I'm also sure that the sales of these beers are helping keep some breweries heads above the waterline as it's a style that that people know and will turn to when they are uncertain of what to go for, using it as a kind of beery safety blanket. I accept this isn't necessarily a bad thing either, it's just ... it's just ... I have a thing about blondes ...