With all the fanfare that surrounds new and unusual beer releases, it’s easy to overlook the “regular” beers, the everyday drinkers that are often the standard-bearers in a brewery’s lineup. Every so often it’s refreshing to return to these core beers and reorient your palate on these mainstays.
With this in mind, I recently revisited Cascade Lakes Brewing Company’s Blonde Bombshell, its popular and easy-drinking flagship blonde ale. Blonde Bombshell has remained a consistently strong seller for the company, accounting for over a quarter of all beer sales in 2017. First brewed in 1999 as a summer seasonal, the beer proved popular enough to be added to the core lineup and had locked in its place as a fan favorite by 2003.
The brewery began canning Blonde Bombshell last fall, and introduced a cherry-infused variant last year using tart cherry puree from Oregon Fruit Products. However, I went straight to the source and enjoyed the original beer on draft at the Seventh Street Brew House in Redmond.
It presents an attractive pour, a bright golden-yellow color with brilliant clarity and crisp white head of lacy foam. The aroma is clean and mellow, with a grainy note and a grassy, slightly spicy hop presence. I detected a subtle touch of green apple aroma as well.
The flavor highlights a light husky graininess with a touch of cream of wheat cereal. An earthy hop bitterness develops mid-palate, slightly spicy and lingering unobtrusively into the finish. Overall the beer is light-bodied, crisply refreshing and finishes clean. It’s an excellent example of the style that Cascade Lakes has honed in on over the years, and at 4.3 percent alcohol by volume, it’s eminently sessionable.
The blonde ale style developed during the early decades of the American craft beer movement, produced as an alternative to light lagers by breweries that were largely unequipped to brew lagers. Also known as golden ales, they were often intended to serve as entry-level or gateway beers to fuller-flavored offerings.
Early incarnations of these light-in-body ales offered more flavor than light lagers, with fruity esters and low levels of hops, but were still intended as easy-drinking, thirst-quenching beers targeted to capture the lager-drinking market. As the industry evolved, many breweries dropped their blonde ambitions while others reformulated the style towards richer malt body and bright, citrusy hoppiness.
The malt bill for the style reflects its simplicity, typically consisting of all-barley malt though sometimes wheat and/or character malt such as crystal are included. Overall bitterness is low, with American hops often providing a fruity, floral or even spicy aroma note. The final beer should be balanced and clean, even lager-like.
Paradoxically, this type of lighter style can be difficult to brew successfully, as its otherwise clean and restrained profile magnifies flaws rather than hiding them as many darker or more complex styles can do.
Stylistically, there is little difference between blonde or golden ale, cream ale, and Kölsch (depending on who you ask, of course). Many breweries ferment their blonde ales with German Kölsch yeast, for instance, and a number of modern interpretations of cream ale, such as Kiwanda Cream Ale from the Oregon coast’s Pelican Brewing Company, are categorized as blonde ales by the Brewers Association and others.
Among Central Oregon breweries, Blonde Bombshell is the best-known golden ale in the marketplace, but it’s not the only one available. Three Creeks Brewing offers Knotty Blonde, a staple since the Sisters brewpub opened in 2008.
Worthy Brewing Company’s Easy Day Kolsch is similar in strength but has a more pronounced hop presence and a fruitier ester profile than Blonde Bombshell. Wild Ride Brewing in Redmond brews Big Booty Golden Ale, a heftier beer at 5.5 percent alcohol and aromatic from late-addition hopping.
Prineville’s Ochoco Brewing Company has the lightest version of the style, Better Off Blonde, that is only 3.1 percent alcohol. The brewery also recently offered a Lemon-Ginger Blonde version. Other blonde ales to watch for include Bend Brewing Company’s Metolius Golden Ale, Grandma’s Blonde Ale from Sunriver Brewing Company and Screeching Blonde Ale from Kobold Brewing Company.
If you get the chance to visit Cascade Lakes or pick up some of its beer, consider Blonde Bombshell as a good (re)introduction to this lighter American style.
— Jon Abernathy is a Bend beer blogger and brew aficionado. His column appears every other week in GO!