The Belgian Blonde Ale generally tastes like it has its roots reaching far back into history. Surprisingly, it has a development that only dates circa World War Two, and was intended to appeal to Pilsener drinkers, who had grown fond of the lighter beers. The popularity of the style continues to grow, as breweries try create interesting beers that remain light tasting. Generally falling under the banner of “Belgian Pale Ale”, the Blonde generally features hops that have been aged, so that they have a softer, and more floral presence, allowing the spice and fruit notes of the Belgian yeasts to shine through. Brewers are also using some non-traditional hops these days, which can add complexity to the beers. As is often the case in a country that features two distinct languages and cultures (Flemish in the North of the country, French in the South), there are even differing opinions regarding the spelling; the French devotees use the “E” on the end, while brewers up North tend to adopt the “Blond” version.
Bellingham’s newest brewery, Gruff Brewing, has started off with a couple of Belgian styles in its portfolio; a Saison, a version of the Saison that has been soured, and this take on the Belgian Blonde. This beer has an ABV of 6.7%, which puts it near the middle of the usual range for this style. Served in a Shaker pint glass, instead of the more traditional Tulip or Snifter, the beer poured a lightly hazy medium-dark gold color. There was less than ¼ inch of off-white head that quickly dissipated, and left no lacing. Solid head retention and thick lacing are generally hallmarks of the Blonde.
On the olfactory front, the first feature I picked up was some yeasty spice notes, but just underneath was pleasant,subdued, earthy grain scent that provided a solid base. There may have been a hint of soft, rounded hops in the background as well. On the tastebuds, the spice got highlighted on the front and sides, while the malty grains held the middle. Each aspect was bolder than it had been in the scent, and stood easily separate. They combined at the back end for a taste that was both simple and well melded. I didn’t pick out any fruit characteristics, which may be a result of the specific yeast used, but the spicy notes lingered pleasantly as I watched the wind whip up some whitecaps on Bellingham Bay.
Sugar is sometimes added to help fill out the body in this style, and I failed to ask the staff if that was the case here. Whether it was used or not, the body was medium-full, and flowed across the tongue very smoothly. The carbonation level was a bit lower than I would have expected, and the effervescent effect was minimal in the mouth. The finish was a little tart from the yeast, but was, overall, semi-sweet. Drinkability was very good, I could easily see sipping a couple of these on the soon-to-be-opened patio outside the taproom windows.
Overall, I thought this nascent brewery delivered a very nice brew. It perhaps didn’t hit all the style guidelines right on the button (I would have liked more carbonation, both for the head, and texture), but this is a style that has ample wiggle room to move about in. I can easily future iterations getting dialed-in a bit more, and look forward to revisiting this beer in the future. There are no glaring flaws here, so do yourself a favor and head on over to Maple St. and try a pint. On my 1-10 scale Gruff Brewing’s Belgian Blonde earns a solid and enjoyable 5.6.