In this beer-style review, we are taking a look at one of the most popular and highly consumed beers around the world: the Golden Ale. We will take a look at exactly what this beer is, touch on its origins, as well as its characteristics including how it tastes, how it’s made, some of the more popular commercial examples of Golden Ales and lastly we will show you how you can brew your own batch of this delicious beer.
What is a Golden Ale
Many consider golden ale to be a gateway beer or an introduction to the world of craft beer for first-time craft beer drinkers before they move onto more bitter, hoppy, and maltier styles. We believe this to be a misrepresentation of this beer style, although it is an excellent style for people new to craft beer to try, Golden Ales are also very complex beers, with a classic taste, moderate bitterness, and maltiness that many seasoned beer connoisseurs not only enjoy but consider to be one of the most enjoyable beer styles.
They are typically more popular in the UK and Europe where you will find them on tap in many of the pubs you visit. They have a light to medium body, are not overly hoppy or malty, and tend to have a dry, crisp and clear taste and finish. They typically are also a shade or two more golden in color than a Blonde Ale which leads to an interesting question…
Is a Golden Ale & Blonde Ale the Same Beer?
Many people including beer judges and associations tend to consider Golden Ales & Blonde Ales to be the same beer. We respectfully but unapologetically believe this to be a misrepresentation of this beer.
In our humble opinion Golden Ales have a slightly more complex taste and maltiness than Blonde Ales, they also tend to be more golden in color than the light straw color of a Blonde Ale.
A true Golden Ale although now brewed in North America typically by craft breweries should lean towards the flavor profile of a British Pale Ale and it should be brewed using European ingredients including grains, hops, and yeasts providing it with a more grainy or bready flavor than an American Blonde ale.
Whereas a Blonde Ale would be brewed using ingredients from North America, have a lighter color and flavor profile, and is typically considered to be as close as a craft beer would be to a commercial beer. When anyone would come into our pub and ask for something similar to their favorite commercial beer, we would recommend one of our Blonde Ales.
A very general overview of their differences in our opinion would be that a Golden Ale would be similar to a British pale ale, whereas a Blonde would be similar to a lager.
The History of the Golden Ale
There is a reason we say that the Golden Ale should taste similar to a British Pale Ale and that is because it is a direct descendant of it. The Pale Ale started showing up in the 1700s, prior to its emergence most of the beers brewed were darker styles. The term Pale Ale was used to describe any Ale that was lighter in color than the darker brown and black ales that had previously dominated the landscape. Bitters, milds, and IPAs all fell under this new category of beer.
Most people have heard of the origin story of the India Pale ale, where the beer was made to have a stronger ABV and more hops were added in order to preserve it during its long ocean journey to India. Although the colonists came to enjoy and prefer the taste of this new style, back home in England the trend did not catch on and the milder taste of pale ale was preferred.
During this time period somewhat of a brewing revolution took hold as lighter-colored beers started to become the preferred style over the traditional dark beers. Golden ales which are lighter in color, body, and taste than pale ales emerged as one of these styles.
In North America, the craft beer movement that started taking off in the 1980s has made this style of beer popular on this continent. Many of the smaller breweries have at least one tap dedicated to it and do recommend it to people who are just getting started drinking craft beer.
Golden Ale Characteristics
Appearance: Golden Ales are clear beers that range in color from light to medium gold, carbonation bubbles are visible and typically there will be a low to medium white head visible.
Flavor & Aroma: If they are brewed using British malts, hops, and yeast as we recommend then they will have a slight bready or grainy flavor and aroma and there will not be a lot of detectable hop characteristics. They tend to have a crisp and dry finish, without much of an aftertaste.
Alcohol by Volume: The ABV is on average around 5% but it can range from 4 – 5.5%.
How are Golden Ales Made?
There are two basic styles of beer, ales, and lagers, and as its name implies a Golden Ale is an ale. The main difference between these two styles of beers is the yeast that is used to make them and lagers undergo a lagering process which is basically a form of cold conditioning where after fermentation is finished they are moved to a cold environment just above freezing temperatures to condition for 6 – 8 weeks.
Besides that difference, a Golden is made in the same fashion as the majority of beers. Grains are mashed by soaking them in hot water in order to release their starches, the grains are then removed and the remaining liquid is transferred into a boil kettle where it is boiled for 60 minutes.
Bittering, flavor, and aroma hops are added at varying intervals during the boil. When the boil has completed the liquid which is now called wort (unfermented beer) is cooled, then transferred to a fermenting vessel, the yeast is pitched and the beer is allowed to ferment for approximately 10 days. Once fermentation is completed, the beer is typically cold conditioned for 2 days, then carbonated either naturally with sugar or force carbonated with CO2, and then packaged in kegs or bottles.
Commercial Examples of Golden Ale
Pretty much any brewpub or taproom will have a Golden Ale on tap that you can try. Commercially it is a bit more difficult to find a version of this style that is in line with what we believe it should be, most will lean more toward a Blonde Ale.
One of the best Golden Ales you will find in North America is brewed in Atlantic Canada by a craft brewery located in Rothesay, New Brunswick called Foghorn Brewing Co. It is a perfect example of what this style should represent, they call it the Golden Grover English Pale Ale. Flavor-wise it has bready and honey notes from the malt used to brew it as well as earthy and spicy characteristics from the hops.
Other popular commercial examples are:
Cigar City out of Florida describes theirs as being built for warmer months. They use a combination of pale wheat malt and Willamette hops to brew theirs.
Allagash Brewing Company out of Maine calls their version Astrid (88) and Kona Big Wave out of Hawaii version has a light to medium body and a crisp finish they tout it as being a gateway to IPAs.
Make Your Own Golden Ale
If you are a brewer and would like to brew your own batch we recommend you check out our post How to Home Brew a British Golden Ale, it uses equal parts Maris Otter which is a British malt, and 2 Row which is a North American malt, if you want to bring it more in line with what a British version of this style would be like then replace the 2 Row with Maris Otter. The hops used will provide the ideal hop characteristics, for yeast we give you the option of choosing between 2 English strains and 1 US strain, we recommend using the English strains.
Frequently Asked Questions:
What is the difference between a Golden Ale and a pale ale? In reality, a Golden ale is actually a style of pale ale, however, it is a lighter version in taste, aroma, and mouthfeel than most other versions of pale ales.
What’s the difference between Golden Ale and lager? A golden ale will have a slightly more complex flavor profile than a lager, it will lean towards having malty flavors of breadiness or graininess, whereas a lager will be more clean and crisp tasting.
Should Golden Ale be served cold? Traditionally most English pale ales were served at room temperature, however in North America unless the beer is a special edition at a craft brewery such as a beer served from a cask most are served cold. We recommend trying a Golden at room temperature and one cold and then determine which you prefer.
As you have seen you will find there are conflicting opinions of what a Golden Ale is, some will tell you it is identical to a Blonde Ale, but we do not feel that is accurate. A Golden Ale should have the distinct British pale ale characteristics of malt flavors and aromas of bread and grain and have a light to medium gold color.
P.S. If you brew your own beer be sure to take advantage of our gift to you and pick up Big Robb’s top 5 favorite recipes from his brewpub. Details are on the side of the blog and bottom on your phone or tablet. Cheers!