Wednesday, September 9, 2015

French Blonde Ale Recipe and Tasting

When whirlpooling goes right.I have difficulty when I need to bring beer to an event that isn’t beer-centric. Most of my bottled beers are intended for slow consumption, and are thus strong, sour, weird, or some combination thereof. I usually keg my daily drinkers for consumption within a couple months. If I happen to have a suitable beer on tap I’ll fill a growler, but often what I have is a session IPA, something roasty, and a tart saison. Not exactly gateway beers for many people!

Every Labor Day for the last 20+ years my wife’s family has thrown a big barbecue in her ancestral homeland of northeastern Ohio. It involves a rib cooking contest, penny scramble, and cases of Bud Light, Yuengling, and occasionally some Great Lakes. In previous years I’ve brought a mixed-six to share with the handful of uncles, cousins, and siblings that lean towards beer nerdery. For this year's festivities, Audrey and I decided to brew a batch specifically for the event. The goal was something that would be accessible and appealing to people who like BEER: refreshing, moderate alcohol, low bitterness, and clean fermentation. At the same time, I didn't want to brew an American Lager.

Wort in one of the two fermentors, waiting for yeast.The recipe was really simple, meaning ingredient quality was especially important. I wanted to show off one of my favorite base malts, Weyermann Floor Malted Bohemian Pilsner. Hops were restrained, Sterling for both bittering and a touch of aroma. The yeast was an accidental purchase, I was intending to buy White Labs French Saison Ale for a consulting job, but mistakenly selected White Labs French Ale. The description matched the “clean” requirement, not too different than a German/Kolsch ale strain.

Luckily the beer was a hit! Mostly thanks to Audrey’s expert sales role convincing grandparents and third-cousins to try it. We drove home with an empty keg after draining the last quart into a water jug for her uncle to enjoy during the cleanup.

This was surprisingly my first time serving a keg away from home, glad I had my 5 lb aluminum CO2 tank retested after getting a new 20 lb tank for the kegerator. To keep the keg cool we placed it in a small plastic trash can with a big bag of ice and a gallon of water. Pours were predictably a little foamy by people more accustomed to pouring macro-lagers from hand-pumped kegs, but it was otherwise a great excuse to share my passion!

I’ve still got the second keg of this batch on tap, although it was dry hopped with an ounce of Jarrylo (its parentage looks like a royal family - Summit is both the mother and paternal grandmother).

Rib Burn-Off Blonde

Appearance – I had been hoping for a bit more clarity from the gelatin for presentation purposes, although no one seemed to mind. Likely my fault for not crash chilling in conjunction with fining. Beautiful bright yellow color and a thick gorgeous head and lacing. A looker, even in a plastic cup!

A glass of French Blonde at the Rib Burn Off!Smell – What I really like about the Floor-Malted BoPils is that it doesn’t come across as grassy as Pilsner malts often do. The flavor has more inside-of the baguette (not the toasty crust, just a pure bready-grainy expression). The yeast is clean, but slightly fruitier than American Ale. Sterling provides a restrained citrusy-spice. Fresh, bright, fancy beer.

Taste – Love the balance, malty without being sweet. Low-gravity beers need a boost to compensate for less total malt, characterful base malt can go a long way in that regard. The acidulated malt keeps it from being stodgy, keeps the finish quick. Worked well with the wide range of foods served.

Mouthfeel – Crisp without being astringent. I incorporated some of the techniques I’ve been working on for IPAs (high chloride water, hotter mash) to ensure it didn’t end up too thin despite the low gravity. Carbonation was about right for me, which likely means a little low for people accustomed to BMC seltzer.

Drinkability & Notes – Always good to know I can brew something light, low-hopped, and clean! Probably the least exciting recipe I’ve made in recent memory, but in some ways it is the sort of beer that is becoming harder and harder to find compared to a great IPA or bourbon-barrel RIS. I enjoyed the non-dry hopped version more than the one I have on at home. The Jarrylo at such a low level comes across as a fruity yeastiness. It covers up the wonderful maltiness, replacing it with bruised orchard fruit.

Rib Burn-Off Blonde

Recipe Specifics
Batch Size (Gal): 13.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 20.50
Anticipated OG: 1.043
Anticipated SRM: 2.8
Anticipated IBU: 20.3
Brewhouse Efficiency: 72%
Wort Boil Time: 75 Minutes

97.6% - 20.00 lbs. Weyermann Floor-Malted Bohemian Pilsner
2.4% - 0.50 lbs. Weyermann Acidulated Malt

1.13 oz. Sterling (Pellet, 8.00% AA) @ 60 min.
1.00 oz. Sterling (Pellet, 8.00% AA) @ 10 min.

1.00 Whirlfloc @ 5 min.
1.00 tsp Yeast Nutrient @ 5 min.

White Labs WLP072 French Ale

Water Profile
Profile: Washington, DC

Mash Schedule
Sacch Rest - 35 min @ 155F

Brewed 7/18/15 with Audrey

7 g CaCl added to the mash. No additional acid.

First runnings 1.040. 3 gallons of cold sparge water, filtered, otherwise untreated. Collected 14.5 gallons at 1.039.

Chilled to 70F in the kettle, settled 20 minutes, ran into fermentors, pure oxygen for 45 seconds each, pitched yeast (one vial for each 5.5 gallons) directly. September Best By date. Left at 64F ambient to ferment.

Good fermentation by 24 hours

7/23/15 Warmed up to 75F to ensure fermentation is complete.

7/28/15 Back to 64F.

7/30/15 Dry hopped one fermentor with 1 oz of Jarrylo. The other half got the Brulosophy Gelatin Method: 1/2 tsp of Knox gelatin dissolved in cold/filtered water and slowly heated to 150F in 10 second bursts.

8/3/15 Kegged both, topped up with CO2, put into fridge.

8/8/15 Hooked up the "dry hopped" keg to gas. Final pH 4.19, FG 1.014, 3.8% ABV.

9/1/15 Dumped a couple pints, and then shook CO2 into the Burn Off keg.

9/6/15 Served at the Rib Burn Off.


  1. The Mad Fermantationist goes Macro!!! Ha!

    One thing I like to do when bringing kegs to events is to use gelatin after crash-cooling in the keg, and then doing a keg-to-keg transfer into my ultimate serving keg. As you found out this isn't really necessary with a beer like the one you describe, but a bitter or session IPA with hops in the keg really benefit from this extra step.

    1. Great method. Found this works best for transporting and serving.

  2. Great post! I've recently brewed a beer similar to this and found I really enjoyed it. It's nice to take a little break from the sour, hoppy or heavy stuff. Good way to reset the palate.

  3. I'm confused. What is "shook C02 into Burn off keg" ? Hadn't you already hooked up the gas almost a whole month before? wouldn't shaking disturb the trub that the gelatin had pulled to the bottom of the keg?

  4. It was the "dry hopped" keg that had been on gas (clarified). The gelatin was added to the fermentor and should have done most of it's work there. I also dumped a few pints before shaking to pull out as much trub as I could. The beer sat around for another five days or so between shaking and serving, but there wasn't much to dump from the first pint at the party.

  5. For a family reunion a month ago, my dad and I were tasked to make a beer. We went in the opposite direction and made a "session" IPA that was all pils malt. Hopped with Galaxy, centennial and Amarillo. Surprisingly it was a huge hit. Did the same keg technique as you. It worked well.

    I was thinking saison as well for next time.

  6. Mike, how did French ale do in primary? Did it throw up nice krausen? Thinking of doing some top cropping with this yeast if capable. Cheers!

  7. I had some comments on social media suggesting 072 puts up a really big krasen, but my results were moderate. That may be partly the relatively low gravity and fermentation temperature I had. 1318 is the winner in recent memory for largest krausen.

  8. Do you think this yeast could put out some clean(ish) hop-forward beers when pitched heavily and fermented at low temp and also be able to produce some complex esters at lower pitching rates and higher ferment temps?

  9. Stouts are the beer that made me fall in love with beer. IPAs have been a recent passion, but this simple recipe sounds like a great beer to have around to enjoy in quantity.

    I'm going to be brewing a harvest ale this weekend, and I'm thinking this may be a great base recipe.

  10. Impossible for me to say with any certainty how French Ale would behave under alternate conditions as this is the only beer I brewed with it. It's worth a shot though!