You won't find a better gateway beer than the belgian blonde ale. Most people are familiar with the likes of Leffe and Hoegarden. In fact the style itself came about as a means of appealing to a much wider pilsner drinking audience, so in terms of Belgian beers its very approachable for people new to craft beer. Its still a Belgian strong ale, but its maltier and sweeter than a triple, with a much lower alcohol content. The 'sweetness' should be a pilsner malt character rather than a residual sugar sweetness, not much hop aroma or flavor and above everything else the beer should be dry and drinkable.
Ive brewed a few versions of this over the years, including a table version that clocked in at %3 ABV. But for all versions I always turn to the same yeast, Wyeast 3944 Belgian Wit. It was a local home brewer called Tony Falkner that turned my attention to this yeast a few years ago when he won the champion beer at NHC in 2011. His blonde had a lovely restrained ester profile, silky smooth mouthfeel while still being really dry and a faint spicy note in the background which kept you coming back for more. The trick to getting a nice restrained ester profile is to let the ferment start at 19 and rise on its own up to 23 and hold it there. One of the great things about this yeast is just how versatile it is. It ferments fast and reliably and small variations in fermentation temperature will produce big differences in the finished beer. Although Fermenting too cool will result in a very clean profile and not a heavy spice or clove character that typifies most cool belgian fermentations
This version is right at the top of the range for the style (and probably out of contention at a bjcp event). With enough booze to cellar for a while and a good dose of nobleish NZ hops at flameout for good measure! The melanoiden adds a little extra malt complexity which is helpful with our local pilsner which has a very floral honey like sweetness to it. Make sure your mash ph is 5.3 as per and pitch a really healthy starter so fermentation finishes completely, this beer has to come across as dry!
6.6KG Gladfield Pilsner Malt
295g Weyermann Pale Wheat Malt
90g Acidulated Malt
40g Riwaka Boil 60 min 21.6 IBU800g Cane Sugar
30g Motueka step 20 min 4.2IBU
Made a 2L starter the day before from one Wyeast smack pack.
Mill grains while heating strike water to 70C.
Mash in with 20L of water and hold at 64C for 60 minutes and then batch sparge with 20L of water to collect 30L into the fermenter.
Pitched a two litre starter at 18C and let it rise to 23C on its own. Winter will require the use of a heat pad to get there. Left in Primary for two weeks before crashing to 2C and fining with gelatine.
Bottled 10L with 70g cane sugar and Kegged 20L and force carbonated at 15PSI for a week.
Depending on the alcohol content this beer seems to benefit from at least a few weeks of cold conditioning, but really that rings true for most beers doesn't it!