Craft Beer: Blonde ambition shines through with Spitting Llama and Brehon

The Spitting Lama beer, from Hillstown Brewery
The Spitting Lama beer, from Hillstown Brewery

IF YOU thought beer snobbery was a recent phenomenon, think again. Protecting the craft of beermaking is a centuries’ old pursuit and the modern-day blonde ale is testament to that.

Way, way back, some time in the Middle Ages, the proud brewers of Cologne in Germany took steps to protect their prized kölsch from those pesky pilsners which were becoming all the rage everywhere else. They passed a law that only the blonde brew which derived its name from that of the city was the only beer manufactured in Cologne (or Köln). A straw-coloured ale with moderate bitterness and malty, biscuity taste, blonde – or golden – ale owes much to resolute brewers of western Germany.

Kölsch has protected status, similar to Camembert and Champagne, and many blonde ales will describe themselves as kolsch-style. In the modern craft movement, blonde ales are seen as a stab at tempting lager drinkers over to the ale side with a light, refreshing beer which has a bit more character about it. Commercial blondes which have proved popular include Leffe Blonde and Smithwick’s have also made an admirable attempt at a blonde ale which could do with leaning a bit heavier on the malt.

But these golden brews are much more than crossover beers and many Irish brewers are producing excellent blonde ales with characteristically smooth and almost creamy finishes.

Spitting Lama from Hillstown Brewery, who will have their beers on offer at the Belfast Craft Beer Festival at Custom House Square which starts on Thursday, is a flavourful and strong blonde Belgian ale. Clocking in at 7 per cent abv, this Belgian triple isn’t really the sessionable type, but has a lot going on with an intriguing blend of spice and fruity flavours.

There’s something about farmhouse-based breweries and fine blonde ales because the core range of the Brehon Brewhouse in rural Monaghan contains a nicely balanced blonde ale, Brehon Blonde, which offers the malty biscuity finish you’d expect with a light hoppy and refreshing citrus flavour. It’s a great example of a beer which goes well with food, especially spicy dishes, poultry and fish.


Let me know what brews you are enjoying these days, whether they are local beers which deserve some of the spotlight or those ones from further afield. Email or tweet @pmcconville77