Amber to Brown / 14 – 25 SRM
Low to Moderate / 17 – 35 IBU
ABV 6.5 – 10% (OG 1.070 – 1.130 with FG 1.018 – 1.040)
Strong Scottish Ale may have been one of the first high gravity beers to garner an international reputation. When the Scots aligned themselves with France in 1295 to aid in their fight against subjugation by King Edward I (yes, that King Edward from Braveheart), part of that treaty, eventually called the Auld Alliance, dealt with trade between the two countries. The French, contributing little to the military side of things (leaving Mel Gibs….William Wallace to pick up the slack) still developed a taste for strong Scotch Ale, which would have mirrored the wines they were used to in more ways than most other ales. Even before that, Niall of the Nine Hostages, then Kind of Ireland, was said to have embarked on his violent fourth-century campaign to rid Scotland of the Picts at least in part to learn the secrets of their Heather Ale. (That style is no longer brewed in any appreciable quantity, but after reading about it we really want to try one, so it’ll eventually find its way onto our tap list).
Strong Scotch Ale remained popular well into the nineteenth century, even bucking the trend and gaining in popularity as porter took the world over during the 1700s. As Greg Noonan points out in the introduction to his book on the style, the production of smaller beer made in Scotland remained nearly level from 1787 to 1830, while production of stronger beer grew four-fold. The hold-out didn’t last forever…as India Pale Ale stormed the colonial marketplace, Scottish brewers wanted a piece of the action. Scottish brewers continued producing IPA, porter, and even pale lagers into the late nineteenth century when two factors that readers of this blog will be familiar with (read: tired of reading about) by now: temperance and war.
Though prohibition never took hold of Scotland as it did here in the states, it scared the hell out of Scottish brewers, who shifted toward producing more light beer that could pass as nutritional and less scandalous. The rationing of ingredients during the first world war–in addition to the stationed American troops’ preference for highly carbonated light lager–put salt in that wound, and brewers have had trouble recovering in the twentieth century. By 1991, only six breweries remained in Scotland, offering a total of only 20 different brands (!!!).
Luckily for Scotch Ale, it’s irresistible. Brewers in the US and abroad, partially sparked by the Noonan book mentioned earlier, have revived this style in the last few decades. Though it enjoys a mere fraction of the popularity it once did, brewers are revisiting it for good reason. One of those is its interesting similarities to lager. As we mentioned in our post on Scottish Export, fermentation temperatures in Scottish breweries would naturally have been lower than those in more southern areas. Their practices, including cool fermentation, extended cold storage, and reserved hop usage, mirror lager practice more than they do ale practice. The result is a warming, rich, and inviting malt showcase that can often make you think you’ve got dessert in your thistle glass.
Aroma – Rich Maltiness, Biscuit, Graham Cracker, and Deep Caramel
Appearance – Copper – Amber to Dark Amber.
Flavor – Malty-sweet but never cloying or syrupy.
Mouthfeel – Full bodied with Medium-Low carbonation.
Vitals – 6.5 – 10.0% ABV, 17 – 35 IBU
Serve fresh in a Bristol Goblet at 50ºF
Rich, malty, dextrinous, and usually caramel-sweet, these beers can give an impression that is suggestive of a dessert. Complex secondary malt and alcohol flavors prevent a one-dimensional quality. Strength and maltiness can vary, but should not be cloying or syrupy
Deeply malty, with a strong caramel component. Lightly smoky secondary aromas may also be present, adding complexity; peat smoke is inappropriate. Diacetyl should be low to none. Low to moderate esters and alcohol are often present in stronger versions. Hops are very low to none, and can be slightly earthy or floral.
Light copper to dark brown color, often with deep ruby highlights. Clear. Usually has a large tan head, which may not persist. Legs may be evident in stronger versions.
Richly malty with significant caramel (particularly in stronger versions). Hints of roasted malt may be present (sometimes perceived as a faint smoke character), as may some nutty character, all of which may last into the finish. Peat smoke is inappropriate. Hop flavors and bitterness are low to medium-low, so the malt presence should dominate the balance. Diacetyl should be low to none. Low to moderate esters and alcohol are usually present. Esters may suggest plums, raisins or dried fruit. The palate is usually full and sweet, but the finish may be sweet to medium-dry, sometimes with a light roasty-grainy note.
Medium-full to full-bodied, with some versions (but not all) having a thick, chewy viscosity. A smooth, alcoholic warmth is usually present and is quite welcome since it balances the malty sweetness. Moderate carbonation.
Also known as “strong Scotch ale.” The term “wee heavy” means “small strong” and traces to the beer that made the term famous, Fowler’s Wee Heavy, a 12 Guinea Ale. Historically, the strongest beer from a Scottish ale parti-gyle.
More related to historical brews than modern lower strength Scottish ales, these beers have their roots in the strong ales of the 1700s and 1800s, although formulations and methods have changed. A premium product, often produced for export. Modern versions have lower starting and finishing gravities than their historical ancestors.
Well-modified pale malt, with roasted barley for color. May use some crystal malt for color adjustment. Slight smoke character may be present in some versions, but derives from roasted grains or from the boil. Peated malt is absolutely not traditional.
Somewhat similar to an English Barleywine.
OG: 1.070 – 1.130
FG: 1.018 – 1.040
ABV: 6.5 – 10%
IBUs: 17 – 35
SRM: 14 – 25
Belhaven Wee Heavy, Gordon Highland Scotch Ale, Inveralmond Blackfriar, McEwan’s Scotch Ale, Orkney Skull Splitter, Traquair House Ale
Original Gravity (°Plato) 1.072-1.085 (17.5-20.4 °Plato)
Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (°Plato) 1.016-1.028 (4.1-7.1 °Plato)
Alcohol by Weight (Volume) 5.2%-6.7% (6.6%-8.5%)
Bitterness (IBU) 25-35
Color SRM (EBC) 15-30 (30-60 EBC)
Similar flavor profile to Scottish Light and Scottish Export with mid-range ABV. Similar in color and ABV to a Dark Mild, but with less chocolate character.
A single infusion mash is traditional, and hopping is traditionally only one light addition for bitterness early in the boil. Unexpectedly, traditional examples don’t use caramel malts, instead relying on roasted barley for color and a touch of flavor. Keep the roasted barley to 2-3% or less, and of course feel free to experiment with a little bit of caramel malt if you’d like, but never (never!) use peat-smoked malt. Plan to mash in the middle to upper range for lower fermentable extract but not too light of a body (153-154). Fermented in the low to mid 60s with Scottish yeast for a clean neutral character.
AT THE BREWPUB: Scotch Egg (what else?!?)
DESSERT: Bourbon Caramel Bread Pudding
BBQ NIGHT: Smoked ribs with rich, sweet barbeque sauce
Add Black Gold Whiskey and Regans Bitters to mixing glass with 3 x 1 inch ice cubes, stir 42 times . Pour into Munique Goblet and top with 8 oz Stormin’ the Castle Scotch Ale. Gentle stir and serve.
Ours is crafted with English Golden Promise malt for a traditional biscuity malt backbone, with additions of toasty High Color Pale and Munich II for deeper base malt complexity. We use traditional East Kent Golding and Fuggle hops as well as a Scottish Ale yeast that introduce the right mix of fruity esters.
Strong copper ale with rich, decadent maltiness. Burnt caramel, toffee candy, and dried fruit forward, this is one of our favorite wintertime styles. Also pairs well with our Scotch Egg, Caramel Popcorn , Nashville Hot Chicken, and Chicken and Waffles.