Tap This: Ron Burgundy liked his scotch, but it has nothing on this style of Scotch ale
While Scotch is synonymous with whisky for many, it is important to keep in mind that the Scots did not take to it until the early 1800’s. Prior to this beer was the drink of choice with public breweries beginning to appear around the late 1400’s. The style came to be mainly out of geography, the hop plants are unable to grow in blustery Scotland so brewers instead turned to a blend of spices, herbs, and roots for balance in the beer. When Scots did begin to import hops from England they used them sparingly because they were expensive, not to mention also English! The style continued to develop in a self-contained bubble in Scotland and incorporate much of the land including some using peat-smoked whisky malt. The style has long been a favorite among many brewers which is how this style has survived and thrived for such a long period of time.
Standard Characteristics: Scotch ales are rich, malty, and typically sweet, but not cloying. The malt profile is fairly complex to prevent the beer from being too one dimensional. The ABV typically ranges from 6.5 to 10 percent.
Nose: A very malty aroma is expected with caramel often apparent. Peaty, earthy, and/or smoky aromas may also be present. Hints of alcohol should not be apparent and hops are low to none.
Body: Medium-full to full body is typically expected due to the heavy use of malts. Very moderate carbonation is apparent with some being very low, especially those which incorporate nitro or are cask conditioned.
Taste: Rich and malty are the two best descriptors of Scotch Ales. Hints of roasted malts or smoky flavor may be present and some may have a nutty flavor. Dark fruits are also typically present bringing thoughts of plums, raisins, or dried fruit.
Food Pairing: Scotch Ales are perfect for meat based dishes, especially game meats. Try pairing Scotch Ales with venison, boar, lamb, beef or pheasant. The sweetness of the malts makes this a style that is great with desserts, especially those which have a creamy texture.
Recommendations: The Scotch ale style may be a bit off putting to some with hints of smoked malt, but once you find one that you enjoy the style quickly becomes a favorite. The high drinkability and soothing mouthfeel make for a beer that goes great with many dishes and also can be enjoyed on an extremely cold day. The style offers enough complexities for beer geeks, but also is approachable for any craft beer novice. Here are just a few recommendations:
Founders Brewing Company- Dirty Bastard
Orkney Brewery- Skull Splitter
Traquair House Brewery- Traquair House Ale
Belhaven Brewery Company- Wee Heavy
Oskar Blues Brewery- Old Chub
AleSmith Brewing Company- AleSmith Wee Heavy
Smuttynose Brewing Company- Scotch Style Ale
Sam Adams – Scotch Ale
Moylan’s Brewery- Kilt Lifter
Derek Warren is a beer fanatic, avid homebrewer and beer historian. Derek can be heard weekly on the Beer Geeks Radio Hour at noon on Sundays on WILK 103.1 FM with past episodes available on iTunes.