Monday, August 11, 2008
5 beer styles you've never heard of: Scotch/Scottish Ale
Aye! HolzBrew back again with another style discussion. This post is going to cover Scotch Ale (or Scottish Ale). Now I think everyone is familiar with a few Irish drinking songs, but the Scottish like their drinking and singing just as much, so I thought it would be fun to include a classic Scottish drinking song to start off this post, you may have heard it before if you've ever hung out with a Scotsman:
"Well, a Scotsman clad in kilt left the bar one evening fair
And one could tell by how he walked that he'd drunk more than his share
He fumbled 'round until he could no longer keep his feet
And he stumbled off into the grass to sleep beside the street.
About that time two young and lovely girls just happened by
One says to the other with a twinkle in her eye
See yon sleeping Scotsman so strong and handsome built
I wonder if it's true what they don't wear beneath the kilt?
"They crept up on that sleeping Scotsman quiet as could be
Lifted up his kilt about an inch so they could see
And there behold for them to view beneath his Scottish skirt
Was nothing more than God had graced him with upon his birth!
They marveled for a moment then one said we must be gone
Let's leave a present for our friend before we move along
As a gift they left a blue silk ribbon tied into a bow
Around the bonnie star the Scots kilt did lift and show.
Now the Scotsman woke to nature's call and stumbled towards the trees
Behind the bush he lifts his kilt and gawks at what he sees
And in a startled voice he says to what's before his eyes
Oh, lad I don't know where you've been but I see you won first prize!"
Officially "Scotch Ale" is the name given to a strong pale ale originated in Edinburgh in the early 1800s. The term "scotch" generally brings thoughts of a certain brown spirit. It is important to remember that whiskey is simply distilled beer and that this famous liquor did not even exist until the 1800's. By that time the Scots had been brewing beer for literally thousands of years. Catholic monasteries established commercial breweries in Scotland during the medieval times. By the 1400s public breweries began to appear throughout Scotland. During the 1800s Scottish breweries were major distributors to the rest of Europe, North America and India.
From the very beginning Scottish ale has always been different than most types of British beer. The main reason for this is because hops do not grow in the cold and windy Scottish climate. Originally the early Scot brewers used spices, herbs, and even roots to help balance out the sweetness of the malt. In more modern times the Scots have imported hops in order to brew their Scotch ales. The problem with importing hops is that they were both expensive and ENGLISH! All things "English" are held in skeptical regard by the Scottish people. Scottish beer drinkers did not care for the flavor of the English hops and that is why hops are only used sparingly in Scotch ales. In reality the Scottish brewers recognized the hop as having tremendous preservative quality and begrudgingly have used hops in their beers. Malt flavors were emphasized by Scot brewers and still are today.
Scottish Ales traditionally go through a long boil in the kettle for a caramelization of the wort. This produces a deep copper to brown in colored brew and a higher level of unfermentable sugars which create a rich mouthfeel and malty flavors and aromas. Smoky characters are also common. Additionally, Scottish beer ferments differently than English beer. The colder temperatures lead to a slower fermentation. Long cool fermentations tend to produce malty beers with less fruitiness. Due to this some Scotch ales bare closer resemblance to Bavarian lagers versus English ales, despite the usage of ale yeast strains.
Strong Scotch Ale is also known as Wee Heavy. Examples of beers brewed in the USA under the name Wee Heavy tend to be 7% ABV and higher, while Scottish brewed examples, such as Belhaven's Wee Heavy, are typically between 5.5% and 6.5% ABV.
Some great examples of Scottish Scotch Ales (and Wee Heavys) that you can find easily around the DC area are: McEwan's Scotch Ale, Orkney Skull Splitter, and Traquair House Ale. As with all styles American brewers have taken to brewing this delicious brown ale. Exceptional American versions of this style that are readily available around the area are: Oskar Blues Old Chub (this is one of my favorites), Samuel Adams Scotch Ale, and Magic Hat Jinx.
To fully complement the maltiness of this delicious ale, buttery cheeses such as brie, gouda and swiss make great pairings. Additionally, all smoked meats taste great with this beer.
Go out and find some McEwan's or Old Chub when you get a chance and discover all that this style has to offer.
Drink your Scotch (ale),