Scottish Ale Crash Course
Welcome to another beer style crash course video giving you quick but thorough explanations of beer styles.
If IPAs are for the hop heads, Scottish ales are for the malt heads. Their rich, sweet, caramel maltiness makes these highly addictive brews.
Unlike English beers which have fruity flavors from the yeast, Scottish ales are fermented cool (it’s cold there) which reduces the fruity esters and gives a very clean flavor.
A long boiling process creates the caramel flavors that are so coveted in Scottish ales. Peat malt is often used by breweries recreating the style, but it wasn’t traditionally used by Scottish brewers. The peat malt went to the distilleries and the brewers relied on their yeast, process, and other ingredients to create the beer’s complex flavors.
History of the Scottish Ale
Early Scottish beers were gruit, beers that used herbs and spices instead of hops. The heather flower is abundant in Scotland and was a common ingredient.
Scotch whiskey drinkers are well aware of the quality of malt produced in Scotland. The huge whiskey market means there was plenty of barley for brewing beer, and they weren’t stingy with it. The brewers used high malt bills which are responsible for the malty sweet flavors of these beers.
An interesting feature of Scottish ales is their naming convention, which is based on the Shilling system of currency. The stronger the beer, the more Shillings it was taxed (actually other beers were taxed the same way, but it really stuck with Scottish ales). The lighter beers were charged 60 Shillings while the stronger ones were charged 70,80, or 90 Shillings. Here’s the BJCP breakdown if you’re brewing to style:
- Scottish Light 60/- (2.5 – 3.2% abv)
- Scottish Heavy 70/- (3.2 – 3.9% abv)
- Scottish Export 80/- (3.9 – 5.0% abv)
- Scotch Ale aka Wee Heavy – (6.5 – 10% abv)
Now for some commercial examples:
- Orkney Dark Island
- Bellhaven Scottish Ale
- McEwan’s Scottish Ales
- Three Floyd’s Robert the Bruce
Scotch Ale/Wee Heavy
- Orkney SkullSplitter
- Bellhaven Wee Heavy
- Oskar Blues Old Chub
- Founders Dirty Bastard
While doing this video I was disappointed at how hard it was to find Scottish ales, especially lower abv varieties since there are a decent amount of wee heavies out there. They are unique beers and a refreshing break from the onslaught of hops in American craft beers.
Do we have any malt heads out there? What are your favorite Scottish ales?
Hey, it’s Billy Broas from BillyBrew.com doing another beer style crash course video. Now I had a few people ask me to do a Scottish ale. I happen to love that style so I had no objections. So here it is a crash course in the Scottish ale beer style.
Scotland has a very long brewing tradition going back thousands of years. Back then they made what’s known as grut, which are beers that are unhopped. Instead they’re made with spices, herbs, roots, flowers and things like that. There are a lot of heather grown in Scotland so they made a lot of heather ales. The use of heather really isn’t too common anymore. They eventually did switch over to hops, but there was a lot of resistance to that because they had to import them from England, which meant one that they’re expensive, and two that they had to actually buy them from England, which they weren’t too happy about.
Even still they really don’t use a whole lot of hops in their beers. Very little. Just enough to preserve the beer and balance out the malt a little bit, but that kind of defines this style. They are really, really low hopped beers and it’s all about the malt in Scottish ales. Malt is the defining future of the Scottish ale and there is a good reason for that. When you think of alcohol in Scotland what do you think of? Probably scotch or scotch whiskey. They grow a ton of barley in Scotland. It’s really high quality barley for the distilleries and the breweries share that. So they have an abundance of barley and they definitely use a lot of that. They make these really rich malt focused ales.
You really can’t talk about Scottish ales without talking about their naming convention. They were actually named based upon the taxes that were levied upon them. The currency back then was the shilling. The lower IBU beers were taxed less than the higher IBU beers. So your lower ones like the three percent Scottish ales they were taxed 60 shillings and that became the name of that beer style Scottish 60’s shilling. Then you have 70, 80, 90 and 90 and up is known as a Scottish ale or a wee heavy same thing. 90 shilling and below, the lower IBU beers are called Scottish ales.
So what do they taste like? Like I said, really rich malt flavors. They’re very smooth, really good caramel flavors also from an extended boiling process. There is very little hop bitterness and little to none at all hop flavor and aroma. They’re often smoky, earthy and a little bit peaty. There are some butterscotch flavors in there. They’re also really clean beers. You don’t get the fruity flavors that you get from English ales. That’s because they’re fermented at pretty low temperatures for ales. So you don’t get those fruity esters and because of those temperatures the yeast often drops out and doesn’t finish fermenting the beer. That means you have residual sugar which means you have a sweeter beer.
The color is deep amber to brown and then ABB ranges from three percent on the 60 shillings to 10% or even higher on the wee heavies or the scotch ales. The IBUs range from 10 on the 60 shillings or as high as 35 on the Scottish ales which is still pretty low. So brewing these things and the ingredients got to talk about peat smoked malt or peat malt. It’s used in distilleries for making Scottish whiskey. A lot of brewers do use it and a lot of brewers think that it’s used on Scottish ales, but in fact, it’s not traditionally. So if you’re brewing to style leave out the peat malt. Save that for the whiskey. But then again, if you do like the smoky flavor that it gives you go ahead and use it. It’s your taste buds, but try to keep it to a low percentage, two to three percent or lower.
Malts you want to go with a Scottish or English base malt. Use pale malt or Maris otter. Specialty malts you want to use crystal malt. Caropills[SP] can be used and even a small percentage of roasted barley normally three percent or below. Hops should only be used for bittering and go with an English variety. For the yeast, go with a Scottish ale yeast.
Okay commercial examples and I’ll start with wee heavies or scotch ales because they’re really more common. The king in my opinion is the Orkney Skull Splitter, fantastic beer. There is also this one from Isle of Sky brewery called We Beast. Then this is a newer American one called Highway 78 by Stone, Green Flash and Pizza Port. There is also an America Old Chub by Oscar Blues and founders Dirty Bastard. Scottish ales, Orkney also makes one called Dark Island. There is also the Bell Haven Scottish ale. In America there is the Great Divide Claymore scotch and the Three Floyd’s Robert the Bruce.
Food pairing suggestions, your lighter Scottish ales, your 60 shillings, those would go well with something light like a salad. Your heavier wee heavies go great with meat. Something like pot roast would be fantastic, roast beef or say a steak that developed really good caramelized flavors that would really match the caramel flavors in the beer. These beers are also pretty sweet so you can definitely pair them with dessert. I think it would go great with cake or tiramisu. It’s really fantastic for after dinner.
So that’s a crash course on the Scottish ale beer style. Dig deeper in to them if you want. There is a really great history behind them. Thanks for watching guys. I’m Billy Broas from BillyBrew.com. Cheers.