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 which reduces the fruity esters and gives a very clean flavor.
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 cost. The lighter beers cost60 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?