This week’s style – the Scotch Ale – has the coolest nickname among all style categories … “Wee Heavy”. Can you guess why? Ding-ding-ding! Yes!… Because it’s a strong, full-flavored, Scottish beer. And may we say, just perfect for a long winter’s night.
Scotch Ales also have – BY FAR – the best brand names associated with them, including: Old Chub, Kilt Lifter, Ye Olde Kilt Tilter, Scotty Karate, Skull Splitter, Dirty Bastard, Backwoods Bastard, Wee Willy, Groundskeeper Spilly, Sheep Shagger, Gang Aft Agley, Under the Kilt… you get the idea. These brewers are clearly enjoying a nip o’ the ole scotch ale during their naming process.
The Scotch Ale/Wee Heavy is the big brother of a more refined and sessionable Scottish Ale. They should be very malt-forward and have a thick sweetness to them. Hop lovers will not sing this beer’s praises, as it’s almost void of hops – the reasoning is historic, in that Scotland is not a land known for hop production, and back in the day, importing hops to the region was just too expensive. The alcohol levels will tend to cut through some of the sweetness, and some varieties will also have a peaty/smoky, nutty, and/or dark fruit-like character as well.
Below is the Gateway Beers profile of the typical characteristics you can expect to find in a Scotch Ale (on a 1-5 bar scale):
Here is a more formal description from our friends at the Beer Judge Certification Program:
Appearance: Light copper to dark brown color, often with deep ruby highlights. Clear. Usually has a large tan head, which may not persist in stronger versions. Legs may be evident in stronger versions.
Aroma: Deeply malty, with caramel often apparent. Peaty, earthy and/or smoky secondary aromas may also be present, adding complexity. Caramelization often is mistaken for diacetyl, which should be low to none. Low to moderate esters and alcohol are often present in stronger versions. Hops are very low to none.
Flavor: Richly malty with kettle caramelization often apparent (particularly in stronger versions). Hints of roasted malt or smoky flavor may be present, as may some nutty character, all of which may last into the finish. Hop flavors and bitterness are low to medium-low, so malt impression should dominate. Diacetyl is low to none, although caramelization may sometimes be mistaken for it. 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 (from light use of roasted barley).
Mouthfeel: 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.
The Scotch Ale is best enjoyed at a temperature north of 50° to let all the nuances and complexity shine through. And with an alcohol content generally higher than 7%, we’d recommend serving it in a snifter or tulip, however a pint glass will do the trick as well.
The strong characteristics of the scotch ale fare well with gamey meats like pheasant and quail, as well as more traditional roast pork, smoked salmon, or lamb – especially if grilled slowly over an open flame. Spicey mexican dishes can work as well, but we’d probably recommend going with a more hop-forward style like IPA or Amber Ale. For cheese pairings, you’re probably best off with something smoked. Overall though, the scotch ale is probably BEST to save for a rich dessert, given the heavy toffee, caramel-like nature of the beer… anything with dark chocolate, toffee, or caramel will work really well.
There are approximately 25 varieties of Scotch Ale you can find here in Eastern PA, all of which are rated as A’s or B’s on Beer Advocate… which basically says you can’t go wrong with any of them. But here are the Top 3 (ok, 4) we’d recommend picking up at one of our area’s top distributors or take-out beer locations:
– Founders Backwoods Bastard, 10.2% ABV -or- Dirty Bastard, 8.3% ABV (Grand Rapids, MI)
– AleSmith Wee Heavy, 10% ABV (San Diego, CA)
– Oskar Blues Old Chub, 8% ABV (Lyons, CO)