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Scotch and Scottish Ales

(BrewStyles focuses on the history and brewing of classic beer styles. At the end, you'll find directions for putting together your own recipes in this style.)

by Ray Daniels

Although Scotland harbors a population only one tenth the size of England, it has nurtured a unique brewing culture for much of its history. Like their neighbors (and sometimes competitors) to the south, Scottish brewers were active in exporting beer around the globe during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They also produced a broad variety of styles including those usually associated with England and Ireland and they were the first British brewers to make lagers.

Despite the variety of beers produced in Scotland over the last few centuries, one particular flavor profile emerged as the characteristic style of the land. As in other great brewing areas, this unique style is the result of geography and politics rather than the will of the brewers.

Agriculture still occupies three-quarters of the land in Scotland and barley remains a major crop. Barley produced in the north of Scotland most often becomes Scotch whiskey while that grown in the south is better suited to the making of beer. As a result of these patterns, barley has been readily accessible to Scottish brewers throughout their history.

In contrast to barley, hops refuse to flourish in Scotland. Long after the English had conceded to use hops, the Scots continued to prefer other bittering substances. A variety of products were used instead, including "ginger, pepper, spices and aromatic herbs."

A further encouragement of these pressures came when Scotland and England joined in 1707. The Treaty of Union that joined Scotland and England specifically excluded Scotland from a substantial malt excise tax, thus sustaining the malt-oriented view of the Scottish brewers.

As a result of these influences, we today recognize four styles of beer that hail from Scotland. Three are called Scottish ales and range in gravity from 1.030 to 1.050. These three are distinguished by strength, as Light (OG 1.030-1.035), Heavy (OG 1.035-1.040) and Export OG 1.040-1.050). The fourth style, known as a Scotch ale, is much higher in gravity, ranging from 1.072 to 1.085. It is often called "strong Scotch ale," or by its common nick-name of "Wee Heavy." Scottish ales are often labeled according to an old price-based system of identification. The Light, Heavy and Export are known as 60/-, 70/- and 80/- shilling ales respecctively. Wee Heavies are commonly called 90/- or even 120/- shilling ale.

A number of modern examples can be found in the U.S. Caledonian sends their strong ale to the U.S. under the label of "MacAndrews Scotch Ale." Other examples of Scotch ale can be found as "McEwan's Scotch Ale" and "Traquair House Ale." In addition, many brewpubs and some micros make up a batch of Wee Heavy from time to time and some are quite good.

While it is fairly easy to find a representative sample of the Strong Scotch Ale style in the U.S., but a bit harder to find a good Scottish ale. I've recently enjoyed Belhaven's "St. Andrews Ale" and it seems to be a pretty good example of the Scottish styles, even though at 1.046 it is a bit high in gravity even for a 80/-. McEwan's Export is sometimes seen here and Caledonian's "Golden Promise" ale has a bit of Scottish character to it. Washington state's Grant's produces a Scottish Ale with a representative malt character but with more hop character than usual.

Brewing the Scottish Style

Historical research informs us that classic Scotch and Scottish ales require cool fermentation and low attenuation. Other practices that may be used to achieve the desired malt character in these ales include:

Extensive cellaring at cold temperatures.
Low hopping rates to produce a malt balance
Use of roast barley for color and flavor
Caramelization in the copper through use of a long boil
Little or no hop flavor or aroma additions

Here are two recipes that I have brewed in the Scottish style. The first recipe is a very basic one that could be adjusted to make any of the three Scottish ales. I have set it up to hit an original gravity of about 1.040. If you are high, it will be an Export, if you are low, it is a nice Heavy.

Scottish Export Ale

5 gallons, Target Gravity: 1.040

7 lbs Pale Ale Malt
1.5 lbs Cara-Pils or Dextrine Malt
3.5 oz Roast barley

Mash these grains at 156 to 158 deg F for about one hour.

Extract Alternative: Substitute 4 pounds of pale liquid malt extract or 3.3 pounds of pale dry malt extract for 6 pounds of the pale malt and perform a mini-mash or grain-bag soak with the remaining grains.

Plan to boil this wort for two to three hours. You may need to add additional water during the boil in order to achieve the proper final volume.

For hops, add 3.5 alpha acid units (AAUs) of Fuggle, Goldings or Willamette hops one hour before the end of the boil. (i.e.: 1 oz of 3.5% alpha acid hops, or 0.5 oz of 7% alpha acid hops.) No other hop additions should be made.

Ferment this wort with the Wyeast Irish Ale (#1084) or Wyeast European Ale (#1338). If possible, maintain cooler ale fermentation temperatures, in the range of 62 to 65 deg F.

If possible, cool condition the beer for two weeks at 40 to 45 deg F (refrigerator temperature) after the fermentation is complete.

Bottle, condition and enjoy.

The second recipe is a kitchen sink beer -- I threw in a little bit of everything to create a really deep malt complexity. If you can't find one of the malt ingredients, just substitute something similar. If possible, select specialty grains from several different maltsters or countries to maximize the flavor diversity. Also remember that this beer will take some time to come into its prime, so don't expect to drink it two weeks after it is done.

Wee Heavy

5 gallons, Target Gravity: 1.085-1.090

Mash Bill

10 lbs Pale Ale malt (Option: Reduce this for a mini-mash, see Extract Conversion.)
1.5 lbs Belgian Biscuit malt (alternatives: special roast, aromatic, victory)
1.25 lbs 80 L Crystal malt
1 lb Cara-pils or Dextrine malt
1 lb Cara-Munich or a 50-70 L crystal malt
4 oz Special B
1 oz Roast Barley

Mash this at 155 deg F for one hour.

In the kettle, add:

3.3 lbs Northwestern Gold Liquid Malt Extract
1.25 lbs Laaglander Light Dry Malt Extract

Boil the wort for two to three hours total. Add water as needed to hit your final boil volume.

Hop Schedule:

6.5 to 7 AAUs Fuggle, Goldings or Willamette Boil 45 minutes
0.5 oz Fuggles, Goldings or Willamette Boil 15 minutes

Ferment this wort with the Wyeast Irish Ale (#1084) or Wyeast European Ale (#1338). If possible, maintain cooler ale fermentation temperatures, in the range of 62 to 65 deg F.

If possible, cool condition the beer for two weeks at 40 to 45 deg F (refrigerator temperature) after the fermentation is complete.

Bottle, condition and then be patient for a month, or two, or three. Then enjoy.

© 1997 Chautauqua Inc.