By Brad Smith – Originally posted on our BeerSmith Home Brewing Blog – Subscribe here
Scotch Ale brings forth visions of fog filled bogs, dimly lit pubs and a hearty pint of ale.Scotland has always had its own distinct brewing style with an array of unique beers from the60/- shilling light Scottish ale to the "wee heavy" strong ales. This week we examine the historyof scotch ales as well as some Scottish ale beer recipes.Scotch ale can be divided into roughly four categories. The standard ale is available in threestrengths: light, heavy and export. A fourth category is often broken out for strong Scottish alesor "wee heavy" ales. These ales are also often named by their 19
century per-barrel price inschillings (now obsolete) as 60/-, 70/- and 80/- for the light, heavy and export and higher numbers of 100/- to 160/- for strong and "wee heavy" styles.
The History of Scottish Ales
Scotland has traditionally produced a wide array of beer styles including many that are either English or Irish in character. During the 18th and 19th centuries Scotland was a major exporter of all kinds of beer to both England and also its colonies, and Scotland was first in the Britishisles to begin producing lager in large quantities.Despite the influence of neighbors, Scotland's unique geography and political situation combinedto produce a uniquely Scottish style of beer that we now know as scotch ale. According toDaniels, two of the major factors were the availability of malt and hops. Barley has always beengrown in Scotland, with a large portion dedicated to the production of whiskey. However, inSouthern Scotland significant portions of the yearly crop were dedicated to beer production.Hops, however, has never thrived in Scotland. The soil and conditions are poor for hop production, so hops had to be imported often from England at high expense. As a result a varietyof hop alternatives were traditionally used including spices, herbs and quassia. Later when hopswere used, they were added only sparingly resulting in a distinctly malty character. In contrast tothe South in England malt was heavily taxed and hops plentiful resulting in more highly hoppedstyles such as IPA.A look at traditional brewing of Scottish ales reveals that these ales were mashed with one or atmost two steps, usually at high temperature (often above 160F!) and sparged slowly and oftenfermented at relatively cold temperatures. The combination no doubt produced a beer full of body and resulted in very low attenuation of the yeast. Bitterness was low, resulting in a maltyfull bodied beer. The finished beer was aged only a few weeks and then shipped directly to pubsfor consumption. When aged, the beer was often kept cold which aided in enhancing clarity.
Brewing a Scottish Ale
As mentioned above Scottish ales have four major categories. The three traditional scotch alesare distinguished primarily by strength and bitterness: original gravitie for 60/- light is in therange 1.030-1.035, for 70/- heavy it is 1.035-1.040 and 80/- export comes in at 1.040-1.054.Strong scotch "wee heavy" ales have very high gravities in the 1.070-1.130 range.Bitterness is low - with about 10-15 IBUs for light and ramping up to 15-30 IBUs for the exportversion. Even the strong ales has a low bitterness in the 17-30 IBU range. Malty and caramelflavors dominate the style with little to no hop aroma or flavor.