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~ Scotch and Scottish Ales ~

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.

Scotch ales are deep copper to brown in color with a pronounced maltiness thatmay include a slight smoky character. This is said to be from theScottish malt that was kilned over peat fires. The peat smokinesspermeated the malt and imparted a subtle but distinctive flavor.

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.

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

Smoke on the Water

Some home brewers are of the opinion that one of the primary attributes of a Scotch Ale is a smoky character. From a traditional point of view this may very well be so, as virtually all beers brewed 200 years ago undoubtedly has some smoke character to the malt, acquired during the kilning process. Contemporary commercial examples of the style do not exhibit smokiness as a primary characteristic. But a good brewer never lets a little reality interfere with their vision.

Frugal vs Fuggle

Hops are a foreign concept to the Scotsman, in a very literal sense. They are not grown in Scotland, and have to be imported from the South, at great expense no doubt. So the legendary frugality of the Scots comes in to play, even as the brew is formulated. The importance of stretching the hops to save a pound has some important consequences. The main one being that hop usage is restricted to bittering, and virtually not used for flavor or aroma. As to what variety of hops to use, it's not all that important, but the recipies will no doubt have some recommendations.

Malt covers the earth

Unlike the hop plant, barley is plentiful in the highlands, giving the malt center stage in brewing.

Is it the water?

Some of the character of malt whisky comes from the water, which has filtered through the peat bogs over periods of hundreds of years. As most of the brewing is done in metropolitan areas, it's unlikely that contemporary products have any of the peatiness of a traditional brew. You can make up for this by tossing in a handful of whisky malt into the mash. Be careful though, as a little goes a long way.

Yeasty Beasties

Any good top fermenting ale yeast will suffice. However, you may want to look for a strain which can handle a low fermentation temperature, has a high tolerance to alcohol, and good flocculation characteristics. A neutral character is appropriate in order to give the malt center stage. Again, the recipes have some specific recommendations.



Special Techniques

There are some special processes for high gravity beers which can be applied. For example, the traditional Wee Heavy is brewed exclusinvely from the first runnings of the mash. A second, weaker beer, sometimes called two penny, is brewed from the subseuqent runnings. The second beer uses the spend hops from the Wee Heavy, as confirmation of the true dedication to frugality of the Scotsman.

If you don't want to make two beers from the same mash, you can make up for the difference by simply boiling the sweet wort for a while before adding the hops. This has the effect of increasing the gravity of the wort, and carmelizing it as well. The carmelization adds to the color, flavor, and increases the percentage of unfermentable sugars in the wort. Once again, this technique can be used to put the malt character center stage.


Scottish Export Ale

5 gallons, Target Gravity: 1.040

7 lbs Pale Ale Malt or 4 lbs. Extract

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.

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'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.




Scottish "Wee Heavy "

5 gallons, Target Gravity: 1.085-1.090

10 lbs Pale Ale malt

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:

4 lbs Gold Liquid Malt Extract

1 lbs 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'F.



Original Gravity: 1.090

Final Gravity: 1.022

Batch Size: 5

Alcohol Content: 9.7

Apparent Attenuation: 74

Grains/Malt Extract:






1/2 lbs. 120-L CRYSTAL MALT







Yeast: WYEAST 1084

Brewing Procedure/Fermentation Log:


150 F - ONE HOUR

155 F - 45 MINS