An In-depth Look at Scottish Ales

If you like Scottish or Irish ale – or aren’t really sure what the style is all about – then this might get you started on the differences in the sub categories of this mostly under appreciated beer.
I recently had an opportunity to present a tasting seminar to Special Hoperations, a Tampa home brewing club and the current Florida Homebrew Club of the Year.
A brief history of the styles
Beer in the British Isles has been around for at least 5,000 years.  There are some interesting events that helped shape the styles we know now as Scottish, Irish, and Scotch Ale.
The more documented history of beer in Scotland and Ireland can be traced back to the 7th century when some interesting developments paved the way for the industry.
In Ireland, the King was duty bound to distribute Ale every Sunday and any host who served beer that was off could be sued for the consequences.  TheScots at that time were brewing strong ales with herbs for bittering.   The Scots were exporting their beer from brewing centers of Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
In the 1700’s, The Acts of Union were passed which granted a favorable tax rate to Scottish Maltsters.  This led to a boom in brewing for export and solidified the Scottish brewing industry.  Many of the Scottish breweries were formed at that time like Bellhaven and Tennent.  The Scots were brewing a version of IPA that was wildly popular.
Scotland is unique in that the ales were described by their cost 60 shillings for the low alcohol beer and increasing  70/, 80/ etc. for the higher alcohol beer.  Back in the day you could buy a hogshead of beer for 60-80 shillings.
Meanwhile in Ireland laws were passed that taxed the production of distilled spirits and encouraged brewing.  In 1752 over 500 tons of English hops were imported to brew Irish porter and the Royal Dublin Society awarded prizes for brewers who produced the most porter and used the most Irish hops.   Around this time Arthur Guinness set up a small brewery in Dublin and began to brew porter.
Robert Hilferding presenting to Special Hoperations, a Tampa home brewing club and the current Florida Homebrew Club of the Year.

Robert Hilferding presenting to Special Hoperations, a Tampa home brewing club and the current Florida Homebrew Club of the Year.

Tasting and Brewing notes – Scottish Ale
So – lets get something perfectly clear – Scottish Ale is NOT Scotch ale!  while related they are completely ( well, almost) different.
The interesting thing about BJCP categories  9A, 9B, and 9C is that all the descriptions are the same!  Aroma, Appearance Flavor, Mouthfeel, the overall and even the ingredients are the same (nearly)  The difference is in the ABV – and therefore also the original and final gravity.  The ABV range for these styles is 2.5 – 3.2% for a 60/; 3.2 – 3.9% for a 70/; and 3.9 – 5% for an 80/
In general, these three categories also get slightly more hoppy as the alcohol increases – likely due to the need for higher bittering when exporting.
BJCP overall description of the three styles is: “Cleanly malty with a drying finish, perhaps a few esters, and on occasion a faint bit of peaty earthiness (smoke). Most beers finish fairly dry considering their relatively sweet palate, and as such have a different balance than strong Scotch ales.”
Brewing Tips for Scottish Ales
  • Mash in the 154-158 range for 75-90 minutes
  • Use a simple grain bill with a small amount of roasted barley for color and finish.
  • Ferment at about 60 degrees for up to three weeks.  I think Scottish Ale yeast (Wyeast 1728) works best at capturing the smoky nature but you can use 1084, 1098, or 1318 as well
  • Use juggles or EK Goldings hops
  • Balance your water to the hard water of Edinburgh
  • Age the keg or bottles for at least 30 days.
Tasting and Brewing notes – Irish Ale
Irish Red ale is one of my favorite styles – in Ireland currently on 6% of beer consumed is ale – the majority is Harp lager.
BJCP 9d describes Irish Ale as “An easy-drinking pint. Malt-focused with an initial sweetness and a roasted dryness in the finish”  I totally agree! With an ABV of 4.0-6% and a simple grain bill, the beer has a great amber to reddish copper color and a medium light to medium mouthfeel.  There is some caramel flavor and aroma notes that make it a complex beer that is a great drinking product.
Brewing Tips for Irish Ales
  • Mash temperatures in the 150-155 range for 60 minutes
  • Typical grain bill is 70% maris otter, 24% vain malt, and 4% roasted barley for color and finish.
  • Fuggles and EK Goldings are best choices for hops
  • Balance your water for Dublin so it is high in carbonates
  • age for 30-60 days for best results
Tasting and Brewing notes for Scotch Ale
 BJCP category 9E is a strong ale.  Often called wee heavy, this beer runs 6.5 – 10% ABV.  Described as “ Rich, malty and usually sweet, which can be suggestive of a dessert. Complex secondary malt flavors prevent a one-dimensional impression” by BJCP a Scotch ale is deeply malty with caramel and a medium full to full bodied mouthfeel.  Often esters suggest plums or raisins and many versions display legs.  No hop presence to speak of in the aroma.
Brewing tips for Scotch Ale
  • Mash at 150-155 for 60 minutes
  • Consider a decoction mash or boiling down some wort to emphasize caramelization
  • Simple grain bill of pale malt, crystal and some roasted barley for color.
  • Fuggles and/or EK Goldings
  • Balance for Edinburgh water
  • Age for at least 60 days
We tasted the following beers:  Bellhaven 80/  scottish ale, Smithwick’s Irish Ale and McEwen’s Wee Heavy and closed with an old Irish toast!
“Here’s to long life and a merry one. A quick death and an easy one. A pretty girl and an honest one. A cold beer — and another one!”
Submitted by Robert Hilferding

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