By Chrissy Cooper
Scotch, Scotch, Scotch, I Love Scotch… Ales!
I first fell in love with Scotch Ales just after the “teenage years” of my foray into craft beer…maybe six years ago, back when I first discovered a favorite watering hole of mine… the owner had a love for a certain Scotch Ale that I will talk about later. At that point I had moved on from drinking strictly light beers like pilsners, hefes, and lagers and was venturing into much, much darker territories. Even as I ventured more to the dark side I found that the darker it was, the sweeter that I liked it and I was already realizing that hops didn’t make my taste buds jump with joy like so many other beers did and do. Scotch and Scottish Ales originate in Scotland..surprise surprise, where hops were avoided for a long time, due to the difficulty of growing them in that region. So they are all about that malty, sweet, and dark taste that makes my taste buds dance like no one is looking and like there isn’t even any music playing.
I have been talking about Scotch and Scottish as if they are the same, and mostly… they are. Their origins are the same, but the Scotch ale tends to be a bigger and meatier version of the Scottish. Scottish ales though dark and flavorful are more of a “session” beer, tending to fall at the lower end of the ABV scale, while Scotch Ales (especially the American versions) are more of a one-and-done kind of beer… if you are trying to be responsible anyways.
Session beers refers to beers that are lower in alcohol content (usually between 3% and 5%), thus you are able to consume more of them in a “session”.
I tend to like my beers on the dark and heavy side, so I did not get any Scottish Ales to review, but there are many out there that you can keep your eye out for. For now you can read about these dark, delicious beauties.
Bellevue Brewing Company, Bellevue, WA
Scotch Ale/ Wee Heavy | 7.7% ABV | 32 IBUs
Though the name is not very imaginative, the taste more than makes up for that. It is solid and meaty like any Scotch Ale should be, but at the beginning there are hints of fruit mixed in with a slightly nutty flavor. The back end left a surprising taste in my mouth, but somehow the lightly hopped dryness it left on my tongue balanced really well with the full bodied and slightly sweet beginnings. Bellevue Brewing is the first brewing company to open in Bellevue, WA which is surprising to me because there are many brewing companies that have graced the Lake Washington area with their presence. They have been around since 2012 and if the rest of their beers are anywhere near this good I’m sure they will be around for a long time.
Founders Brewing Co., Grand Rapids, MI
Scotch Ale/ Wee Heavy | 8.5% ABV | 50 IBUs
Some of my favorite beers are called bastards, so I just had to try this one out. At first taste I had to question whether my wonderful boyfriend had poured me the wrong beer, it tasted eerily similar to an Old Chub, but after a couple more sips and swallows I could taste some big differences. For me Old Chub has three fairly distinct flavors throughout each sip, but Dirty Bastard has closer to two, but in this… case less was definitely more. The beginning starts out dark and smoky, and I couldn’t taste it at first but there is a little sweetness mixed in with the smoke, that would probably make it great with steaks on the grill. The back end packs a punch of hops that seems to come out of nowhere since Scotch Ales don’t often have hops, but the dry hoppy taste at the end brings out the sweetness I didn’t first notice at the beginning.
Oskar Blues Brewery, Longmont, CO
Scotch Ale/ Wee Heavy | 8% ABV | 25 IBUs
This is it… the one… the beer that made me fall in love with Scotch Ales. I still think of the cantankerous, yet loveable bartender that first introduced me to Old Chub and always had it on tap, because it was his favorite beer too. Old Chub has an almost but not quite sweet blast of coca at the beginning that very quickly fades into a smoky flavor that comes from the bit of beechwood smoked malt that they use; the taste that stays in your mouth even after the beer is gone is a combination of smokey and a bite of coffee beans that tastes something like the coffee that Dad used to make over the campfire when I was growing up.
Whether you want to try a lighter Scottish Ale with an ABV between 2% and 5%, or you want to try something bigger, darker, and tastier (in my opinion), like a Scotch Ale with an ABV between 6.5% and 10%, there are many options available. And though hops were not an original ingredient in traditional Scotch/Scottish Ales, here in The States we like to do things bigger, better, and bolder when it comes to beer; they seem to have made their way into many of the Scotch/Scottish Ales… and I honestly enjoy the hop just a little when it is mixed with the smoky, maltiness that is so common in these beers.