When you order Scotch at the bar, you most likely have two options: neat or on the rocks.
At some establishments, though, you may be lucky enough to enjoy Scotch on tap—but not the Scotch you’re probably thinking about. We’re talking about Scotch ale.
Ale is any type of beer fermented using a warm method. It is a sweet, full-bodied drink known for its subtle fruit notes. The term “ale” has historically been used to refer to any drink brewed without hops, although many ales do feature hops today.
What is Scotch Ale?
So what is Scotch ale? It is a full-bodied, dark-brown beer that contains more alcohol than traditional ale. Its flavor profile is very malty and full of caramel flavors and aromas.
Scotch ale goes through a longer boiling process while in the kettle than regular ale. This process allows the wort to caramelize, which gives it its sweet taste.
This drink dates back to the 1800s in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. It is sometimes called the “Wee Heavy.”
In the world of beer, Scotch ale is regarded as an elite drink. Have a sip of a traditional ale like Blue Moon or Stella Artois. Then, have a sip of a premier Scotch ale like Einstök or Founders Brewing. You’re sure to notice some serious differences.
It’s about time this drink receives. It’s just due. To learn everything you need to know about Scotch ale, keep reading below with Saucey.
The origin of Scotch Ale
Scotch or Scottish ale is one of the first high gravity beers to gain fame worldwide. Its origin dates back to the 13th century.
In 1295, Scotland aligned itself with France in their fight against King Edward I. As part of this partnership, the two countries developed a treaty called the Auld Alliance.
This agreement allowed for the trade of products between these two nations, which is how Scotch ale became more than a Scottish drink. The French were the first non-Scottish nation to develop a taste for this beer. For many French citizens, this was a new, exciting alternative to wine.
The Scots were known for their creation of strong beers. This trend continued all the way into the nineteenth century. The production of regular beers stayed practically the same from 1787 to 1830. In that same time span, the strong ale market quadrupled in size.
This push toward stronger ales was halted momentarily due to the rise of different temperance movements worldwide. Scotland never implemented their own laws regarding temperance or prohibition, but this international decline of alcohol was enough to scare off many Scottish brewers.
Many Scottish brewers shifted toward making light beers that could pass off as nutritional. Alcohol at this time was largely demonized, being blamed for a multitude of issues within society.
By 1991, only six breweries were left in Scotland.
The gradual comeback of Scottish Beer
Fortunately, the temperance movements weren’t enough to eradicate this strong ale. Considering how unique and well-made this style of beer is, it is hard to resist.
Brewers in America especially have taken a liking to Scotch ale. All around the world, producers are working to revive this special drink. In the last few decades, Scotch ale has seen sort of a comeback in the industry. nowhere close to its popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries, but perhaps it will eventually reach its former status.
Scotch Ale: a special taste
Scotch ale is rich and malty, characterized by its flavors of caramel and nuts. Its finish is medium-dry and may contain roasted or grainy notes. You may notice a slight bitterness with this ale, accompanied by its natural malty, sweet taste.
The strength of the drink, as well as its maltiness, will vary from brand to brand. However, its texture should be smooth, not syrupy. Scotch ale is moderately acidic at 6-10% ABV but is still very easy to drink.
Its aromas are light and smoky. The drink usually possesses a large tan head, which is short-lasting. Hops are typically not used for Scotch ales, but if they are, they are typically earthy or floral.
Another interesting aspect of Scotch ale is its absence of diacetyl, which occurs naturally in alcoholic beverages. Most Scotch ales contain little to no diacetyl.
Difference between Scottish Ales and Scotch Ales
You may hear the terms “Scotch ale” and “Scottish ale” used interchangeably. However, these two styles of beer are actually a bit different.
Both drinks share a similar amount of malt. However, they can be differentiated through their alcohol contents.
Scotch ale is almost always higher in ABV than Scottish ales. Scotch ales are generally higher than 6% ABV, while Scottish ales float around 3-5% ABV.
How Scottish Ale is made
Scotch ale is made with different levels of crystal malts. These malts give the drink its dark, amber color. In addition, sugar is added to the wort to aid it in its fermentation process and achieve a high alcohol content. Many Scotch ale brewers consider the adding of sugar as the most important part of the production.
Selecting a quality grain is important in developing the drink’s taste. But sugars are what allow the beer to develop. Adjunct sugars like syrup or molasses are sometimes added later on in the brew to improve flavor.
The yeast for this drink can either be British or American. It must be low in fruity esters, though.
Scotch ale can essentially be made anywhere. But it must be fermented at the proper temperature. Authentic Scotch ales are fermented at colder temperatures than other renditions due to the country’s chilly climate. The long boiling process of this drink also contributes to the concentration of these sugars. When in contact with yeast, the sweet flavors of Scotch ale are created.
Hops are rarely used in Scotch ale, but you may find some floral hops in some variations. The best hops to use for Scotch ale are ones that are mild and gentle.
Delicious food pairings with Scotch Ale
Scotch Ale is regarded for its sweetness. For this reason, it’s best to pair this drink with hearty meats and savory desserts.
In the case of meats, you want to aim for rich, fatty foods like lamb chops or roasted venison. Use a light sauce that complements the sweetness of the ale.
For desserts, this beer will match well with almost anything. Perhaps try a crème brülèe or a caramelized apple pie with your Scotch ale.
This beer has notes of caramel. So think about what desserts taste good with caramel, and get to pairing.
You can also pair this beer with different types of cheeses. Some cheeses that pair well with this drink are Asiago, Gruyere, and mild smoked cheese. Just be sure to avoid stinky cheeses that would overshadow the ale, as well as anything too mild that would fall flat.
The lifeline of Scotch ale has seen its ups and downs. At one point, it was one of the hottest drinks in all of Scotland. Then, during the worldwide temperance movements, this drink was hardly ever seen in bars or restaurants. Today, it lies somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, as more people are beginning to learn of this drink’s potential.
Fortunately, there are still several great Scotch ales on the market. Whatever your preferences are, you’re sure to find one that works for you.
Are you a fan of creamier beers? Consider checking out McEwan’s Scotch Ale. This ale is full-bodied, milky, and very malty. It also contains a dash of fruity notes in its palate.
For the rum lovers, the Innis & Gunn Rum Aged is a decadent option. This diverse ale is brewed with a blend of carefully curated rums. It is popping with spicy flavors, as well as some more fruity ones. This drink is matured in casks made of American oak heartwood.