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The Highland Way

May 25, 2010

I’ve always been interested in Scotland, and not just because I’ve seen Braveheart far too many times. From its craggy highlands to its deep, mysterious lochs and bogs, Scotland for me has always embodied a certain raw mystique, as a place that bucks conventions and plays by its own rules. But aside from its fascinating political history (there’s a great book called “How the Scots Invented the Modern World” by Arthur Herman, for those that are interested), Scotland has also made its mark on the beer world, with a brewing history that stretches almost as far back as the history of beer itself. Though Germany and Belgium are often regarded as the paramount examples of brewing tradition, Scotland has been producing distinctive beers for over 3,000 years (go ahead and look it up). This begs the question though, why aren’t Scottish ales as popular as German- or Belgian-style ales?

In America, “Scottish-style” ales are a unique category, and yet they seem to be an under-appreciated style. “Scottish-style” ales, or “Scotch ales” are essentially strong pale ales with very low hop levels and a distinctive malt character (which can range from slightly sweet to smoky or peaty). Although this is a very distinctive niche in the craft beer arena, there seem to be very few examples of the style, at least when compared to more prevalent styles like IPAs or stouts. The reduced emphasis on hops may be the reason for this oversight. Hops, for those who don’t know, are the ingredient in beer that give it that floral, sometimes bitter character that distinguishes most other beer styles (IPAs, for example, use much more hops than other beer styles, giving them that strong, herbal taste). However, craft beer is unique precisely because it is so varied, and to overlook Scottish ales is to disregard all that makes craft beer great.

Though I’m not about to jump on the higher alcohol-by-volume bandwagon (see my previous post about session beers), Old Chub Scottish Style Ale is one beer I find myself coming back to often. Brewed by Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons, Colorado, Old Chub is a brown-colored ale that clocks in at 8% abv, and tastes kind of like a cross between an American lager and an imperial stout. Its malt richness gives it a smooth, slightly sweet character that nicely masks the alcohol bite, but it is not heavy like a stout or porter. Like most things Scottish, it ain’t glamorous, but it’s got a robust, rugged charm all its own. Another time-tested example of a Scottish ale is Belhaven, brewed by the Belhaven Brewery Company since 1719. An amber-colored ale at 5.2% abv, Belhaven Scottish Ale is a smooth, well balanced beer that is neither too sweet nor overly bitter, with a complex malt character and subtle nutty flavor.

There are some other examples of good Scottish style ales, and I know that some breweries like Sam Adams and Gritty McDuff’s have released their own Scottish ales in the past, but they tend to be few and far between, which is a shame because it is one of my favorite styles of craft beer. Scottish style ales are a fairly broad category, leaving lots of room for brewers to get creative, and it would be nice to see the style get some recognition. And while we’re at it, lets bring kilts back into style! No? Too far? Alright well, at least check out the beer.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Catie permalink
    May 26, 2010 4:21 pm

    Perhaps you could have some nice Scottish ales out at the grand tasting? And maybe wear a kilt?
    Love this piece!

  2. Andrew Mitchell permalink
    June 16, 2010 4:42 pm

    Good article. Sounds like something to drink in the fall.

  3. Tom Ellis permalink
    September 17, 2010 5:32 pm

    Exceptional writer..great job and informative.

Trackbacks

  1. Long Live Scottish Ales « Message In A Bottle
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