Brewed For Battle: Scottish Ales

Categories: Brew Review

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Jonathan McNamara
Our Scottish ales.
At what point does one elevate from merely drinking beer to being a full-on beer snob? Answer: when you feel compelled to tell other people what to drink. And the inevitable result of this peculiar ailment is the beer argument.

In the spirit of all great beer-related discussions, we present Brewed For Battle; a new series of Chow Bella blog posts that pits a selection of brews from a given style up against each other and lets the taste buds of one layman battle them out. Multiple beers go in. One beer comes out the victor.

This week's battle: Scottish Ales

Welcome back to Brewed for Battle, where this week's motto is "if it's not Scottish, it's CRAP!"

Scottish ales break down into three categories: light, heavy and export. In 19th-century Scotland, brewers developed a labeling system based on the now obsolete shilling currency to distinguish each. A designation of 60/- indicates a light Scottish ale, while 70/- is a heavy and 80/- means you're drinking an export.

The numbers 90/- to 160/- designate Scotch ales, a style also known as Wee Heavy that's similar to Scottish ale in character, but is usually sweeter and much higher in alcohol content.

Scottish Ales usually go through a long boil in the kettle, which caramelizes the wort, producing a deep copper to brown-colored brew that's more malty-sweet than other amber ales. Traditional representations of the style are made with fewer hops than their English counterparts due to the historical need to import them.

Zach's Pick: Inveralmond Blackfriar
Coming at you out of Perth in central Scotland, Blackfriar's a rather sweet interpretation of the style, but that's why I like it. Flavors of buttery toffee, dried apricot, caramel can be picked up before a slightly drying finish. At seven percent ABV, it just toes the line between Scottish ale and Scotch Ale -- another reason I like it.

Jonathan's Pick: Belhaven Scottish Ale
If you live in The Valley, chances are the Scottish Ale you're most familiar with is none other than Four Peaks' Kiltlifter. Belhaven (and frankly all the beers listed here) differ greatly from this local staple in their complexity and subtle sweetness. Imagine a brew malty but crisp. That's what makes Belhaven so great to imbibe. The mouth feel? Creamy like butter. At 5.2% alcohol by volume, it also has a kick forceful enough to lift your kilt.

Shannon's Pick: Odell 90 Shilling Ale
Odell's 90 Shilling - I didn't know much about Odell's 90 Shilling except for that I liked it. To be honest, didn't know it was a Scottish Ale until we did this installment of Brewed for Battle. If I would have know this was a Scottish Style Ale, I would have Immediately thought of the too sweet Kiltlifter from Four Peaks and never picked it up. 90 Shilling has been a staple of the Colorado based Odell Brewery since they started in 1989. The brewer's intention was to create a lighter version of the classic Scottish ale and I think they hit the nail on the head. The beer smells clean with just the slightest hints of honey, citrus and hops. The crisp taste is something that will for sure have you polishing off a few of these, no problem. This brew definitely lacks the sweetness that goes along with your tradition Scottish Ale, and personally I think that's a good thing.

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Jonathan McNamara
Michele Martinez holds aloft this week's winner.
The Layman's Choice: Michele Martinez
All three were very different. Odell has a clean flavor and creamy mouthfeel. It feels familiar; a typical Scottish ale. Blackfriar is just a hangover waiting to happen. I liked Bellhaven the best. It tasted lighter than the others and was full-bodied but not heavy. It's also rather drinkable -- I could drink a gallon of that shit.


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