Nick Carr on July 29, 2016 4 Comments History of Wee Heavy & Strong Scotch Ale Scotland has a long brewing history. Archeological evidence includes what is believed to be ale residue on pottery discovered at the Balfrag site in Fife, Scotland. These fragments are thought to be 4,000 to 6,000 years old and contained traces of cereal, pollen, meadowsweet; a combination that could speak to the storage of some sort of honey beer. Other pot shards discovered on the Isle of Rhum, and dated to 2000 B.C., show traces of cereal grains, honey, and heather. Heather played a major role in Scotland’s early brewing history. It was an important addition to the gruit beers common before hops came into wide use. Gruit beers were brewed with a mix of herbs to help balance the sweet elements. Often, the herb mix was a brewer’s trade secret, but heather seems to have been a staple in Scotland and much of the rest of ancient Britain. The roots of Scottish brewing continued to expand, eventually finding fertile soil in the abbeys and monasteries of the middle ages. Brewing also remained a craft within the home where female brewers, called “browster wives”, labored to turn a combination of the local cereal crops and favored gruit herbs into beer. Often these house-brews were even sold locally. Around the end of the 14th century, public breweries started to pop up. It wasn’t long until Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Alloa were centers of heavy brewing activity. By the 1800s, Scotland had become an exporter in its own right. They brewed a diverse variety of styles, notably porters, stouts, and IPA’s, and shipped them to markets as far away as America and India. Even their native malt-forward beers found markets in places like Belgium and some of the British colonies. The native ales of Scotland were named on a system that reflected the price of a barrel of beer based on its alcohol content. Though the shilling is defunct as a monetary system, brewers still use the naming arrangement today, though recently the BJCP guidelines have changed designations. Starting at 50 or 60 shillings for a light beer, the price would increase with alcohol content. Scotch ale was the high end of this cost range, 100 to 160 shillings equating to a beer usually in the 6.5 to 10 ABV range. At one time there really weren’t many differences between Scottish ales and their English cousins. Modern ideas about the characteristics of Scottish ale have created a more defined line between the two. Some Scottish examples may have been less hoppy than English styles; though research into old recipes done by the beer historian Ron Pattinson does not give much support to this idea, and even less support to the long held notion that hops were hard to come by in Scotland. The same research also seems to give little credence to longer boil times; another long held belief. So, what made them different? In his book The Beer Bible, Jeff Alworth points out two definable differences between English and Scottish ales. One is the lower use of sugars in Scottish ales. The other is a cooler average fermentation temperature. All the recipes in Ron Pattinson’s research have a pitch temp below 60°F, which if the temperature is not allowed to climb extensively during fermentation, would have made a beer more lager-like, with less of a fruity character than the English ales. This cleaner character is still a defining point of Scottish styles today. Modern Scotch ales, especially those of American interpretation, have a smoky character; an addition likely stemming from American ideas of peat fires on the highlands and the inherent smokiness of Scottish whiskey. It is often further Americanized by the usual qualities of higher alcohol and higher hopping rates than that exhibited by most modern Scottish examples. Style Profile & Characteristics Quick Characteristics Color Range: 14-25 SRM Original Gravity: 1.070-1.130 OG Final Gravity: 1.018-1.040 FG IBU Range: 17-35 ABV Range: 6.5-10.0% Appearance: Ranges from rosy copper to dark brown; Foam head will be thick with off-white to tan hue; Clarity should be excellent. Aroma: Malty caramel backbone with hints of smoky aromas; Hoppy aromas will be low or absent, with a floral quality; Low diacetyl; Alcohol or dark fruit ester aromas may be moderate. Flavor: Caramel leads the charge with hints of roasted malts, nuttiness or light smoke possible; Low to moderate hop flavors or bitterness; Diacetyl will be low or absent; Alcohol & esters will be low to medium, with dark fruitiness; Sweet & moderately dry finish. Mouthfeel: Medium to full body; Medium-low to moderate carbonation; Smooth mouthfeel with slight alcohol warmth. Serving & Storage Temperature: 50-57°F Shelf Life: 9+ Months Suggested Glass: Thistle glass Food Pairings: BBQ ribs, Game meats with sweet kick, Asiago or Gruyere cheese, Caramel Apples, Crème Brülèe & Other Sweet Desserts The guidelines for the Wee Heavy are set by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Committee. The below details are a summary of what a Wee Heavy (or Strong Scotch Ale) should represent. Note: In 2015, the BJCP reformatted their style guidelines. This beer style was renamed from “Strong Scotch Ale” and is now known as Wee Heavy. It was also re-categorized from the “Scottish & Irish Ale” category (9E in 2009), and now resides within the “Strong British Ale” category (17C in 2015) in the official style guidelines. Appearance: A Wee Heavy can range in color from a light rosy copper to a dark brown, often shot through with ruddy highlights. Clarity should be good and a thick off-white to tan head should form, but may not last because of higher alcohol content. Stronger versions may have legs. Aroma: Big malt backbone awash with caramel. Possible hints of smoke from roasted malts, but peat-like smoke would be out of place. Hop aromas will be low if there at all, and should be of a light floral or deeper earth character. Diacetyl will be low to none. Both esters and alcohol can range into the moderate especially in stronger examples. Esters will usually be suggestive of dark fruit such as plum. Mouthfeel: Body can range from medium to full with some examples having a distinct chewy thickness. Medium-low to moderate carbonation. Alcoholic warmth helps balance the big malt presence and lends a smoothness to the mouthfeel. Taste: Malt centered with a deep caramel character, backed by tones of roasted malt, such as light smoke and/or nuttiness. Any peat smoke quality would be inappropriate. Diacetyl should be low to none. Both the hop flavors and bitterness should be low to moderate. Esters and alcohol should be in a low to medium range with the esters showing qualities of raisin, plum, or dried fruit. Finish can be sweet to moderately dry and hints of nut, caramel, smoke, and darker grain can carry into the aftertaste. Food Pairings: Scotch Ales should be saved for dessert or rich stick-to-you-ribs meals. The richer, fatter, more flavorful, with hints of sweet the food, the better this beer will pair. A rich leg of lamb with mint sauce or roast venison with a sweet reduction sauce would both work extremely well with the rich deep maltiness of the beer. Stick to game birds on the poultry front; Pheasant and goose have enough fat-gaminess to back this beers play. Cheeses that work well with Scotch ale include Asiago, Gruyere, or mild smoked cheese. A dessert in itself Scotch ales find their most artful pairings among the after dinner sweets. Try a crème brülèe, any sort of caramelized apple dish, or pull inspiration from the beer’s homeland and bake up some Scottish shortbread. Serving & Storage: For best presentation and greatest appreciation, a Wee Heavy should be served at around 50-57°F in a traditional thistle glass. They are best stored at cellar temperatures away from light and can age for 9 months or more. *Reference: The 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines Award-Winning Examples of the Style Clan Warrior from Odyssey Beerwerks (Arvada, CO) World Beer Cup Winner, Gold, 2016. Available: Year Round. Wee Heavy from AleSmith Brewing Company (San Diego, CA) World Beer Cup Winner, Silver, 2016. Available: Year Round. Glasgow Butcher from Crooked Ewe Brewing Company (South Bend, IN) World Beer Cup Winner, Bronze, 2016. Available: Rotating. MacPelican’s Wee Heavy Ale from Pelican Pub & Brewery (Pacific City, OR) Great American Beer Festival Winner, Gold, 2015. Available: October. Black Lagoon Scottish Strong from Rip Current Brewing Company (San Marcos, CA) Great American Beer Festival Winner, Silver, 2015. Available: Year Round. Real Heavy from Real Ale Brewing Company (Blanco, TX) Great American Beer Festival Winner, Bronze, 2015. Available: Year Round. Wee Heavy from Steel Toe Brewing Company (St. Louis Park, MN) World Beer Cup Winner, Gold, 2014 and Great American Beer Festival Winner, Gold, 2014. Available: Fall Seasonal. Heavy Red Horseman from Apocalypse Ale Works (Forest, VA) World Beer Cup Winner, Silver, 2014. Available: Unknown. Drafty Kilt from Monday Night Brewing Company (Atlanta, GA) World Beer Cup Winner, Bronze, 2014. Available: Year Round. Loch from BRU Handbuilt Ales & Eats (Boulder, CO) Great American Beer Festival Winner, Silver, 2014. Available: Rotating. Marauder from Schooner’s Grille & Brewery (Antioch, CA) Great American Beer Festival Winner, Bronze, 2014. Currently unavailable. 5 Popular Wee Heavy & Scotch Ale’s To Try: Traquir House Ale from Traquair House Brewery Lid. (Peeblesshire, Scotland) Kilt Lifter from Moylan’s Brewing Company (Novato, CA) Dirty Bastard from Founder’s Brewing Company (Grand Rapids, MI) Wulver from Thirsty Dog Brewing Company (Akron, OH) Second Sight from Black Raven Brewing Company (Redmond, WA) How to Brew a Wee Heavy or Scotch Ale Brewing a scotch ale at home, or any high gravity style for that matter, will take a little more time and work than other lighter styles. Your grain bill will be bigger, and probably more expensive, you’ll likely need more yeast and you may have to baby them a bit to get a successful fermentation. But, when you take that first sip of huge sweet malty goodness on a cool evening you’ll know it was all worth it. Shop for a Wee Heavy Brewing Kit on Amazon Grain Bill: British pale malts have more “malt” character than 2-row and because Scotch ale is largely defined by its malty qualities, British is the way to go for your base malt. Maris Otter, Golden Promise, and Crisp pale ale are all excellent choices and would each create slight variations in a finished scotch ale. Maris Otter is a heirloom variety which can even be bought in a floor malted version. Golden Promise is a malt made from Scottish barley. All three of these malts tend to be slightly darker than the standard American 2-row. If you really want to use American grain, go with a pale ale malt with a color range of 2.5 to 4°L. The base will make up at least 90% of the grain bill. To this you can add 2 percent roasted barley and call it good. You can also make it more complex by adding some Munich, small amounts of Caramel/Crystal, and in some cases even very tiny amounts of black or chocolate malt replace or augment the roast barley. Also, though not historically traditional, some sort of smoked malt has become part of the scotch ale’s calling card — at least here in America anyway, but stay away from any sort of peat smoked malt. Instead use a light wood smoked malt. Keep the darker additions — roast barley, black malt, and chocolate malt — below 2% of the grain bill overall. The caramel/crystal can make up about 5 to 10 percent and keep any smoked malt below 2%. Munich malt can easily make up the difference in the grain bill up to about 10 percent. Modern examples of the Wee Heavy style sometimes make use of wheat and adjunct sugars though neither of these ingredients are very authentic. If you decide to use wheat for smoothness and head retention use a max of about 3 percent. Using adjunct sugars does have its place in raising gravity, for me this is the lazy way out in this case though, especially because it has no basis in history. But if you do use adjunct sugars, Ray Daniels, in his book Designing Great Beers, states an average of 7% sugars being used across the Scotch ale recipes he analyzed. For extract brewer’s, the easiest route would be a scotch ale kit or you can build it out of any other Scottish ale kit by adding more malt extract. Otherwise, look for a high quality unhopped amber malt made from British malt. You could then steep or mini-mash a portion of roasted barley and any other specialty grains you’ve decided to add to up complexity. Water: Most waters will work nicely for the Scotch Ale style. Soft to medium hard with 50-100 mg/l of chloride are ideal and historically accurate. Harder water may accentuate the hop bitterness a little too much. You may add a little chloride in the form of calcium chloride or table salt to help draw attention to the malty character. Hops: Hopping for wee heavy and scotch ales is only important in that the bitterness helps to balance the sweetness of the malt. There should be minimal if any hop flavoring and aroma in the beer. To this end avoid highly flavorful hops, but beyond this point you don’t have to get to particular about the type of hops you use. Most mild varieties will work just fine. Historically, the varieties used would have probably been of traditional English stock. Some likely choices include Fuggles, East Kent Golding, Galena, Cluster, and Target. Bittering additions should be targeted to a bitterness to starting gravity (IBU/OG) of 0.2 to around 0.4. The late hop additions are often skipped, but a small late addition of a high quality mild hop can add interest and subtle complexities to this style. No more than half an ounce would do the trick. The Mash: A single infusion mash will work just fine here. Look for a mash temperature at the upper range of the brewer’s window (154°F to 158°F). This will produce more non-fermentable sugars and create the beer’s rich, sweet profile. The Boil: Though, new evidence shows longer boils may not be a historically accurate part of the Scotch Ale style, it has become common in modern examples. And there is something to be said for the rich melandoidin-based flavor/aroma that can develop by using a longer than normal boil. If you decide to go this route, be sure to up your pre-boil volume accordingly. With an aggressive boil you’ll lose about 6 to 8 percent of your volume an hour. Extended boil times of 1 1/2 to 2 hours will give you a bit of extra depth. You can also do this by diverting your first quart or two from the mash into a separate pot and boil this for a few minutes while continuing to sparge into your regular kettle. Then add the slightly caramelized first runnings back before starting a regular 60 minute boil. Fermentation & Yeast: Unlike English ales, Scotch ales and Scottish ales overall tend toward a cleaner, less ester-heavy, almost lager-like profile; allowing little distraction for the deep malt character. Generally, all Scottish ales are brewed at a slightly cooler temperature than their English counterparts. How far back this practice stretches is not well-known, though the fact that Scotland averages slightly cooler than England would seem to stand the practice in some historical stead. Brewing at this cooler temperature helped define the clean character of the beer. A pitching temperature just below 55°F is common. Work hard at keeping your fermentation temperature below 62°F.This will create a clean, very low-ester profile, richly malt-forward beer, and keep fusel alcohols down. The fermentation temperature and pitching rate have more to do with a successful scotch ale than any particular yeast strain, but some good choices are White Labs Edinburgh Scottish Ale (WLP028) and Wyeast Scottish Ale (1728). If you prefer to use dry yeast, I would recommend giving Danstar Nottingham or possibly Safale US-05 a try. The one thing to remember when picking your yeast is you want one that accentuates the malt and not the esters. Remember, yeast has to work harder in high gravity beers, so be sure to aerate/oxygenate the cooled wort well. Also, be sure to pitch enough healthy yeast by either making a starter (liquid yeast) or cast more than one packet of yeast (liquid/dry yeast). When finished, bottle or keg your scotch ale aiming to hit approximately 2 volumes CO2. You can wait a couple weeks and give it a try, but the real beauty of the Wee Heavy style comes with a little age so don’t be afraid to secret some bottles away for a year or longer. Cheers!