Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Scotch Crotch

Some months ago I brewed a "Scotch Ale". The names "Kilt Lifter" and "Tilted Kilt" were already taken. In their absence my brash sense of humor came up with the following:

I used a free clip art image of a cockatrice that I vectorized and modified, my family tartan (from the Ross clan). And a heraldry shield that I colored to match the Scottish flag.

So what is a Scotch Ale exactly? To answer this, we must first define Scottish Ale. A Scottish ale is more or less an English Bitter style brewed in Scotland. The differences in the two styles derive from differences in the climates of Scotland and England. Scottish Ales are:
  • Less hoppy: hops do not grow in Scotland and were very expensive to import.
  • Maltier: robust Scottish malts such as Simpson's Golden Promise malt (a malt also used in The MacCallan single-malt scotch whisky) are employed.
  • Cleaner: Scottish ales were often fermented at cooler temperatures (many at lager-like temps) as a result of the naturally colder weather in Scotland. This resulted in cleaner, less-estery (read: fruity) ales.
  • Smoky: historically barley was malted using wood-fired methods which gave the malts a BBQ like smokiness. This is one aspect of the style that is controversial among homebrewers. The style may get its smokiness from Scottish yeast strains or from the use of modern, peat-smoked malts.
Scottish Ales are categorized according to archaic taxes on beer of varying strengths. There are three "levels" of Scottish Ale, which are generally identical in ingredients and vary only in the quantity of them (resulting in the increasing strength). All exhibit a low level of fruitiness, a medium level of maltiness, and a dry, light roasted finish. They may also exhibit earthy and smoky flavors. The ales are generally light amber to burnt red in color.
  • Scottish Light/60 shilling: 2.5-3.2% abv, brewed as a blue collar "session" beer
  • Scottish Heavy/70 shilling: 3.2-3.9% abv, slightly stronger "session" beer
  • Scottish Export/80 shilling: 3.9-5.0% abv, brewed stronger to better survive export to foreign markets
A very strong Scottish style of beer is termed Scotch Ale, 90/100 shilling, or "Wee Heavy" (all are interchangeable terms). It is similar to Scottish Ales but is much stronger, maltier, and sweeter. Hop bitterness is still kept to a minimum. The smokiness may be non-existent to very apparent. Color ranges from dark amber to almost black. Strength can range from 6% abv to well-over 10%. Like Scottish ales, Scotch ales often have a caramel-to-molasses sweetness derived from caramelization in the brew kettle over long boiling periods.

When brewing Kilted Koch, I was still brewing extract-based beer. This means the majority of the fermentables were derived from a malt syrup. I used an ungodly amount of said syrup and steeped Simpson's Golden Promise malt along with a pinch of roasted barley and peat-smoked malt. My aim was to give the beer a malty, roasty, and smoky character that extract alone could not provide. To add additional complexity, I boiled for three hours instead of the usual one. For hops I used a small amount of East Kent Goldings at the start of the boil.

In my humble opinion, this is one of the most solid beers I have ever made. The beer has a wonderfully rich molasses taste (many people think I literally used molasses in the recipe), a deep maltiness, and finishes slightly sweet with a twinge of whisky-like peatiness. The beer is deceptively smooth and it wears its 10+% abv gracefully. I hope to brew an all-grain version of this beer whenever my current keg runs out!

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