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What is a Scotch Ale?

Scotch ales are an acquired taste. But if you give them a chance, you just may grow to appreciate their bold toffee flavor with hints of smokiness and boozy ABV.

The Malty History

Part of the strong ale family, Scotch ales originated in Edinburgh, Scotland during the 1800s. Like any other beer, scotch ale is made using water, hops, yeast, and malt. In this case, though, the malt is the star of the show. The recipe uses a rich mixture of pale and dark malts to give it its signature color and desired sugar content. The sugar is important during fermentation to produce the ale’s high alcohol by volume. Traditional scotch ales ferment at cool temperatures, as the lagering technique generally suited the cold Scottish climate.

Scotch Ale vs. Scottish Ale vs. Wee Heavy

While Scotch ales are distinct in their flavor profile, the style does get murky when it comes to its naming convention.

Extremely similar to one another, Scotch ales and Scottish ales have one main difference.

Scotch ales, or wee heavys, tend to be higher in alcohol content, above 6% ABV at least, with a higher final gravity that makes them a little sweeter. Scottish ales refer to the lower ABV equivalent of an English pale ale, coming in at around 3-5% ABV.

What Does a Scotch Ale Taste Like?

In a word, sugary. Different flavors of sugar dominate the aroma and flavor of a Scotch ale. There will be notes of brown sugar, molasses, treacle, caramel, toffee and burnt sugar depending on the brewer.

Overall, the style is caramelly, nutty, sugary and boozy – sort of like a holiday fruit cake!

How Should a Scotch Ale Be Served?

The best temperature to serve scotch ale is at 50℉. It is traditionally served in a thistle glass, which has a wide rim and a bulge at the bottom. The glass has added meaning in Scotland, where it resembles a thistle blossom, the national flower. A tulip glass is a good alternative, as it’s designed to create and maintain an even foamy head.