From the Brewer — Scottish and Scotch Ales

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When you think of Scotland and its fine beverages, Scotch Whiskey is the first to come to mind, but we cannot forget about their distinct and delicious beers! Since grains have always flourished in Scotland more than hops, malt has a heavy hand in Scottish-style beers.

Based on archaeological evidence, Scottish brewing is estimated to be at least 4,000 years old. Neolithic vessels that have been unearthed contain residues of oats and barley laced with either meadow-sweet botanicals or honey.

Scottish brewing has explored a multitude of various styles in its long history, but in modern times, these Scottish-style beers can be broken down into two categories separated by alcohol content, Scottish Ale and Scotch Ale.

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The first is simply the Scottish Ale. Scottish Ales tend to be lower in alcohol content, usually between 2.5 and 5% alcohol by volume. Scottish ales are full-bodied, malty beers, usually dark brown in color, and have a lower hop content than their English brethren. This was a social brew, intended to be ingested in quantity because of its low alcohol content and often because of the volume sold.

Often known as 60,70 or 80 Shilling Ales, its numerical assignment was a direct correlation to the cost of a Hogshead (64-gallon wooden cask.) The higher the price, the more alcohol.

Scotch Ales, aka Wee-Heavy, aka 90 Shilling, tend to be a bit “meatier” than their little brothers, sporting a higher alcohol content of between 6 and 10% alcohol by volume. This beer is full-bodied and robust with malt flavor. Often accompanied by notes of earth, roast, or dark fruit, these beers are often boiled for an excessive amount of time leading to a heavy caramelization.

Served on Nitro at Big Blue Brewing, “The Legend of Sawney Bean” is a traditional 90 Shilling Scotch Ale, crimson in color and with a beautiful white head.

Cheers!