Strong Scotch Ales are considered the Scottish equivalent of an English Old Ale. They were traditionally served in small glasses, thus the name "wee heavy". It's hard to say how old the style actually is, as there weren't many records kept regarding the malts or hops used and the amounts. When pale ales arrived, the Scotch ale effectively disappeared.
Scotch Ales, along with all the other ales, were defined by their Shilling designation. Strong Scotch Ales begin where the export style leaves off, at 90 Shilling.
The beers are still ordered by its shilling name in the highland's bars. The gravity can go up to around 120 Shilling or 120/-.
The use of yeast which are not particularly alcohol tolerant leaves the wee heavy with a lot of residual sweetness that is barley balanced by hop additions.
The use of highly kilned malts helps somewhat by giving the beer a roastiness which counters the cloying sweetness somewhat. Without all the hops of other strong beers, such as the English old ale, the beer doesn't age as long before stale flavors take over. The alcohol is the only thing keeping the beer from "going off".
Often times, Strong Scotch Ales end up being cloyingly sweet. The low hopping rates don't do much to cut the malty sweetness either.
Strong Scotch Ales usually go through a long boil which adds a big caramel flavor from the melanoidins that develop, and a deep copper or brown color to the wort.
These beers often resemble lagers more than ales, and have more in common with German bocks than their lighter Scots cousins, the Scottish ales.
The natural selection for the yeast in Scotland favors yeast which will ferment well in the cold temperatures there. These yeasts work slower and are usually low in attenuation, leaving behind lots of residual sugars and dextrins in the beer.
Scottish Ales are a good example of beers that have developed because of regional conditions such as a scarcity of hops, cold temperatures, soft water, and an abundance of locally grown malts.
Vital Statistics: OG: 1.070 – 1.130 FG: 1.018 – 1.056 IBUs: 17 – 35 SRM: 14 – 25 ABV: 6.5 – 10%
Strong Scotch Ales are also known as "Wee Heavys". For help brewing a Strong Scotch Ale recipe, here are some tips:
Fermentation temperature control is one of the key factors you must use to keep the alcohol from becoming harsh or hot.
Pitch a big starter of healthy yeast to handle the high OG and keep the fruity esters to a minimum.
Use a good English pale malt and English hops for a more authentic profile. As with all Scottish ales, let the fermentation profile and yeast produce the peat smoked nuances in the beer, not peat malt.
References: Information for this page was adapted from the 2008 BJCP Style Guidelines, Brewing Classic Styles, 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew, by Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer, the book Homebrewing For Dummies by Marty Nachel, and the article Scotch Ale: Strong and Smooth by: Keith Klemp.
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