I’m back—after my long winter’s nap—and I’ve had a bit of a revelation.
I think I’m in love. In love with Scotch ales.
Truth be told, I think I’ve known this for a while, but a week and a half off of work and an abundance of the stuff sort of solidified it for me. There was a moment, ever so fleeting, where I realized that supping on a Founder’s Dirty Bastard with my feet up, while sitting in front of a roaring fire, as the snow and ice was whipping around outside, that I might—just might—be experiencing one of the most pleasant happenings of the holiday season. Sure, watching the kids tear into their presents is exciting, and the big, family dinner is fun, but that one quick moment, well, that was just nice.
There’s something soothing about a Scotch Ale. Be it Brooklyn Winter, Old Chub, Claymore, Skull Splitter, or good old McEwan’s. Sure they can be a bit boozy, but that’s part of it. Sometimes they lean Cherry Coke, other times dry with a nice hop bite, while others go a bit smokey and peaty, but they all have big maltiness, and It’s that warming, bittersweet maltiness that make them so seasonally appropriate.
They’ve been around for time immemorial, too. Here’s a few snippets from the good doctor Pattinson’s phenomenal book, The Homebrewer’s Guide to Vintage Beer.
The mainstay of Scottish breweries at the beginning of the [nineteenth] century was Scottish ale. It was the rough equivalent of English mild ale and it came in a variety of strengths… The different strengths were classified by a number of shillings 60/-, 80/, 100/, 120/-, 140/- and sometimes even 160/-or more… A similar system was used for pale ales…
In the second half of the nineteenth century, William Younger launched a new range of strong ales clearly inspired by those of Burton… The original versions of all Scottish strong ales, like shilling ales were pale in color. As with many English styles, they began to darken sometime around 1900. During the twentieth century, they became dark brown.
So sayeth Ron.
Incidentally, at the turn of the twentieth century Amsdell Brewing and Malting Company, here in Albany, made a Scotch Ale, as well. Although it was quite a bit weaker (about 4.9%), than it’s Burton-esque, Scottish cousins, being made round the same time. It was probably more akin to those pale shilling ales, and more in line with a 60/- PA. Now, I’m sure Amsdell’s Scotch Ale was tasty, but it’s the decedents of those dark, early twentieth century brews my heart longs for.
Nevertheless, Scotch ale seems to be here to stay—and I’m glad, because I have plenty of wood to burn this winter, and I have plenty of Dirty Bastard, too.