Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

March 14, 2008

Beer Diary:


St. Patrick’s Day has been lost to the bead-wearing idiots, so celebrate a different kilt-lifting holiday with better beer.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
Contact Eddie»
I’m conceding defeat. St. Patrick’s Day has been irretrievably lost to the bead-wearing, shit beer-swilling fuckholes. It has now officially become, alongside New Year’s Eve, “Amateur Night.” So instead of celebrating this now tainted holiday (which is kind of weird, since it is, technically, a religious holiday, a Catholic one at that, celebrated by people who’re probably acting in behaviors that most folks wouldn’t consider religious, and over-celebrated by more than a few people who don’t hold much of an affinity for the Catholic church) I propose commemorating a different holiday altogether.

I’m not, of course, suggesting an anti-St. Patrick’s Day. That would require worshipping a queen, not brushing one’s teeth, and eating any food as long as it was in pie—or pudding—form. No, I’m suggesting we embrace a culture just across the pond from Ireland, a little place called Scotland, a country with more than a few similarities to Erin’s: they both dig the bagpipes, wear pleated, plaid skirts, speak with funky accents called “brogues,” and for varying periods in history didn’t get along with the fog monkeys. This new holiday, which we can celebrate on March 17, will be called Scotchtoberfest.

The Scots’ brewing tradition is as old as brewing beer itself. As far back as 5,000 years ago the druids and Picts were concocting gruits out of barley and heather.
The big draw of Scotchtoberfest is that you can translate over a lot of the traditional crap from St. Pat’s Day: the bagpipes, the kilts, and that horrible fake accent your friend insists on speaking with after that third beer. But, most importantly, the biggest reason to celebrate Scotchtoberfest over St. Patrick’s Day is because the Scottish beer tradition is far more interesting than Ireland’s.

According to more than a few historians, the Scots’ brewing tradition is as old as, well, brewing beer itself. As far back as 5,000 years ago the druids and Picts were concocting gruits out of barley and oats, seasoned with bog myrtle, wormwood, heather, and other sundry herbs and spices (hops can’t grow in that cold of a climate). In fact, there are beers still brewed with heather in Scotland and some parts of Scandinavia.

In addition to prohibiting access to hops, the cold weather of Scotland led to long, slow fermentations by ale yeast bred to handle the chill. The resulting beer is thick, malty, and, with the Scots’ dislike of hops (introduced—and exported—to them by their overbearing, foul-breathed southern neighbors) anathema to hopheads and shit beer afficionados alike. And the Scots have clung to this distinct style tenaciously, against wave after wave of trendy styles like England’s porter, Czechoslovakia’s pilsner, and America’s shitty-ass light lager.

But Scotch ales aren’t completely one-dimensional, at least in their homeland. Breweries do produce a number of ales, albeit all of them falling into the arch style of Scottish ale, of varying gravity and strength (and maltiness), referred to as light, heavy, export, and strong, or “wee heavy” (known archaically as 60-, 70-, 80-, and 90-shilling, left over from an old tax system).

(Now, to get needlessly confusing. There are Scotch ales and Scottish ales. The term Scottish ale is used for the light, heavy, and export versions, while Scotch ales are reserved for the strong or “wee heavy.” American craft brewers in general have ignored this naming convention and usually call their versions “Scotch ale” or “Scottish-style ale”.)

Dark Horse’s Scotty Karate is a thick, malty monster that tips the scales at nearly 10 percent ABV.
If you do want to get on the Dorkwagon and celebrate Scotchtoberfest, no need to fly to Scotland, or even buy imported Scotch brews. Some great Scotch or “Scottish-style” ales are brewed right here in the Midwest. As you can probably guess, virtually all American-made Scottish-style ales fall into the “wee heavy” subcategory, with ABVs over the seven percent mark, and the Midwest offerings are no exception.

In fact, Founders Brewing’s flagship beer is Dirty Bastard, a fantastic Scottish-style ale that adds a bit of a hop bite to give it an American twist. Although not as hoppy, Three Floyd’s Robert the Bruce is a tad more bitter than a strictly traditional Scotch ale, although thick, roasted maltiness is the dominate player.

Like most of their brews, Dark Horse’s Scotty Karate is balls-out, this time in both the malt and ABV department: this thick, grainy monster tips the scales at nearly 10 percent. Lake Louie’s outstanding version holds its own, too, since its Warped Speed didn’t get the nickname “liquid reefer” for nothing.

Sprecher’s lineup includes Piper’s Scotch Ale, a nice take on the style, also with a pop, at 8.27 percent. Dragonmead Microbrewery in Warren, Michigan actually offers two Scotch ales, their 90 Shilling and Under the Kilt Wee Heavy.

So, no shortage of Midwest Scotch ales to choose from. If for some reason you have trouble finding them (or if you’re just a cheap bastard) then brew your own:

Wee Heavy Wobbles And It’ll Make You Fall Down
14.0 pounds Briess 2-row pale ale malt
0.5 pounds roasted barley
0.5 pounds quick rolled oats
2.0 ounces Kent Goldings hops—60 minutes
    Wyeast 1728 (Scottish Ale) yeast

Mash at 155°, or any way you like to mash. Boil for 60 minutes. Ferment around 60°.

Stock up on some great Midwest Scotch ales—or brew supplies—and celebrate Scotchtoberfest with some select friends. It’s a great holiday, with only one rule: no motherfucking beads …

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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