Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Cold Smoke Scotch Ale

Kettle House Brewing Co.
Missoula, MT

Style: Scotch Ale
ABV: 6.5%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Recommended)

Pair With:
One lonesome can. Its journey over, I now pass it on to eternal rest via the blue recycling bag and the delicate hands of Waste Management.

What brings on this moment of subtle reflection by Nigel? While I’d love to say it’s the fact that I’m laying to rest the container holding the finest ale I’ve ever drank, that would not be accurate. Rather, it’s the fact that my can of Kettle House Cold Smoke Scotch Ale has been on quite the journey since I first discovered it in late April. From its initial discovery at a dank grocery store in West Yellowstone, Montana and its corresponding trek through the mountains of Montana, the plains of North Dakota, and the rolling hills of Wisconsin, to its resting place nestled snuggly in the bin at the top of my beer fridge, where it patiently waited to be consumed through the hot, dry summer months, the cool, damp autumn, and the eventual chill and snow of late December, Cold Smoke has seen plenty in its short life. Countless craft brews have entered and exited the beer fridge in the months since Cold Smoke burrowed into its cozy spot, yet the calendar rolled over to 2013 before it was finally cracked open, still cold and ready to be reviewed.

As mentioned in Part II of my unintended saga, I stumbled upon Cold Smoke at a tiny grocery store on our second night in West Yellowstone. I had not heard of the brewery before and from what I recall, Cold Smoke was the only Kettle House offering available. Researching Kettle House on the laptop when we returned to the motel, I found it was based in Missoula, which is the second largest city in the state despite a population of only 65,000 and home to the University of Montana. Missoula is located in the western part of the state, near the Idaho border and a solid two hour drive from our location in West Yellowstone.

Cold Smoke Scotch Ale pops open with a nice initial waft of sweet, slightly smoky malt permeating from the can. The pour reveals deep mahogany hue with a frothy head of nearly an inch that dissipates very quickly, leaving a light creamy lace at the top throughout. The overall appearance is a bit cleaner and lighter than I was expecting once it settled, but nevertheless it’s a fine looking ale in the glass.

Much as the appearance, the initial aromas are pleasant, but not entirely what I was expecting for the style. Scotch ales are heavy on dark, roasted malt giving them a strong smoky aroma. With the name “Cold Smoke,” I expected to be overwhelmed by smoky peat. However, Cold Smoke’s aroma is surprisingly light and approachable, with only minor hints of smokiness. Sweet, sugary malt profiles of caramel and toffee are most notable in the nose, with a damp earthy aroma that reminds me of walking through the grass on a dewy morning, finished off by a touch of dark fruit. As someone who isn’t a huge fan of beers with an overwhelming smoky profile, I’m pleased with the aroma even if it isn’t what one expects to find in a Scotch Ale.

The flavor emulates the aroma on many fronts, as it’s not entirely typical of the style but still has some redeeming qualities that make it quite tasty. Initial flavors are not smoky at all; rather, the first notes are sweet sugars (molasses, caramel, toffee) and dark fruit. The sweetness really caught me off guard, first in the aroma and then to another level in the flavor. In many ways, it strikes me as a stout aged in bourbon or brandy barrels, as the underlying sweetness seems as though it was imparted through some sort of aging process, yet I see no indication that it was in fact aged in any type of wood barrel. The peaty profile typical of Scotch ales is present to a minor extent, but the earthiness in Cold Smoke reminds me more of walking through fresh moss (damp and stale) rather than the dry, decomposing version that is peat (acidic with a touch of smoke). Minor notes of chocolate and coffee are present as well, but are not overwhelming. While the diversity of flavors may seem like a benefit for Cold Smoke, unfortunately they don’t all tie together consistently, and none take hold of the brew at any point. Without a primary flavor profile and having little in the way of smokiness, when it comes to Scotch ales, Cold Smoke is too weak and diluted to be considered anything other than average, even if it is unique. Medium bodied with a touch too much carbonation for the style, Cold Smoke could be considered a session beer given the muted flavor profile and reasonable ABV (6.5 percent).

I can’t say I was disappointed by Cold Smoke. On the contrary, viewing it as a beer in general terms, it was quite good; plenty of balance, lots of flavors, very drinkable. However, for the style it was a little too timid and lacked some of the key elements one would expect and want. Cold Smoke winds up being an ironic name for a Scotch ale that lacks the smoky, peaty elements typical of the style. While the three mug rating may indicate it’s an average beer one shouldn’t seek out, I would encourage any beer dork traveling West that can locate Cold Smoke to give it a shot. It’s a solid beer that can certainly be considered a unique take on the style, and I enjoyed the diverse flavors imparted throughout the session.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on April 22, 2013.
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