There is something about the onset of autumn that makes me want to reach for a different kind of beer. Gone are the fruit beers, the wheat beers and the pils and in come the browns, the porters and the scotch ales.
Ahhh, scotch ales those lovely beers that are just a little maltier, a little heavier and a little sweeter than your summer fare and, most importantly, THEY ARE NOT PUMPKIN BEERS!
Before we get down to our head-to-head beer off here is a bit of background on the style from a previous post.
Scotch or Scottish Ale can be a bit of a confusing term; does it refer to a brewing style unique to Scotland, a style of beer heavy on malt but light on hops, or a reference to ale casked in scotch whiskey barrels? Well to be honest it can be all of the above. Luckily, like all great mysteries, the answers can be found in books, so let’s get a bit of a history lesson to figure out what the heck is going on.
Scotland has a long (think 5000 years old) tradition of brewing ales and the first beers produced were not really that dissimilar from the pale ales being brewed by their English cousins. In fact, the traditional Scotch Ales would have more in common with India Pale Ales than the sweet, ruby brews now tagged with the term ‘scotch’. The quintessential Scottish elements we have come to know really had more to do with geography than with intentional stylistic roguery. Hops did not grow as well in the north, beers were fermented at cooler temperatures and peat may have been used to dry the malt and/or imparted through the water.
Interestingly, the Scottish brewers saw these elements as flaws to be corrected out of the beer while modern beer geeks have embraced these ‘flaws’ (smokiness, peatiness, maltiness) as flavours to be celebrated.
Now for your consideration I now present the contenders:
Renaissance Stonecutter Scotch Ale weighing in at 7.1% ABV . Described by the brewery as follows “We use nine malts blended together to produce layers of caramel, toffee, liquorice, chocolate and roasty flavours. These layers are balanced by a tart, raisiny fruitiness that gradually gives way to give this dark beer a lingering dry finish. Rich, full bodied, warming and moreish…”
Renaissance pours a deep mahogany with very little head and no lacing. There is some opaqueness to this beer kind of like sweet tea. A big smoky sweet nose that gives way to a fairly light-bodied beer that has leather, butterscotch and caramel notes. Stoncutter is very tepid, no carbonation, giving it a liqour like viscosity. On the finish the smokiness comes back through.
Phillips Twisted Oak Stillage Barrel-Aged Scotch Ale weighing in at 6.8% ABV. Described by the brewery as “a rich, creamy strong ale, it is allowed to rest in wood barrels to mature and develop flavors slowly and naturally. The nose combines bourbon, American oak, and cotton candy aromas. Complex malt flavors framed in oak, with hints of vanilla, tobacco, and toffee.”
Phillips pours a dark copper colour with very little head and no lacing. The nose on Twisted Oak Scotch Ale is more earthy and a bit nutty while still belaying some caramel notes. Light to medium bodied and quite dry. As you drink the oaken character really comes through giving this one an almost sour tinge (maybe not the right term but a taste I can’t quite put my finger on). There is sweetness to this one and some richer butterscotch and even tobacco like notes.
The winner of this round…
Renaissance Stonecutter Scotch Ale by a peat.