The essential difference between the Scottish Ale and Scotch Ale styles is alcohol strength, with Scottish Ale being the lower of the two in ABV. Historically, Scottish Ale had three variants denoting strength: 60/- (“Light”—2.5-3.2% ABV), 70/- (“Heavy”—3.3-3.9% ABV), and 80/- (“Export”—4-5% ABV). The numerical figures referenced the price of the beer, including duties, in shillings per barrel (36 U.K. gallons or ~43.2 U.S. gallons). The stronger the beer, the higher the price and corresponding shilling number. A 90/- or higher denoted the strongest beer, Scotch Ale, a distinct style described (page reference). Most Scotland-brewed Scottish Ales are draught only, with just a handful bottled and exported to the United States—essentially all of which are the 80/- Export version. Other than occasional references to these historical numeric denotations in a few product names today, “Scottish Ale” has effectively replaced this nomenclature in the United States in reference to commercially available import and domestic beers of this style. Over time, the ABV threshold delineating Scottish Ale from Scotch Ale has crept upward, perhaps mostly due to American craft brewers going big with their interpretations, taking the Scotch Ale style to new ABV heights, thus raising the ceiling for today’s interpretations of Scottish Ale.
A malt-forward beer, Scottish brewers used either gruit—herbs and berries for bittering and flavor—or they focused on malts for flavor, using hops sparingly, as the climate wasn’t conducive to hops growth. (See gruit beer, AKA Herbed/Spiced beer in the Specialty, Hybrid, & Other section). To prevent the beer from being cloyingly sweet, brewers would give the malt a long boil resulting in kettle caramelization (different from Caramel malt) contributing to the deep red to copper hues of the beer and aromas and flavors of burnt sugar and treacle (similar to dark, bitter molasses). Traditionally fermented at cool temperatures, fruity yeast esters are generally moderate to quite low, and some examples may have an earthy, peaty, smoky character; however, this is neither traditional nor a prescribed aspect of the style.
|Taste/Smell||Malty, Caramel, Toasty, Herbal, Medium-bodied|
|Alcohol-by-Volume (ABV) Range||4 – 6.4%|
|Popular Examples||Belhaven Scottish Ale, Orkney Dark Island, Erie Railbender Ale, Four Peaks Kiltlifter, Brooklyn Winter Ale, Bell’s Christmas Ale|
|Serving Temperature||Cellar, 55-57°|
|Glassware||Pint or nonic, beer mug|
|Cheese Pairing Ideas||Asiago, Gruyère, Gouda|
|Food Pairing Ideas||Roast lamb, seafood chowder, French onion soup and Dutch apple pie|