Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 09- Scottish and Irish Ales

2 03 2010

The British Isles are pretty funny. For a land mass smaller than the State of California, nobody seems to like each other. The Irish don’t like the Scots. The Scots don’t like the Welsh. And nobody likes the English. That probably describes why there are so many different types of beer in such a small area.

The UK and the Republic of Ireland were handed a stroke of luck geographically speaking. These islands are exactly where the cold, arctic winds and waters mingle with the warm, tropical Atlantic Gulf Stream. Whereas their latitudinal neighbors to the East and West are arctic tundras, the British Isles are relatively temperate. They grow barley and wheat relatively well here and as a result, they are the most northernly lying area to to have their own indigenous beer styles.

The craggy Irish country-side is not the best for growing grain. But they are renown for their red wheat and barley. That is what gives soda bread and Irish ale their coppery red glow they are famous for. And they are able to grow some fine and mild hops in the more southern and western regions. The result is a mildly hopped and malt forward but still well balanced red ale that is light and breezy with a hint of sea air.

Scotland, on the other hand, is not able to grow hops very well at all. The long, frigid winters and short, wet summers are not very conducive to growing hops–which prefer long, warm summers. The Scottish tend to look at hops with a bit of distrust. Hops are, after all, something the English put in their beers. Scotch whisky is built on a backbone of rich and bold barley. And scotch whisky is little more than distilled and aged beer. So, there is no surprise that Scottish ales tend to have the same creamy, peaty, and caramel notes that a finely aged scotch whisky would have. Some Scottish breweries have even begun spicing their ales with traditional local herbs such as heather, seaweed, and elderberries.

In Scotland, much like in England, beer was priced by quality and strength. But they did not use the Bitter system discussed last week. Instead, their system was an explicit price ranking. 60/- (Shilling) was also known as “light” and often came in under 3.5% ABV. 70/- was also “heavy” and came in around 3.5 to 4%. 80/- was also called “export” and came in around 4-5.5%. And the 90/- was also known as “Wee Heavy” or simply just “Scotch Ale.” Wee Heavies are anything above 6% ABV.

Category 09- Scottish and Irish Ales:

Photo Credit: @Joefoodie Creative Commons

Subcategories: 60/- Light Scottish Ale, 70/- Heavy Scottish Ale, 80/- Export Scottish Ale, Irish Red, 90/- Wee Heavy Scotch Ales

Aroma: Low to medium roasted maltiness with some in kettle caramelization. Wee Heavies will have a deep and strong malt nose with rich caramel notes. Irish reds will have low maltiness light caramel or buttery notes. Low to no hoppiness present for any style. Scottish ales may have an earthy, smoky peat moss nose from malt or spicing. Wee Heavies may have a slight boozy front end.

Appearance: Scottish ales will be deep amber to light copper. Wee Heavies will lean darker brown with ruby highlights. Irish reds will be dark amber to deep copper with ruby red highlights. Quite clear with a low, creamy off-white head that fades quickly. Wee Heavies will have a larger, bloomy tan head that persists. Some larger versions may even have strong legs.

Flavor: Scottish ales will be malt forward but the malt will not be too strong. Some caramelized sugar from the in-kettle boil will help brighten the sweetness. Light to no hop notes. Some fruity esters and peat smoke can be present. Irish reds will have a moderate caramel front. Mid-palate will have some toffee or buttered toast quality. Some English or Irish hops can be present for bittering but generally there is no flavoring or aroma hops. Flavor should be very dry and clean. Wee Heavies are richly malted. With big caramel and some nuttiness. Hop flavors should be low to none. This is a beer definitely balanced toward malt. Some smoke, dried purple fruit (raisins and prunes) are acceptable. While sweet, it should finish clean without any cloying stickiness on the back end.

Mouthfeel: Generally medium to medium-low body. Wee Heavies will be big, chewy and viscous. Some diacytl will cause a silky, smooth, slick feeling in all of these beers. Irish reds may have a warming alcohol finish. All should be very dry on the back end.

Ingredients: Malts from UK (Scottish, English, Irish) with some specialty malts to add color and flavor. Smoke flavor often comes from yeast but sometimes comes from smoked malt or, rarely, an addition of peat moss. Irish and English hops are common. Noble and American hops rare if ever used.

Technical Notes:
Original Gravity:
Final Gravity: 1.010-1.056
SRM (Malt Color): 9-25
IBUs: 9-17
ABV: 2.5-10% (See Classification System Above) 4.0-6.0% for Irish Red Ales

Commercial Examples:
60/- Light:
Belhaven 60/-, McEwan’s 60/-, Maclay 60/- Light (all are cask-only products not exported to the US)
70/- Heavy: Caledonian 70/- (Caledonian Amber Ale in the US), Belhaven 70/-, Orkney Raven Ale, Maclay 70/-, Tennents Special, Broughton Greenmantle Ale
80/- Export:
Orkney Dark Island, Caledonian 80/- Export Ale, Belhaven 80/- (Belhaven Scottish Ale in the US), Southampton 80 Shilling, Broughton Exciseman’s 80/-, Belhaven St. Andrews Ale, McEwan’s Export (IPA), Inveralmond Lia Fail, Broughton Merlin’s Ale, Arran Dark
Irish Red: Three Floyds Brian Boru Old Irish Ale, Great Lakes Conway’s Irish Ale (a bit strong at 6.5%), Kilkenny Irish Beer, O’Hara’s Irish Red Ale, Smithwick’s Irish Ale, Beamish Red Ale, Caffrey’s Irish Ale, Goose Island Kilgubbin Red Ale, Murphy’s Irish Red (lager), Boulevard Irish Ale, Harpoon Hibernian Ale
90/- Wee Heavy Scotch Ale: Traquair House Ale, Belhaven Wee Heavy, McEwan’s Scotch Ale, Founders Dirty Bastard, MacAndrew’s Scotch Ale, AleSmith Wee Heavy, Orkney Skull Splitter, Inveralmond Black Friar, Broughton Old Jock, Gordon Highland Scotch Ale, Dragonmead Under the Kilt


Monday Beer News Round-Up

22 02 2010

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania- Lawmakers in Pennsylvania’s capital are attempting to update the State’s post-prohibition era beer sales laws. According to current laws, consumers are not able to purchase their beer at supermarkets. Instead, beer is only available at bars or restaurants. Furthermore, there is a cap of two six packs a person available at bars and taverns. The new law would allow for the creation of beer and spirits stores and would allow consumers a choice from a four or six pack all the way up to multiple cases.

Davis, California- A new study produced by The University of California shows that beer, particularly ones with higher hop and barley contents, has a good source of dietary silicon which is crucial for production of bones. Hops has up to four times as much dietary silicon as malt. So beers like IPA’s, APA’s, and Imperial Pale Ales can do much to reduce fractures in bones.

Fraserburgh, Scotland– When The Boston Brewing Company released its 27% ABV Utopias a few years ago, it threw down the gauntlet. To brew a beer with that much punch, they were just begging for challengers. A few years later, a young upstart company out of Scotland called Brew Dog stepped up to the plate with a mysteriously named beer, Tactical Nuclear Penguin. This beer weighed in at 32% ABV and took the title of strongest beer in the world. Earlier in the year, a German brewery called Schorchbrau released its Schorchbock with 40% ABV. Brewdog has responded it its record breaking Sink The Bismark. At 41% ABV, Sink the Bismark just barely outpaces the Schorchbock. Yet, it makes Utopias’ 27% look downright pedestrian. Sink the Bismark is available online only for £40 ($61.83) for a 12 oz. bottle.  No word yet on how far this extreme beer war will continue.

Coney Island, NY- After being closed for over 65 years, Luna Park at Coney Island is reopening. Mayor Bloomberg has recently signed a deal with an Italian amusement park company to reopen the famed seaside boardwalk. To celebrate, the Schmaltz Brewing Company, makers of He’Brew, is releasing a Luna Lager to join their line of Coney Island themed beers. Available this summer throughout New York City, the proceeds from Luna Lager will go to support the nonprofit Coney Island USA.

New York City, NY- Spanx, the company famous for making girdle-like underwear for women, has just released its first compression undergarment for men. Debuting at the New York Fashion Week, these shirts are aimed at counteracting the beer belly. By compressing love handles and belly bulge Spanx will give men an opportunity to have flatter abs and fit into more tailored shirts.

What is Beer?

5 12 2009

Traditionally, beer has four main ingredients: malted grain, hops, yeast, and water. While beer can, and does, contain different ingredients (also known as adjuncts) it needs these four ingredients to be considered “beer.” I could easily write a blog post on each of these ingredients, and I probably will. But for today, and overview.

  • Malted Grains: Traditionally beer is made with barley and/or wheat. However, people often brew with what they’ve got. Beers have also been made with sorghum, rice, corn, and other grains. Malting referrs to the process of forcing the grain to sprout. Grain is misted with a small ammount of water and then heated to allow the radicle (or root) to form. This begins the process of converting carbohydrates into sugars. The grain is then roasted in order to stop the sprout and to impart color and flavor. The malt is then soaked in hot water to further convert carbohydrates into sugars. The sweet liquid is drawn off the grains. What am I tasting here: Malt imparts sweet notes into the beer. It gives “brown” and “red” flavors: Malty, bready, toasty, grainy, sweet. It gives the “base” or “low” notes in the beer.
  • Hops: Hops belongs to the cannabis family–thus proving that two of the world’s favorite intoxicants are not too different. However, hops is more closely related to hemp than marijuana because it contains no THC–the psychoactive compound found in marijuana. There is no coincidence that hops grows well in the same regions that the United States grows its pot, Northern California and Oregon, but it grows well just about anywhere. In brewing, we use the reproductive cones of the hops vine. Hops cones are dried and then boiled in the malt extract. A combination of alpha acids and co-humulons impart bitterness and aroma to the beer. Hops are also a natural antibiotic which prevents spoiling. The amount of bitterness in a beer is measured in International Bitterness Unites (IBUs). What am I tasting here: Hops impart bitterness and aroma. They give “Green” and “Yellow” flavors: bitter, citrus, pine, grass, spice. Hops give beer its “high” notes.
  • Yeast: Yeast is a single celled organism. It “eats” sugar (C12H22O11) and converts it into alcohol (C2H5OH) and carbon dioxide (CO2). Yeast not only converts sugar into alcohol, it also imparts phenolic compounds, or esters. These are the fruity notes that round out the sweetness of the malt and the bitterness of the hops. In brewing, there are three main types of yeast: ale, lager, and wild. Ales are fermented at room temperature and tend to give of more fruity esters. Lagers are fermented at colder temperatures (right above freezing) and tend to give off less fruity esters. This gives the beer a “cleaner” flavor in order to give more attention to the malt and hops. And wild yeasts are found in the ambient air of the brewery. A brewer may use wild yeast in order to create a lambic, or sour beer. What am I tasting here: Yeast give off fruity notes: pear, berry, banana, apple. They “round” out the beer and give it “midrange” notes. They also give the “hot” or alcoholic flavors of the beer.
  • Water: Much like us, water makes over 95% of beer. And yet, for many of us, water is the most overlooked ingredient in beer. If there was no water in beer, all we would have is bitter, spoiled grain. And that would not be very tasty. Water not just acts as the medium for the alcohol, alpha acids, sugars, and yeast to be delivered to our mouths, it also imparts its own flavor. Water differs from region to region. It imparts its own sets of minerals. Water could be “hard” (have lots of minerals) or “soft” (have fewer minerals). Some breweries have entire ad campaigns on their water quality (remember “pure, Rocky spring water”?) While water quality does matter, the source does n0t mean much these days. Science helps us replicate the water quality from location to location. What am I tasting here: Water gives “blue” notes to beer: minerals and mouth feel.

We will go into these ingredients (along with adjuncts) in future posts. But in the mean time, that is what you need to know about what goes inside of beer. Next time you drink a beer, think about all those ingredients and then try to find them as you sip.

What is your favorite beer ingredient: malt, hops, yeast or water? What do you look for in a beer?