“Then let us toast John Barleycorn, Each man a glass in hand; And may his great posterity Ne’er fail in old Scotland!” —Robert Burns, Scottish poet
From the misty moors to the Outer Hebrides, from Hadrian’s Wall to the Lochs Lomand and Ness, there’s an air of mystery and strength when one mentions Scotland. While most people think of stronger spirits when the country is mentioned, there is a fine tradition of beer in the Land of the Thistle.
Scotch ales (not to be confused with Scottish ales) are strong ales, sometimes referred to as “wee heavy.” The ales traditionally go through a long boil in the kettle for a caramelization of the wort, which produces a deep copper to brown in color brew.
Compared to Scottish ales, they tend to be sweeter and fuller-bodied, stronger, with a more pronounced malty caramel and roasted malt flavor. These brews are perfect for the colder days ahead, and will warm even the bones of lowlanders.
There is nothing like the sound of the Great Highland Pipes being played. As the drone sounds, and the melody peals, you can feel it in your bones. So it's no coincidence that bagpipes adorn the label of Cigar City Brewing’s Big Sound. It is big, bold and makes its presence felt from the start. Pouring brown in color with a good tan head, the aroma is sweet malt with the bit of alcohol hovering just out of reach.
Upon your first taste, the sweet toffee and coffee malt flavors stand out with a backing of bread and a hit of cherries. The 8.5 percent ABV is up front but not overpowering. Available in bottles seasonally wherever good beer is sold.
There is a considerable amount of Nordic influence in Scottish history, coming from the early Vikings who settled in what is now the Caithness region of Scotland. These explorers are believed by some to be the originators of the red hair and pale skin so many Celts now bear. It is fitting then that Highland Brewing’s Highland Tasgall sports the name Tasgall, the Norse “cauldron of the gods.”
With all the sweet maltiness of traditional Scotch ales, but a wee bit more hop profile, this brew does not disappoint. At 8 percent ABV, it’s a potent reminder of the strength of the Northerners. Available seasonally.
The tagline on the can says, “It’s Like Sputnik!” and its “heed” is huge. As is the flavor and body of Oskar Blues Brewing’s Old Chub 8 percent ABV monster-in-a-can. Pouring a lovely cola-colored brown, and carrying a peaty smoky aroma, this one is an award winner for a reason. The flavor is rich and smooth, with sweet malt throughout, characterized by semi-sweet chocolate, coffee and a hint of smoke. Perfect for beach bonfires, camping trips or just sitting on the porch in the brisk winter air. This one is available year-round at all good beer shops.
The iconic Scottish Greatsword is a big, two-handed, nasty weapon wieldable only by the mightiest of face-painted warriors. While you will only need one hand for Great Divide Brewing’s Claymore brew, it is not for the faint of heart.
This ruby-brown lovely has a tantalizing malt body with an aroma of peat, smoke and sweetness. The body is supple and full, taking the mouth into her strong grip. Flavors of caramel and molasses, with a bit of a hop bite at the edges. The 7.7 percent ABV is well hidden, caressed by the smoky sweetness and chocolaty malt.
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