As the temperatures outside get cooler, a nice malty beverage in front of a fire seems like a great way to spend an evening. There are lots of great styles to choose from, but some of my favorites for this time of year are Scottish ales. From Scottish Light to Wee Heavy, you can choose to spend the evening having a few of the former, or sipping one of the latter, while hanging out with friends. In recent years there has been some confusion on these styles-mostly the “shilling” styles, the style names, specific flavors, aromas and brewing processes have been in question. The soon-to-be finalized 2014 guidelines will correct previously inaccurate information and debunk common myths about these styles.
In the 2008 guidelines, the styles of Scottish ale were as follows: Scottish Light 60/-Scottish Heavy 70/- Scottish Export 80/- and Strong Scotch Ale. The shilling categories were derived from price charged per hogshead (54 Imperial gallons) during the 1800’s; the stronger or better quality beers were more expensive. In 2014, BJCP will be moving to a Scottish ale category containing Scottish Light, Scottish Heavy and Scottish Export. Wee Heavy will move to Strong British Ales. You can read more about these guidelines here.
Speaking specifically of the Scottish ale categories, the 2014 BJCP guidelines have a note about the style name changes: “The original meaning of ‘schilling’ (/-) ales have been described incorrectly for years. A single style of beer was never designated as a 60/-, 70/- or 80/-. The schillings only referring to the cost of the barrel of beer. Meaning there were 54/- Stouts and 86/- IPAs and so on. The Scottish ales in question were termed Light, Heavy and Export, which cover the spectrum of costs from around 60/- to 90/- and simply dark, malt-focused ales. The larger 120/- ales fall outside of this purview as well as the strongest Scotch ales (aka Wee Heavy).” In other words, the BJCP will no longer categorize the styles of beer by what they might have cost; instead, they will focus on their increasing intensity, much like they did with English Bitters. In fact BJCP 2014 guidelines for Scottish ales will read exactly the same for each style of beer, and, as the gravity increases, so will the character of the beers in question.
Interestingly, peaty and smoky flavors were often referenced as being optional, but acceptable in the 2008 BJCP guidelines. This no longer is the case in 2014 Scottish Ale category. It seems that this is removed because BJCP has acknowledged that these features would not be present in the more recent representation of the styles. A quote from thciprian on the American Homebrewers Association forum (here) may better explain why “by the early 19th century…brewers were doing everything they could to avoid smoky character in their beer, since it was considered to be a fault. For example, in the early 18th century (~300 years ago), one of the reasons why porter was aged was to give time for the smoke character (from ‘blown’ brown malt) to drop a bit.” One might think the smoky peat-like character was coming from the malt. However, the 2008 BJCP indicates that the smoke wasn’t from the actual malt kilning process, but “…from the traditional yeast and from the local malt and water rather than using smoked malts.” Possibly by the late 1900s, the Scottish people had figured out a way to decrease the smoke-like character produced by their water and yeast. There is even a mention from the BJCP that “Scottish ales with smoke character should be entered as a Classic Style Smoked Beer.” They aren’t saying it isn’t an accurate style characteristic, just not an accurate one for these new guidelines.
Finally, In the 2008 guidelines, kettle caramelization was considered a hallmark of the style, but in 2014 it has been deemed inaccurate. In both Scottish ales and Wee Heavy, the guidelines do not indicate that kettle caramelization is appropriate. In fact, for Scottish ales, The new guidelines include “malt-focused ales that gain the vast majority of their character from specialty malts, never the process. Burning malt or wort sugars via ‘kettle caramelization’ is not traditional nor is any blatantly ‘butterscotch’ character.” Despite a bit of digging around the internet, there are no other references to this lack of kettle caramelization. Even the Oxford Companion of Beer (2011) references it as part of the style: “Scotch ale traditionally goes through a long boil in the kettle. This was particularly the case in days when the kettles were direct fired by flame…” By the 19th and 20th centuries, boiling wort over an open flame may not have been the preferred method, and the patent malt machine was invented. Caramelization would have come from the grains themselves, and not the pot. It will be interesting to see if more information about this is published as we progress into 2015.
The majority of the information above focused on the new Scottish ale styles, but, some of it applies to Wee Heavy too. While the name wasn’t changed, it was moved to a different category. Also, per the 2014 BJCP guidelines, there’s no longer a mention of kettle caramelization. Smokiness is considered appropriate but optional in this category: “Slight smoke character may be present in some versions, but derives from roasted grains or a long, vigorous boil. Peated malt is absolutely not traditional.” This is “more related to historical brews than the lower-strength Scottish ales, these beers have their roots in the strong ales of the 1700s and 1800s, although formulations and methods have changed. A premium product, often produced for export[…]modern versions have lower starting and finishing gravities than their historical ancestors.”
What hasn’t changed from 2008 to 2014 is the target numbers for these styles. The same gravities, IBUs, and ABVs are still appropriate. The BJCP has simply moved to a more accurate representation of newer Scottish ales, from their names, and ingredients, to brewing process. So next time you’re enjoying a Scottish ale or a Wee Heavy, think about how you might brew your next batch to reflect these style changes! And good luck at your next competition!