14. Scottish Ale

Wee Lad

Scottish Light (14A)  BeerSmith Recipe File

Wee Lad


As a brewer, I’m asking myself why in the heck I would brew a beer that will turn out to be only 3% ABV.  I mean, I know the point of great beer isn’t to get you hammered, but below 4.5%, something starts to feel wrong about spending the 6 hours to make it.  This is a beer that, if it doesn’t come out amazing, is going to really piss me off.  I would compare it to a chef working really hard to make a great salad.  Sure it’s possible, but who cares?

Why are there 3 Scottish beers that are exactly alike in everything but gravity (even there, 2.5% is the spread)?  Do we really NEED these beers to have 3 separate entries in the Guidelines?  Couldn’t we consolidate these three into one, and open the Guidelines to other beers that are actually different from the other 79 entries?  Couldn’t Sahti, or Spruce Beer or Gruit have a place?  Couldn’t we expand spice/herb/vegetable, or allow for oak aged versions of Imperial beers?  American Sour Ale?  Who could even tell the difference between a 60, 70 or 80 shilling? Can the Guidelines describe more than 80 beers?

Whew.  Ok, I feel better now.

There are, from the materials I’ve read, two basic approaches to brewing this style of beer with regard to achieving the right malty/caramel flavor.  The more modern approach is what we’re all used to: using crystal malts.  The more traditional method (according to the Guidelines) is to stick to a grain bill of mostly base malt and a touch of roasted barley, and do an extended boil to achieve higher levels of melanoidins.  When I say extended boil, I mean two hours.  In Classic Styles, Zainasheff and Palmer even recommend caramelizing the first runnings, then adding the remainder of the wort to the kettle, and then boiling for two hours in their “caramelized” recipe.  In the interest of both time and not going overboard on the toffee notes, I’m going to caramelize the first gallon of runnings but then do a normal boil of 60 minutes.

If you’ve never caramelized something before, take heed: it is very easy for the process to run away from you.  Get distracted for even a minute during the critical time, and you’ll have burnt sugar, which doesn’t taste good.  I’m looking for the moment when the liquid really thickly coats a spoon, and not a moment after.

The Guidelines warn that traditionally made Scottish Ales are often identified as flawed because this caramelization process produces flavors that the modern drinker sometimes wrongly assumes is diacetyl.  I have confidence that such a silly mistake is below The Stig.



5.5 lbs. Marris Otter
0.25 lbs. Roasted Barley

Mash @ 154° for 60 minutes (1.75 qt/lb).  Sparge with 5 gal @ 165°.

Boil 1st gallon of lauter runnings down to approx. 0.25 gallons, recombine with main wort
Boil for 60 minutes

0.75 oz East Kent Goldings (5.0%) for 60 minutes

WLP028 Edinburgh Ale, 500mL starter

OG: 1.034
FG: 1.012
ABV: 2.9%
IBU: 15
Color: 14.6 SRM (probably darker due to kettle caramelization)

Fermentation Temp: 64°-68°


Brew Day

Yes, you too can add 2 hours to your brew day with Chemistry!
Yes, you too can add 2 hours to your brew day with Chemistry!

Water Chemistry: a topic that plagues home brewers trying to push their beer to the next level.  It is a topic that can get overwhelming very quickly.  I recently bought “Water: A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers” by John Palmer and Colin Kaminski, but I have yet to begin reading it.

I wanted to try, without any previous experience, building a water profile from scratch, using distilled water and brewing salts.  I used BeerSmith’s water chemistry profile tool, and set my target water profile for Edinburg.  I’ve heard that there exists some disput of whether or not this resembles the water actually used by Scottish Brewers, but I figured I’d give it a try and see what The Stig thought of the attempt.  His initial comments on the idea were that it might taste like drywall.  I hope I didn’t spend a 7 hour brew day making 2.9% ABV drywall beer…

CaCO3 doesn't like to dissolve below a pH of 7ish
CaCO3 doesn’t like to dissolve below a pH of 7ish

So, I did it, I built the water profile somewhat ignorant of the outcome, or even if my process is entirely right.  I plan on reading Palmer’s water book soon, and applying the recommendations to a future recipe.  I’ll of course keep you informed, and I promise I have a more detailed water chemistry piece soon (Late note: CaCO3 is a bad choice, use gypsum.  Chalk doesn’t dissolve fast enough to be useful in brewing chemistry).

The kettle caramelization was kinda cool, before I added it back to the main wort (or more accurately, before I added some wort to it, thinning it enough to get it all out of the pot when I poured it gently into the brew kettle) I tasted it: super intense toffee.  It would have been great on pancakes.

Boiling the bejesus out of the first gallon of runnings
Boiling the bejesus out of the first gallon of runnings


This is right before I stopped: the spoon has been out of the liquid less than a second
This is right before I stopped: the spoon has been out of the liquid less than a second

The rest of the brew day was normal, cooled the wort to 64°, pitched the yeast and stuck it in the fridge.  It ended up taking pretty long considering I spent an hour boiling 1 gallon of wort, and building the water profile took about 30 minutes, but it was fun and interesting.

When the wort is all cooled down, you must pitch it...
When the wort is all cooled down, you must pitch it…



According to Z & P, this beer style benefits from a lagering period.  So, primary was done in about 7 days and I began lowering the temperature of the beer 2 degrees every 12 hours.  On day 14 I transferred the beer to the keg and began the lagering period.  I ended up lagering this beer for longer than intended, about 4 weeks.

@ FG, looks almost darker than before
@ FG, looks almost darker than before



I left this beer in the keg and carbonated to 2.0 volumes of CO2  during the lagering period.


My Take

Wee Lad

I definitely think there is too much chalk character in this beer, but despite that flaw, I think this is a pretty tasty table beer.  This guy doesn’t come into his own until he really warms up, about 55° to even 60°.  A bit “thin”, almost like some additional caramelization could have been good.  So, I would recommend both the caramelization of first runnings and a longer boil.  So much work for such a little beer, but I have to say I liked it more than I anticipated.  I’m actually looking forward to brewing the 70/ and 80/ versions of this beer. I’m half inspired to get my hands on some cask equipment and serve this beer the right way.


The Stig

It’s time to turn the beer over to our Team Tasting/Imbiber.  Some say He was the inspiration for William Wallace, and that if He was Scotland, He’d already be independent.  All we know is, He’s called The Stig!

Aroma: All malt in the nose, with hints of rice pudding, tapioca, and treacle. Little to no ester or hop aroma.

Appearance: Clear bronze body with thin film of off-white head. Very little lacing. ~12 SRM.

Flavor: Caramel, brown sugar sweetness with a subtle golden raisin character. Pronounced minerality and a bit metallic (copper-like). No discernible hop flavor.

Overall: Good example of the style I think… not sure I’ve ever had a legit 60/ ale. I think the simplistic flavor profile, while technically accurate, would benefit from some roasted barley in the grist.



Well, that went better than I thought.  I think we agree that more caramelization/roasted barley would have really taken this beer to the next level. Something to think about with the future stronger renditions.  That combined with correct use of brewing salts to eliminate the overbearing mineral profile, and this beer has real potential.  I call this one a partial success!


Books I referenced for this recipe:
Zainasheff & Palmer.  Brewing Classic Styles.  2007.
Palmer & Kaminski.  Water: A Comprehensive Guide for Brewers.  2013.
2008 BJCP Guidelines.


  1. A couple of water protips: don’t try to match a water profile of a particular region or city; those reports don’t take into account what the brewers of the region do to change their water for brewing (and I guarantee you they’re all doing something to prep it). Instead, make the water profile for the optimal flavor ions and calcium for the style, erring on the lower side of concentrations.

    I believe there’s a table in Chapter 7 of the Water book that’s treated me very well for matching styles and ions concentration.

    1. Thanks Derek, my approach has indeed become just that. Getting my ions, alkalinity, RA and pH in the ballpark is far more important than the specifics. I use that chart also, and it’s given me much better results.

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