Brewery: Bear Flavored
Style: Wee Heavy / Scotch Ale
Appearance: dark brown, slightly hazy, minimal head
Smell: sweet malt, cherry, pear, toffee, caramel, bread
Taste: sweet malt, raisin, cherry candy, plum, toffee, caramel, earthy spice
Mouthfeel: slick, low-med carbonation, slightly rich, medium bodied
Scotch ales have always intrigued me. Despite seeming, on paper, like a style I should hate due to my steadfast avoidance of overly-rich beers, I occasionally crave these malt-forward, barely-hopped ales in the winter. A good Scotch ale / wee heavy has to pull off a clever trick, turning a boozy, malt forward beer into something smooth and easy-drinking—embodying big malt flavors without actually being overly syrupy. A good Scotch ale also strikes me as a great camping beer, particularly if you have a fire going—quaffable, surly and boisterous.
My favorite Scotch ales use a touch of smoked malt to slightly balance the sweetness—just enough to flag down your attention, but not so much as to immediately peg them as a smoked beer. Peat-smoked malt is probably the most traditional way to go, but I had just purchased some of Weyermann's new oat-smoked wheat malt for a Grätzer I was brewing later in the month. While I've decided that this oat-smoked wheat malt is really nice stuff (more on that Grätzer in a couple weeks), it's a very subtle smoked malt, and 5.3 ounces of it didn't prove to be enough. Overall, I think I brewed a pretty solid, if not extraordinary Scotch ale, but my chief complaint is the total lack of any smoked character; it's basically undetectable. While I can't recommend percentages for any other type of smoked malt, oat-smoked wheat would probably need to be at least 6% of the grain bill to show up. (Even 8-10% should still be subtle). Other smoked malts, however, should do their thing under 3% of the grain bill.
However, the overall character is pretty much spot on for a wee heavy, with a few dimensions just slightly toned down. The flavor brings sweet, fruity malts, with cherry, plum and pear the most dominant, plus some sticky toffee and... jam-covered bread? I guess it's all that stone-fruit and figgy raisin caramel. There's something very breakfast-like about the character of a Scotch ale, so sweet and fruity and malty. Just spitballing here, why have I never seen an actual "breakfast Scotch ale" brewed with coffee or something? (Hmmm, I take that back, don't steal that idea. That's totally what I'm doing next time). While there's nary a flaw to be found, it does seem like there's some character that's not turned up quite high enough. I think adding complexity to this recipe may be as simple as doubling the chocolate malt and choosing a more potent smoked malt. Wee heavies can be fairly dark, to the point where some almost taste like a maltier, fruitier stout, while my version is closer to a zero-roast Old Ale. Certainly extra roast and extra smoke would add a nice depth to this—and it's not like it needs a ton, just some shading around the edges.
Jumping back to the brewing-process, I did pull one "trick" with this one, trying out the old technique of stealing a gallon of wort from the first runnings, then boiling it separately, until it was reduced to a thickish consistency. This produces Maillard reactions, often perceived as extra carmelization and sweetish flavor. However, I probably didn't take this as far as I could have, stopping the boil before it actually became a syrup. It did seem to successfully add some dark-candy-fruit flavors, since there was no caramel malt in my recipe (just some Munich for general maltiness, though at the amount I added, it was perhaps irrelevant). Since this "separate-boil" technique can be a bit of a PITA—and perhaps impossible, on a larger-than-homebrew scale—I guess it wouldn't hurt to add in some dark caramel malt instead; a few ounces of C120 should be an adequate substitute.
Finally, I used my trusty West Yorkshire English ale yeast for this batch, because I didn't feel like buying Scottish ale yeast just for one batch. West York is a real trooper, with fantastic esters and consistently smooth fermentations, in my experience. While it may not be totally traditional for the style, the subtle esters are not out of place with the fruitiness of the malts, and as mentioned, the beer has a nice, balanced sweetness. For most brewers, a clean American yeast would also be a good choice—or, if you have them, perhaps a blend of English yeast and American ale yeast, to achieve both higher attenuation with mild subtle esters.
As usual, I started drinking this batch about a month before posting my write-up for it. Having had a couple weeks to ponder over it, I have noticed that it's grown markedly better over just that short period. Most batches don't transition that quickly, but when I first started drinking this, I thought the flavors were a bit flat, and lacking depth. Now, while I would still like to draw out the roast and smoke character, this has become a really decent wee heavy with a great balance of malt character and stone-fruit nuances. I hadn't planned on aging this long-term, but it looks like I'll have to see how it holds up until at least next winter.
4.0 Gal., All Grain
Brewhouse Efficiency: 74%
Mashed at 147 degrees for 60 minutes
Fermented at 64 F in fermentation fridge
90.6 % Canada Malting pale ale malt
4.8 % Munich malt
3.1 % oak-smoked wheat
1.4 % chocolate malt
0.5 oz Brewer's Gold @FWH
0.5 oz Brewer's Gold @15
Wyeast West Yorkshire Ale Yeast