In the wide world of beer, there are too many styles, sub-styles, hybrids, and just plain off-the-wall beers to even count. This is why when I review things, I have occassionally (and will try more in the future) grouped reviews by style. Consider this your Scotch Ale (also known as Wee Heavy) tutorial.
In the UK region, hops mainly come from England. So, if you head on in to England, you can find locally-brewed, HOPPY beers. However, if you haven't heard, England wasn't always so kind to other countries, what with the conquering and shamelessly profiteering off of/killing everyone. This could explain why Ireland and Scotland didn't necessarily want to import hops from England back in the day. This would also explain why Scotch ales are almost all, if not entirely, malt, with extremely minimal hops. If you can taste them at all, you have a more refined palate than I. Your typical Scotch Ale has a nice creamy body, a brown or ruby-brown body, and a pretty low ABV, depending on the brewery. Old Speckled Hen is an example (a shite-tasting one), but one that is easy to find if you want an introduction to the style. Scotch Ales are also phenomenal examples of how geography and socio-political issues can affect the brewing of a particular region and the creation of a particular style.
That adorable-ass picture of me on the right side of this blog has me drinking a Scotch Ale coincidentally, so I have had good experience with them. Today I am going to contrast two that I recently had to both recommend them (they are both great) and show some of the diversity of the style. Even in something that is predominantly one ingredient can have a wide range of flavors and provide a totally different experience.
First is Belhaven Wee Heavy. Traditionally brewed in Scotland, Belhaven has been around forever and stands as a pretty good archetype of the style. The body is predominantly brown with hints of ruby red and orange, while the head, as is typical of the style, has a wonderful richness even out of a bottle. There is a rich caramel aroma with tons of sweetness and with VERY minimal hops, which you shouldn't look forward to tasting either. The flavor is built of toffee, caramel, and a hint of milk chocolate (as opposed to the dark chocolate of many stouts and porters). There is a bit of breadiness, though it is a malty one as opposed to yeast. The mouthfeel matches the head in creaminess, and as I got to the end and it warmed a bit, I even got a waft of peanut butter aroma (which I will never complain about). The body wore on me slightly as I went, as there was a fatty, almost greasy quality to it, but the flavor made up for it. Definitely a great place to start in the style.
After that came Brasserie De Silly Scotch Silly Wee Heavy. As opposed to the traditional Scottish brew, this is made in Belgium which means two things: 1) There is a higher ABV (8 vs. 6.5) and that there are some ecentric liberties taken with the style. BDS is a little darker than the Belhaven, and presents a slightly less pleasant aroma, with a more general sweetness that actually feels kind of awkward. It sort of smells like toffee bubble gum, and is nice in the sense that it is sweet, but not nice in the sense that that combination is gross. The body is darker and the mouthfeel more crisp than Belhaven, though they of course share the rich maltiness inherent in the style. How the malt presents is completely different, as it seems these crazy Belgians have added some of their trademark yeast to the mix. The sweetness is lighter and brighter, bringing vanilla, caramel, and yes, even a hint of bubble gum in the finish. That it is thinner makes it a bit more drinkable, and the Belgian yeast makes it more distinct in taste and aroma, but I have to give the flavor nod to Belhaven.
Both of these beers are good, and if you ever get hopped out from American craft beer, a Wee Heavy can be a nice alternative. You have to deal with a large amount of rich sweetness (itself not for everyone), but within that sweetness are layers and layers of malty diversity and probably my favorite body and texture of any style. On draft these beers are even better - richly cascading ruby-brown beauties that can have a texture bordering on "milkshake". Scotland also doesn't generally get a rep as a brewing hub (it's not), so throwing them some props for the style they do so well (or um . . . to the other places who stole it and put their own spin on it) is vital in the beer community.