Thursday, 7 August 2008

Scottish IPA

It's two birds with one stone time. Scottish Ales and IPA. And maybe some other things. Oh yes, the shilling system. Make that three birds with one stone.

Let's start with Scottish Ales and their lack of hopping. What's often overlooked is that Edinburgh was a major producer and exporter of IPA, second only to Burton. So was Scottish IPA heavily hopped? Because aren't Scottish Ales supposed to be lightly hopped? I suppose it depends what you mean by Scottish Ales.

The lightly-hopped bit refers, I assume, to Scotch Ale. A type of very strong beer, fermented at low temperatures and with quite poor attenuation. But that wasn't the only type of beer being brewed North of the border. Porter, Stout and IPA were also brewed in Scotland. To extend the lightly hopped assertion to these styles is much more dubious. And, as I've shown in a previous post, the hopping levels of the strongest Mild Ales in London weren't much different from those in Scotch Ales.

The postwar convention of 60/- for Light (Mild), 70/- for Heavy , 80/- for Export and 90/- for Wee Heavy doesn't apply further back in history. In the 19th century, 90/-, for example, meant nothing more than the wholesale price per hogshead (54 gallon barrel). You could have a 90/- Scotch Ale, but you could also have a 90/- IPA. As you can see in the tables. The number of shillings tells you the price and thus a general indication of the strength, but nothing else.

Now for IPA. People have told me that IPA was a "tightly-defined" style in the 19th century and always pretty similar in composition. And that it was a strong beer. But this isn't a view based on facts, but belief and supposition. The Scottish IPA's listed in the table vary from 1045 to 1070 and average 1059. Quite a considerable spread. By the standards of the day, 1045 is little more than a table beer. Even 1070 isn't much over average strength for the period. Look in the Scotch Ales table to see what strong beers of the time were like. The weakest in the table is 1075.

There is one thing all the IPA's in the table have in common. They're all pretty highly attenuated. Only two are below 80% and the average is 88.26%. In total contrast to the Scotch Ales, where the highest is just 75% and the average 64%.

And for those who think modern British IPA's aren't worthy of the name, I've included a table of more recent Scottish examples. All except one particularly weak entry are within the range of those from the 1840's. Who would have expected that?

The Scotch Ales listed are certainly strong, with the average OG a massive 1105 and average ABV 8.2%. That they are less attenuated than the IPA's must at least partly be due to the very high OG. The lowest OG is still a respectable 1075, the highest an eye-watering 1131. With finishing gravities sometimes over 1060, they must have been pretty sweet, whatever the hopping rate.

Shame they don't still sell beers like those in British pubs.

Just had a thought. I should have included tables for 20th century Scotch Ales. Sorry about that. I'll remedy the situation tomorrow. If I remember. Mind like a sieve.


Kristen England said...


did you ever find any brewing logs for the Scottish stuff? IPA or other? I haven't been able to find anything.

Ron Pattinson said...


there is some stuff in "Scottish Ale Brewer". I just need to look it up. Can't be bothered to today.

Dale said...

I thought the shilling designation on the Scottish Ales were for tax rates based on OG.
Apparently not?

Ron Pattinson said...

Dale, nothing to do with tax of OG. Just the wholesale price per hogshead.

Gavin Davis said...

Can you tell me anything about the North East beer style Best Scotch. It seems to me to be the least written about beer style despite once being widely popular in the region.

I first encountered these beers when I went to live in Newcastle upon Tyne between 2000-2004. The first I tried was Calder's Best Scotch, I believe brewed by Belhaven. As a Midland Mild drinker it had a familiar maltiness and low hop character but with some roastiness that I would associate with use of roasted barley and a dryness which may have been due to the artificial carbonation. The other two brands I encountered were Bass Best Scotch dispensed from a rather antiquated looking keg font in of all places, Flares, the 70's theme bar, not usually noted for it's genuine retro character, and McEwan's Best Scotch the most widely available, which declares itself to be a "Native of the North East". Despite my real ale sensibilities, as a Mild drinker I felt a certain empathy with the declining social standing of Best Scotch. Having once been the staple in working men's clubs and pubs it was now mostly drunk by men over the age of 60 and subject to the same slop bucket derision as Mild.

My own limited research suggests that Best Scotch has it's origins in the Scottish style Heavy. I have read that Calder's Best Scotch was the same brew as it's 70 /- and Lorimer's Best Scotch, the only Real Ale example that I have read about, was called 70 /- in it's home market. Despite the usuall classification of Scottish Heavy as the the equivalent to an English Bitter, all the examples I tasted including Calder's were definitely Dark Milds with an ABV around 3.6 but with a roast barley character and perhaps drier and slightly more bitter than some English Dark Milds. Yet in 70's editions of the Good Beer Guide the Caledonian Brewery brewed Lorimer's Best Scotch is classed as a bitter. Also on beer rating sites on the Internet both Calder's and McEwen's Best Scotch are also classified as bitter Ales. One reason for the ambiguity of the style may be due to the character of Scottish Heavy which is not entirely equivalent to English and Welsh bitter, tending to be heavier, maltier, sweeter, less bitter and perhaps arguably closer to an English Mild. Despite this on the whole Scottish Heavy does tend to be lumped in with English Bitter as a style. In contrast in a 90's edition of the Good Beer Guide the write up for the now Vaux brewed Lorimer's Best Scotch says of the Sunderland brew, that it once was a true Scotch Ale but is now more like a Dark Mild.

Best Scotch as a style is only available in Keg form these days following the demise of the Vaux brewery and Lorimer's Best Scotch. I think it sad that neither the Double Maxim Beer Company ( The custonians of the Vaux Lorimer brands) or the Caladonian Brewery ( Formerly the home of Lorimer and Clark's Ales) have seen fit to revive this legendary ale. It is also sad that none of the excellent micro breweries in the North East have seen fit to revive a style, that although Scottish in origin, is most certainly an emigree naturalised and an important part of the North East's beer culture.

As an end note whilst living in the North East I never once came across any pubs that sold Mild except maybe, rarely, as a guest beer, that is all except one. Whilst working in Darkest Northumberland I used to frequent a pub called the Salmon Inn in a village called Belford that sold Tetley's Dark Mild as a permanent cask ale. I wondered how a pub, in a small village, in the middle of nowhere, in an region where Mild is rarely seen, sustain such a beer in fine condition. The Salmon used to be a Vaux pub and reading back through old Good Beer Guides I found that the Salmon used to be a regular entry, no doubt included for the quality of it's Lorimer's Best Scotch as this was the only Real Ale it sold at the time. I would conjecture that Tetley Dark Mild was introduced to satisfy stalwart Scotch drinkers following the closure of the Vaux Brewery. It would be the only explanation for the presence of this brew in an area that is otherwise a Mild Ale Lacuna. Sad though that these regulars can no longer get the real thing.

If anyone has any more information on this style of beer or knows where I could find such information it would be most appreciated.

Ron Pattinson said...

gavin, thanks for long post. Very thought-provoking.

My experience of Scottish beer is limited. But I did get to drink Lorimer's Scotch a few times. For me, it was a Bitter. I was a Mild drinker at the time. Didn't seem like a Mild to me. A Tetley's Mild drinker, as it happens. Lorimer's Scotch was very different.

But Lorimer's is the only one I tried. A few more details of Scotch Ales would be nice. I have a few