Not every beer that I make is a masterpiece, but even the ones that I consider failures are usually quite quaffable. In the interest of making better beer, I decided to try tasting my beers next to some commercial varieties of a similar style.
I brewed a clone of Storm’s Highland Scottish Ale mostly because I’d never brewed a Scottish ale before and because I wanted to get a culture of Wyeast’s 1728 Scottish Ale yeast up to volume for a batch Barley Wine. Based on the BJCP Scottish ale guidelines (and the recipe I got from Dan’s homebrewing), Storm’s Highland Scottish Ale would be a Scottish Export 80-, but guidelines don’t mean anything unless you care.
So, purely in the interest of beer education, I’ve got three open beers each with its own half-empty glass. My motives are entirely altruistic: to bridge the gap between beer education and the three other Rs (hey if writing and arithmetic are Rs, then so is beer). Our school system has clearly failed people like me in teaching beer. We had a municipal election here last weekend and not a single candidate for the school board was campaigning on improving the state of beer education. The sorry state of beer education will never improve without grass-roots action from people like us.
It’s unfortunate that I wasn’t able to compare my beer with the original, but I don’t think Storm bottles their beer and most bars don’t really like it when you walk in with a bottle of homebrew and ask for a glass. My benchmark beers are Belhaven’s Wee Heavy and St Andrews largely because they were the only Scottish beers I could get from the local liquor store and I remembered them from when I lived in Scotland.
All of the beers that I’m, ahem, sampling are kind of reddish and the Wee Heavy sits in the middle of the spectrum. It has a very strong carmel aroma and a very full balanced malt flavour.
I think I can taste a mix of roast barley and crystal, but I’m a product of a school system that neglects to teach its children about beer so you know what to think of my opinion. Ray Daniels’s Designing Great Beers (yay! Amazon affiliate link) on page 291 states that all Belhaven beers have pale, black, and crystal malt which is pretty close to my guess of pale, roast barley and crystal so maybe I shouldn’t be so humble with my opinions.
I also looked for some Belhaven Wee Heavy clone recipes online. The Craft Wee Heavy looks to be the closest, but I might try carmelising the malt with a long boil instead of adding the Caramel malt as they do.
The St Andrews is the lightest of the beers. It has a mild, slightly sweet aroma and has almost a classic pale ale flavour. I think whatever it is that makes it darker than your typical pale ale is what makes it taste a little different, but it still has a little of that dry malt flavour found in the tastiest pale ales. I’m pretty sure that the base malt in this beer is a lot better than the base malt that I use.
I also think there might be a little smoke in the beer, but from what I’ve read the smoke flavour in Scottish beers is from peat naturally found in the water. If this sounds a little strange, remember that the peat flavour in Scotch partly comes from water that has percolated through peat bogs and not just peat-smoked malt.
My Storm Highland Clone
My Storm Highland Clone isn’t even in the league of the Belhaven beers. It is the darkest of the three beers and has a very mild yeast aroma. I want to try some higher-quality base malts to see if that improves the aroma of my brews because, if they don’t smell like hops, then they are a little too plain. The flavour is very sweet, but less intense than the St Andrews and not even in the same league as the Wee Heavy.
I fermented my Highland clone at around °64 F (°18 C) which, based on the Highland Scottish Ale Recipe from Dan’s Homebrewing, is exactly how Storm does their Highland Scottish Ale. The Storm brewery isn’t far from Dan’s homebrewing and they seem to have frequent contact so the recipe is probably pretty accurate. They use a different yeast and have obviously been making it a lot longer than I have so don’t hold my failures against them. I also used Willamette because I can’t get British hops locally anymore.
- 11 lb 2 Row
- .5 lb Barley Flakes
- .55 lb Honey Malt
- .3 lb Peated Malt
- .15 lb Roast Barley
- 1.5 oz Willamette boiled for one hour
The mash was a straight infusion mash at °152 F (°62 C) and I fermented it at the low end of the yeast’s range.
In hindsight, I wish I had done something with the water. The water here is lighter than in Pilsen. I typically start boiling water for my mash and then, if I have time, calculate water adjustments. Usually I don’t have time, so I don’t do water adjustments. I think maybe the next time I try a Scottish ale or a pale ale, instead of making water adjustments, I might use some water from the nearby Burns Bog and see how that affects the beer, and I’d like to order a whole bag of high-quality base malt for my beers.
If you’ve made a Scottish ale, I’d love to hear how it compares to commercial Scottish Ales.