The Badass Beer Advent Calendar: December 16th—Brooklyn Winter Ale

It's about time we had an American beer from east of the Mississippi on this year's calendar, so let's try some Brooklyn Winter Ale and a beer style we haven't featured yet.

It's about time we had an American beer from east of the Mississippi on this year's calendar, so let's try some Brooklyn Winter Ale and a beer style we haven't featured yet.

Until 2005 Brooklyn Winter Ale was another winter warmer, but before the 2006 release Brooklyn's brewmaster, Garrett Oliver, changed it to a Scottish Ale. Although Scotland is mostly associated with that other fine beverage, whisky (there's no 'e' in Scotch), there's a notable tradition of beer brewing north of the border. Scottish beers are often thought of as being more malty and sweet than English beer (and, indeed, some of them are) and a myth has grown up that it's because hops don't grow so well in the Scottish climate as they do further south, but over the years Scottish brewers have produced beers every bit as hoppy and bitter as those from England--even a very good IPA or two. There might be a case to be made that Scottish brewers used more malt in their beer because there was no malt tax in Scotland when there was one in England, and as we've learned, more malt in the recipe tends towards a sweeter brew. Or perhaps that's just the way the Scots like their beer.

Some Scottish beers spend longer in the brew kettle than their English counterparts, which caramelises more of the sugars and leads to darker brew with plenty of toffee and caramel flavours.

There used to be a system of beer notation in Scotland which went by how many shillings a hogshead (1.5 barrels, 54 gallons) would cost and which was tied to the ABV of each type of beer, because a higher ABV beer is more expensive to produce. Beer also had names unfamiliar to English drinkers (light, heavy and export), or you might ask for a pint of sixty shilling. The top of the tree was the wee heavy, aka anything from 90 shillings upwards and with an ABV of 6% or more. A convention has emerged in recent years that wee heavy is Scotch Ale and everything else is Scottish Ale, but there's no real basis in history for this. Curiously, Scottish beer, especially wee heavy, became popular in Belgium and is more familiar there now than in some parts of the UK. You'll usually find it served in thistle-shaped glasses, which is just how Michael Jackson drinks one at the end of the beer dinner featured in the first episode of his 1989 TV series, The Beer Hunter.

American brewers have taken the idea of the wee heavy and run with it, producing some seriously good beers such as Great Divide Claymore, Moylan's Kilt Lifter (by no means the only Scottish style beer by that name), Bear Republic Heritage, AleSmith Wee Heavy, Oskar Blues Old Chub and Real Ale Real Heavy. Brooklyn Winter Ale doesn't quite make it to wee heavy status and would probably be classed as export, or eighty shilling under the old notation.

So let's awa' to the White Heather Club for some Scottish dancing and perhaps a song of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

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