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Belt’s Beer Garden: Scotch Hop(ped)

Two Scotch Ales - Belhaven 90/~ Wee Heavy & Odd Side MacDougal’s

During these cold winter months, Scotch Ales are the great for keeping you warm and giving you a nice buzz. And that’s perfect for a day like today where it’s cold and snowing (at least, it is in Chicago) and nobody wants to go outside.

Up first, a brewery that knows a thing or two about scotch and brewing...Scotland’s Belhaven Brewing, which just turned 300 years old last year!

Belhaven Brewery comes from Belhaven, Dunbar, Scotland (about 20 miles east of Edinburgh) and has been brewing beers for a long, long time. In fact, they’re Scotland’s oldest functioning brewery and started making beer in 1719 – some 60+ years before the USA would even become a country.

As they come from Scotland, it’s no surprise that they brew a few Scotch Ales and I chose their 90/~ Wee Heavy, which, based on what I found online, means 90 Shilling. I found a four-pack of 11.2-ounce bottles for $10. Each serving has a decent 7.4% ABV.

This Scottish ale poured a dark amber, nearly brown color with about a finger and half of thicker tan head topping it off. The foam works its way down the side, leaving some solid lacing as it did so, and eventually stopped once it reached half a finger thick.

There was a rich, sweet aroma emanating from the beer. Heavy notes of caramel and biscuit come from a solid dose of malts. There is a nice roasted nut aspect to the smell as well and a bit of sugar calming it all down. Hiding underneath everything was just a hint of booze, which makes sense as it sits at nearly 7.5%.

My first sip started with a light rush of carbonation and a flash of alcohol. The booze hit the back of my throat with a light burn but was soon quieted when the other flavors began to appear. Luckily, that sharp bite only happened on the first sip and every concurrent swig was much more gentle than the initial one.

As the smell indicated, 90/~ had a quite rich flavor. It was led by the malts which provided a heavy hand of bready notes and some light toffee, caramel flavors.

Joining those, there was some sugary sweet chocolate notes and some roasted malt that gave off a slight coffee characteristic.

The flavors all blended nicely into a sweet and flavorful Wee Heavy that didn’t have any overpowering or lingering aftertastes…except for one. There was no dry feeling. No lasting malts. All that remained for just a moment or two was a light alcohol sting. After disappearing from the front of the sip, the booze made itself known for a second at the end of the taste instead.

However, despite the alcohol, it was still an enjoyable Scotch Ale with plenty of positives. But, after all, Belhaven has been around for over 300 years…so they’ve had time to perfect a lot of these recipes.

Up next is a familiar brewery on BBG - Michigan’s Odd Side Ales - who has a Scotch Ale of their own with some nice additions to it.
Odd Side Ales is making its sixth appearance on BBG. And, for the first time, I don’t have one of their hoppy brews.

Instead I have MacDougal’s Scotch Ale from the Grand Haven, Michigan brewery.

But MacDougal’s isn’t just a typical Scotch Ale/Wee Heavy. Instead they’ve aged the brew in apple brandy barrels and then added orange peel for good measure. A 12-ounce bottle isn’t cheap, costing $7, but if I know anything about Odd Side, it’s that they make quality brews so the higher price is usually worth it.

MacDougal’s poured a dark copper color, nearing a purple-ish hue, with just about a finger of tan head topping it off. The thin bubbles quickly fizzled down to a small ring around the edge of the glass with no lacing what-so-ever as it disappears.

This Scotch Ale had a complex and sweet aroma. The apple brandy barrels and orange peel imparted some sweetness and notes of citrus while notes of caramel and spice linger behind. There is also a slight hint of booze that sits underneath, which is understandable as it has a 10.5% ABV.

My first taste began with just a fizz of carbonation before the boozy flavors hit like a freight train. The brandy starts things off with a harsh sting that burns on its way down.

However, from there, there is a nice apple sweetness and some citrus rind bitterness that calms down that initial alcohol burn. Joining the apple and orange midway through is a caramel sweetness and slightly breadiness from the malts.

Late in the sip some spices joined the party and imparted light flavors of allspice, clove, and charred oak.

The second half of the bottle was much easier to drink than the first few sips.

As the beer warms up, that early boozy bite seemed to lessen with each sip…or my palate just got used to it. But MacDougal’s also becomes sweeter with time, as the apple and caramel get stronger and blend nicely.

By the end of the bottle the high ABV certainly made itself known, warming my chest and face and giving me a slight buzz.

This was a nice take on a Scotch Ale. Up front the brandy stings but the flavors of apple and orange mixed with the grain profile well to create slight notes of candy apples and spice in the last half of the bottle.

Can’t go wrong with Odd Side. Whether it’s their pale ales, hazy beers, or dark brews…they always seem to get it right.

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