Beer 16: Wee Heavy Scotch Ale and Spigot Issues

Also called a Scotch Ale, or Strong Scotch Ale, this is one of my favorite styles (alongside IPA and Belgian Tripel). That’s interesting. My three favorite styles all take one ingredient to the extreme: IPA with hops; Belgian Tripel with yeast; and Wee Heavy with barley. If you’ve tried Dirty Bastard (Founders), Lock Down (Arcadia) or Scottie Karate (Dark Horse), you know what I’m talking about. Light brown to reddish brown in color, they are very tasty and very unique: malty (i.e. barley flavored), intense, high in alcohol. Sometimes they taste a little smokey or ‘peat’ flavored. They are not bitter or hoppy, and the yeast plays no big role.  It’s all about the barley with this one.

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Wee Heavy
25 lb. Maris Otter
8 oz. Roasted Barley (UK)
~5 oz. Peated Malt
~5 oz. single malt Scotch Whiskey (dumped in at bottling)
2 oz East Kent Goldings FW (30 m. boil)
1 oz East Kent Goldings FO (while chilling in a snow bank)
Edinburgh Scottish Ale yeast

This one lives up to the expectations: very malty, rich, a ton of ‘mouthfeel’, caramel, toffee, and a little smokey peat flavor. You can taste some residual sweetness, probably due to high mash temps (soaking the barley at a higher temperature than I should have). Maybe the sweetness will fade in a week or two, it still has some carbonating left. I would lower the mash temp to 150 (as I planned on) for the next batch. I also don’t like the peated malt; I think it gets in the way (the original recipe didn’t have it, I should’ve listened). I like Dirty Bastard better, but I do like this beer.

update: I do not like this beer, still. Age didn’t help. Too sweet. Stop reading.

The recipe came from a trusted source, Gordon Strong’s book Modern Homebrew Recipes. It calls for Simpson’s Golden Promise instead of Maris Otter but my homebrew shop didn’t have it unfortunately (and I’m pretty sure that makes a big difference). The brew went fairly normal. I filled the pot with 9 gallons of water, and fired up the propane burner. While waiting, I crushed the huge amount of barley with my grain mill. That took longer than I thought, because my water was a bit hot – 165F. I was hoping for 150. Oh, well. I added the giant sack of grain and started to stir. I got doughballs. I guess 25 pounds of barley will do that. I realized that 25 pounds is very close to my max capacity. I let the barley soak for 40 minutes (instead of my usual 30).

This is not an easy beer to make. From what I’ve read, the secret to making a really good Scotch Ale is to boil down and caramelize some of the wort (‘wort’ refers to the boiling stage), making it into a thick syrup. There a a couple ways to do this, but what I do is scoop out about a half gallon of the pre-boiled beer, throw it on my kitchen stove, and boil the hell out of it. That means I have two boils happening at once: the normal, big boil, and a mini boil on the stove. After brew day is over, I add the small, thick syrup to the rest of the beer in the pot and proceeded to chill. I took advantage of the cold Michigan weather for this beer. After the boil, I simply stuck the beer in a snowbank for a few hours, rather than my usually method of sticking it in a cold fridge for 20 hours (also my fermentation chamber was occupied with something else). It worked just fine. I fermented this beer in a closet, which hovered around 65F, waited a week.

What didn’t work was bottling. After the beer fermented, I cold crashed, added gelatin, waited a day, added some whiskey, and was ready to bottle. The spigot was clogged, only a trickle of beer coming out. Shit. I’m pretty sure it was from hops from the previous batch. So I dumped the entire 5 gallons into a plastic bottling bucket, trying not to get too much gunk from the bottom (which there was a ton). It worked, but the bottles now have a bunch of dead yeast on the bottom, so I have to pour them gently. Oh well. I also oxygenated the beer, which is supposed to be bad. The only thing I’m worried about (not really) is that aging beer on a bunch of dead yeast could overcarbonate them. This is a beer you could age for a year.

So, the spigot. I took apart the spigot, cleaned it, and got rid of a plastic thing that wasn’t necessarily. That seemed to help. I will find out in a couple days when I bottle a Belgian Tripel if it’s fixed. Another way to keep the spigot from clogging is to put the entire pot at an angle while it’s fermenting, propped up on a piece of wood or whatever; or to put dry hops in a bag rather than toss them in (something I don’t want to do); or to cold crash and add gelatin. I do consider this a failure of the system – I do not like workarounds or clogged anything. I am the first to admit when my system sucks. In the future, when I make Double IPAs, I will keep the pot tilted – other than that I will keep going as normal.

2 thoughts on “Beer 16: Wee Heavy Scotch Ale and Spigot Issues

  1. I also love strong ales/Scottish ales but no on the peated malt. Actually heard somewhere that across the pond they don’t use it in their strong ales/wee heavies etc. More of a American thought of how it should be. Not sure if it’s true but some of the imported examples of the style don’t have the campfire burnt dirt notes.


  2. I don’t think I’ll use peated malt again, for anything. Simply don’t like the flavor. Although I must admit this beer has mellowed out quite a bit. I’m drinking it now and it improved noticeably.


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