Scotch Ale

Scotch ale can be divided into roughly four categories.  The standard ale is available in three strengths: light, heavy and export.  A fourth category is often broken out for strong Scottish ales or “wee heavy” ales.  These ales are also often named by their 19th century per-barrel price in schillings (now obsolete) as 60/-, 70/- and 80/- for the light, heavy and export and higher numbers of 100/- to 160/- for strong and “wee heavy” styles.

The History of Scottish Ales

Scotland has traditionally produced a wide array of beer styles including many that are either English or Irish in character.  During the 18th and 19th centuries Scotland was a major exporter of all kinds of beer to both England and also its colonies, and Scotland was first in the British isles to begin producing lager in large quantities.

Despite the influence of neighbors, Scotland’s unique geography and political situation combined to produce a uniquely Scottish style of beer that we now know as scotch ale.  According to Daniels, two of the major factors were the availability of malt and hops.  Barley has always been grown in Scotland, with a large portion dedicated to the production of whiskey.  However, in Southern Scotland significant portions of the yearly crop were dedicated to beer production.

Hops, however, has never thrived in Scotland.   The soil and conditions are poor for hop production, so hops had to be imported often from England at high expense.  As a result a variety of hop alternatives were traditionally used including spices, herbs and quassia.  Later when hops were used, they were added only sparingly resulting in a distinctly malty character.  In contrast to the South in England malt was heavily taxed and hops plentiful resulting in more highly hopped styles such as IPA.

A look at traditional brewing of Scottish ales reveals that these ales were mashed with one or at most two steps, usually at high temperature (often above 160F!) and sparged slowly and often fermented at relatively cold temperatures.  The combination no doubt produced a beer full of body and resulted in very low attenuation of the yeast.  Bitterness was low, resulting in a malty full bodied beer.  The finished beer was aged only a few weeks and then shipped directly to pubs for consumption.  When aged, the beer was often kept cold which aided in enhancing clarity.

Brewing a Scottish Ale

As mentioned above Scottish ales have four major categories.  The three traditional scotch ales are distinguished primarily by strength and bitterness: original gravitie for 60/- light is in the range 1.030-1.035, for 70/- heavy it is 1.035-1.040 and 80/- export comes in at 1.040-1.054.  Strong scotch “wee heavy” ales have very high gravities in the 1.070-1.130 range.

Bitterness is low – with about 10-15 IBUs for light and ramping up to 15-30 IBUs for the export version.  Even the strong ales has a low bitterness in the 17-30 IBU range.  Malty and caramel flavors dominate the style with little to no hop aroma or flavor.

Scotch ales have an amber to light brown color.  All have a target color in the 9-17 SRM range, though the strong ale may be darker (up to 25 SRM) due to the large amount of malt added.

Formulations for scotch ales very, but they all start with a pale malt or pale extract base, generally making up about 70-80% of the grain bill.  Crystal malt is used in both commercial and homebrewed recipes making up from 5-10% of the grain bill.  Black or roast malt provide color and character in the 2% range, though most purists prefer roast malt over black malt.

Interestingly almost all commercial examples use either wheat malt or sugar in the 5-10% range, though sugar is rarely added to homebrewed versions.  Other commonly added homebrew grains in small amounts include chocolate malt, cara pils for body, munich and amber malts though these are not commonly added to commercial browns. [Ref: Daniels]

There is no specific hops tied to the scotch style, though low alpha traditional English or Continental hops are considered most appropriate.  Goldings, Williamette and Fuggles are often used commercially, though noble hops such as Hallertauer or Saaz can also be used.  Bitterness and hop flavor should be kept to a minimum, so use just enough hops to balance the malt.

The selection of scotch yeast is not as important as the fermentation method. Scotch ales are fermented at much lower temperatures (50-60F) than traditional ales, and the fermentation can take several weeks to complete as a result.  After fermentation the ale is cold aged to aid in clarity.  This produces a very malty but clean beer profile.  You also want to select a low attenuation yeast that can handle the lower temperatures.

Though Edinburgh is famous for its pale ales and hard water, high sulfate water is not a critical element in brewing scotch ale and in fact can be detrimental as it brings out the hop sharpness too much.  I personally recommend a moderate neutral water profile low in sulfates that will support the malty base and not enhance the hops excessively.

Scotch Ale Recipes:

Brad Smith

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Belgian Wit

History of Wit

Belgian Wit goes by many names, all variations of the term “White Beer”.  In French it is called “Biere Blance”, while the Flemish name is Wit or Witbier which is pronounced “Wit” or “Wet) [Ref: BT]  While the style was likely derived from the Belgian Monastary tradition, it reached widespread popularity in the 18th and 19th century in the towns east of Brussels.  The two beers “Biere Blanche de Louvain” and “Blanche de Hougerde” were brewed in Louvain and Hoegaarden respectively.  The Louvain version was more popular.

After the lager revolution in the 1800′s and into the 1900′s, Wit gradually declined in popularity and in fact disappeared when the last Belgian brewery went out of business in 1957.  Nearly 10 years later Pierre Celis raised money from family members to open a brewery called De Kluis and began brewing a traditional Wit called appropriately “Hoegaarden”.

In 1985, the De Klius brewery burned to the ground, again threatening Witbier with extinction.  Pierre Celis was able to raise money from commercial sources to rebuild the brewery, but by 1987 these larger brewers essentially took control from Pierre Celis and altered the recipe to appeal to a broader audience.  Pierre Celis, disappointed, moved to Austin Texas where he opened a new brewery making “Celis White” based on the original Hoegaarden recipe.

Brewing The Wit Beer Style

Belgian Wit is a light, wheat based beer with light to medium body, slight sweetness and a zesty orange-fruity finish.  It has a clean crisp profile, low hop bitterness and high carbonation with a large white head.  Traditional Wit is slightly cloudy due to the use of unmalted wheat, and pale to light gold in color.

Original gravity is in the 1.044-1.052 range, bitterness in the 10-20 IBU range and color in the 2-5 SRM range. Carbonation is high.

Belgian Wit is made from a base of around 50% pale malt, and 50% unmalted wheat.  Often 5-10% rolled or flaked oats are added to enhance body and flavor.

Unmalted wheat presents some challenges for the single infusion homebrewer.  Pure unmalted wheat will not convert well with a single infusion mash.  This can be rectified by using a multi-step infusion or multi-step decoction mash, but simpler solutions exist.  If you substitute flaked or torrified wheat, you can perform a single infusion mash easily, while still preserving the distinctive flavor of unmalted wheat.

If you are brewing from extract, wheat extract might be an acceptable option, but all grain brewers should avoid using malted wheat as it will not result in the authentic wit flavor.  Rolled oats are best if you are brewing all-grain as these two will work well in a single infusion mash.  Where possible, high diastic pale colored malt should be used as the pale base.

Hops are typically chosen to minimize the hop profile.  Low alpha hops such as BC Goldings, Hallertauer, Fuggles or Saaz with just enough hops to balance the sweetness of the malt.  Late hop additions are inappropriate, as hop aroma is not a feature of the style.  I personally prefer about 1 oz of BC Goldings boiled for 60 minutes in a 5 gallon batch.  Dry hopping and large late hop additions are not really appropriate for this style.

Spices play an important role in Wit.  Traditionally, Coriander and Bitter (Curaco) orange peel are used in small amounts at the end of the boil to add a bit of spice.  In some cases, small amounts of sweet (traditional) orange peel are also added, though sweet orange peel should not be a dominant flavor.

The coriander should be cracked, but not crushed, whole seeds.  I run my coriander seeds through the grain mill to crack them in half.  Bitter Curaco orange peel is not the type you find in the supermarket, but is available from most major brewing supply shops. I recommend about 3/4 ounce of bitter orange peel and 3/4 ounce of coriander for a 5 gallon batch added 5 minutes before the end of the boil.

Belgian Wit Recipes

Here is a collection of Wit and White beer recipes from our recipe site:




Porter is first mentioned in writings in the early 1700′s, and the name Porter is derived from its popularity with London’s river and street porters. There are many stories surrounding the origins of Porter, such as one about it being a blend of three other beers, but more likely Porter was derived from strong brown ales of the period. Original porters were substantially stronger than modern versions. Wikipedia mentions that hydrometer measurements on 18th century Porters indicate original gravities near 1.071, or 6.6% ABV – about twice the alcohol of a modern beer.

Taxes during the Napoleonic wars drove the alcohol content down to modern levels. Porter was also the first large scale beer to be entirely aged before delivery, often remaining in vats or casks for 18 months before shipment to pubs. As the 1800′s started, breweries mixed aged porter with new porter to reduce storage times. Stouts started as a stronger, darker version of Porter, with most including the name “Stout Porter”. Eventually the “Porter” tag was dropped giving the modern style of “Stouts”. (Re: Wikipedia)

In another interesting side note, Porter’s popularity was so high that it was stored in huge vats in the late 1700′s, and there was an arms race of sorts between major breweries to see who could build the largest vas. According to Ray Daniels book, the largest vats approached 20,000 barrels (860,000 gallons) at the end of the 1700s. This compares to the largest in the world today which clocks in at around 1600 barrels, less than 1/10th the size. In October of 1814, a huge vat at the Meux brewery ruptured and reportedly wiped out an adjacent tank and devastated the neighborhood in a 5 block radius. In the ensuing chaos at least 8 people were killed.

Designing a Porter Recipe

Designing Porter recipes can be a lot of fun as the Porter style includes room for experimentation. Porters have an OG of 1.040 and up, color of 20-40 SRM and bitterness of 18-35 IBUs for Brown Porter, or up to 55 IBUs for higher gravity Robust Porter. The color is brown to black, and they have low to medium hop flavor. They are almost always brewed with a full bodied mash schedule (higher mash temperature of 154-156F) to give a full body taste. They have low ester, fruitiness and diacytl, are well balanced and have low to medium carbonation.

Traditional porters start with a Pale malt base, and typically add a mix of Crystal, Brown, Chocolate and Black malts to achieve a dark color and taste. Roasted malts are used only in Robust Porter styles. Pale malt makes up 40-70% of the grain bill (60-80% for malt extract brewers). Dark Crystal/Caramel malts are used for color and body and provide at least 10% of the grain bill. Chocolate and Roasted malts each average around 5% of the grain bill, with roasted malt less common in Brown Porter.

A variety of grains including Munich malt, Roasted malt, wheat and additives are also used. I will occasionally brew “kitchen sink” Porter which consists of whatever malts I have laying around over a pale malt base. Traditional Porter also made heavy use of Amber and Brown malts, though these are less commonly used today. Ray Daniels recommends a mash temperature of 153F, though I often go a bit higher (156F) to provide a full bodied beer.

Traditional English hops are the appropriate choice for Porter, with East Kent Goldings being a favorite of mine. Other good choices include Fuggles, Northern Brewer, Northdown and Williamette. Light dry hopping is appropriate to the style, though hops aroma should not be dominant. English ale yeast is traditionally used for Porter for its fruity flavors, though other high attenuation yeasts are appropriate. Irish ale yeast is also occasionally used by homebrewers. Adjuncts are only rarely added to specialty Porters. A London water profile (high in carbonates) is best.

Porter Recipes

Sample Porter Beer Recipes (All Grain) from our recipes archive:

Sample Porter Recipe (Extract) from our recipes archive:

Brad Smith

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