EMPOWER YOUR IMBIBING WITH KNOWLEDGE
a place where history, ideas, concepts, and beery truths are revealed
Entry 1: Wee Heavy
Much has been said, true or false, about the style of Wee Heavy Scotch Ale. It is time to take a moment to reflect on the history of this glorious beer. Let’s start by saying we have offered two different versions of our Wee Heavy: 1. Classic, true to style, non-peat smoked, velvety, caramel rich malt flavors. 2. A variation on our classic, same base beer, that has been aged for some time in whiskey (typically American Rye Whiskey) barrels.
Now let’s go back to the origins of the style. Most Scottish brewing history parallels the greater UK, with much less emphasis on hops and more highlights on malt. Partly due to a storied history between Scotland and England, but I digress and have hit on a potential topic for a later post. In 19th century Scotland beers were often classified by their alcohol content. As so, beer defined as stronger, with higher alcohol, was taxed at a higher rate. So a system of schilling (currency of the time) designation with accompanying names ensued, example 60 schilling/light 3.5%, 70 schilling/heavy 3.5-4% 80/export 4-5.5%, 90/wee heavy over 6%. By the middle 20th century the schilling moniker was mostly unused, but the names remained as ordering standards at pubs. For instance “Barkeep pour me a slug of your finest export,” said with the thickest and most beautiful of Scottish accents.
By the early 1900’s in most of the UK strong beers were in significant decline as people favored lower alcohol pub ales. The Wee Heavy style continued to be encouraged by importers though, who were bringing beer into mainland Europe, most notably Belgium, where strong beers dominated and drinking culture differed. The style of Wee Heavy lived on by way of these exports. Today it has become the dominant historical style originating from Scotland for US craft brewers. There are variations, but defining characteristics are that of a strong, malt rich, low hopped beer. Although not classic to style, some brewers have also used peat smoked malt to mimic the flavors of Islay Scotch whisky.
Our Wee Heavy does not use peat smoked malt. It is strong, usually around 9.5% abv. We are very proud of this beer. It is well lauded having achieved Gold medal status at both the GABF and World Beer Cup. While tastes and preferences among consumers vary greatly, some prefer our barrel-aged version, while others argue the classic is where it’s at! Either way, the base beer is the same, it’s a matter of preference for a stronger tasting whisky laden component or not.
In conclusion, history plays a big part in the way we still drink, knowledge is power and can help you determine preference and taste, and some thanks needs to be paid to the Belgians for keeping this style alive for us to enjoy today! We hope you enjoy our version of this classic style.
Cheers, Prosit, Slàinte, to happy drinking!