Brewed For Battle: Scotch Ales

At what point does one elevate from merely drinking beer to being a full-on beer snob? Answer: when you feel compelled to tell other people what to drink. And the inevitable result of this peculiar ailment is the beer argument.

In the spirit of all great beer-related discussions, we present Brewed For Battle; a new series of Chow Bella blog posts that pits a selection of brews from a given style up against each other and lets the taste buds of one layman battle them out. Multiple beers go in. One beer comes out the victor.

This week's battle: Scotch Ale

We're keeping the Scottish theme going this week, but stepping up the strength of our beers from "not-so-wee" to "FRICKIN' HUGE!"

The Scots gave us several beer styles: the Gruit, an ancient ale made with an eclectic array of herbs and spices; the Scottish Ale, which we covered last week; and the Scotch Ale, the biggest of the bunch.

Also known as Wee Heavy, Scotch Ales are similar to Scottish Ales in character, but are usually sweeter, fuller-bodied and much higher in alcohol content. They're fermented at cooler temperatures than most ales, which results in a clean and intense malt flavor. You'll get notes of sweet caramel and roasty malt, but not much hops --the vine isn't native to Scotland and used to be fairly expensive to export, so traditional examples of the style will keep the bitterness to a minimum.

Zach's Pick: Alesmith Wee Heavy A paragon of the style, Alesmith's Wee Heavy strikes you first with its color: a deep mahogany. Aromas of cola, toffee and buttered toast with grape jelly hit next before flavors of prunes, coffee, caramel and dark rum show you why this beer's regarded by many as the top example of the style in the world. Split a bottle with some friends -- there's nothing "wee" about its 10 percent ABV.

Jonathan's Pick: Orkney SkullSplitter Of the three beers we tried, I felt Orkney's Skull Splitter was the cleanest. I find that brews heavy in malts and light on the hops can come across kind of muddy in flavor. Skull Splitter is crisp and delicious while retaining the sweetness of darker malts. I mean, it should be pretty good, right? It's "5000 years in the making" by (I assume from the bottle) pissed-off vikings. There's plenty of alcohol in this one, too. The ABV is at 8.5 which is enough to create a nice buzz without drowning your tongue in that sweet, alcohol taste.

Shannon's Pick: Moylan's Scotch Ale This beer is known to the majority of the world as Kilt Lifter. Since our Buddies over at Four Peaks decided to name their beer Kilt Lifter, the Arizona version of Moylan's is just Scotch Ale. Picking a Scotch Ale is difficult since I don't like them at all. Lucky for me someone brought two. I went with the Moylan's because according to the bottle it "takes BIG beers to a whole new level". Interesting. Well it certainly did take beer to a whole new level, but I'm not exactly sure what that level is. When you first get a whiff of this ale, you are smacked in the face with the distinct smell of a hampster cage, a mix of cedar chips and urine. The first sip is difficult but if you can make it past that it gets better. Hints of oak and bourbon are followed up with a pleasant chocolate-y aftertaste. Yum! I thought this beer was too intense to enjoy a whole bottle but definitely something worth trying.

The Layman's Choice: Alesmith Wee Heavy Chow Bella contributor Carol Blonder chose the Wee Heavy. Why's that?

"The Skullsplitter was mellow and light. It has a good balance, but wasn't really impressive. I didn't get the hamster odor from the Moylan's beer that Zach couldn't stop talking about, but there was an odd aftertaste, like eating something that's just 'off. I liked the caramel flavors, the balance and the aftertaste of Wee Heavy. There were no surprises; it's just a smooth drink."

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