Scottish Ale

Scottish ale is a category that encompasses four main types of beers. They are light, heavy, export, and strong — often known as Scotch ale rather than Scottish. In older days these particular styles were known by a designation of shillings. The light was a 60 shilling ale, the heavy was 70, export was 80, and the Scotch or strong was commonly called 90 shilling. Some brewers still use this name system today, but it got its start as a symbol of taxation. The higher the original gravity of the beer, the higher the tax per barrel.

By the numbers, Scottish-style light should have an original gravity of 1.030 to 1.036 (7.5° to 9° Plato), 3 percent to 5 percent alcohol by volume, bitterness of 9 to 20 IBUs, and a color of 8 to 17 SRM.

The heavy should have an original gravity of 1.036 to 1.040 (9° to 10° Plato), 3.5 percent to 4 percent alcohol by volume, bitterness of 12 to 20 IBUs, and a color of 10 to 19 SRM.

Scottish-style export should have an original gravity of 1.040 to 1.050 (10° to 12.5° Plato), alcohol by volume of 4 percent to 4.5 percent, bitterness of 15 to 25 IBUs, and a color of 10 to 19 SRM.

The biggest, strong or Scotch ale, should have an original gravity of 1.072 to 1.084 (18° to 21° Plato), 6.2 percent to 8 percent alcohol by volume, bitterness of 25 to 35 IBUs, and a color of 10 to 25 SRM.

Yeast Strains and Fermentation

The numbers for the various styles can seem a bit confusing. Even though they ascend in gravity, the alcohol content does not increase significantly for the first three styles. This is because Scottish ales are fairly sweet in the finish. With the exception of the first style, the light, they are all very high in residual sugar and purposely fermented that way. The terminal gravities are as follows: light is 1.006 to 1.012 (1.5° to 3° Plato; can be dry), heavy is 1.010 to 1.014 (2.5° to 3.5° Plato; moderately sweet), export is 1.010 to 1.018 (2.5° to 4.5° Plato; more sweet), and strong is 1.016 to 1.028 (4° to 7° Plato; even sweeter, but with lots more alcohol and other flavors as well).

There are several specific yeast strains for fermenting Scottish-style ales. The main difference between them and most others is that they have a very low attenuation percentage, which means that they do not ferment as much of the available sugar, leaving the beer with the desired residual sweetness. Depending on the type of Scottish or Scotch strong ale you wish to brew, you may consider one of these strains of yeast. The one in the recipe is Wyeast 1728 (Scottish ale), If you would like something that attenuates a bit more, look for one of the London strains or an Irish or British ale.


For the most part Goldings and Fuggle are the norm for hopping Scottish-style ales, although other British hops such as Brambling, Northdown, Challenger, Progress, and Target also can be used. An emphasis on the malt flavors and sweetness should dominate the palate and the nose, however, so the hopping should be very low and the bitterness and aroma only there for  balance. Remember, this is one style that is often intentionally created to be out of balance, particularly the bigger styles in the category.

Scottish Samples

There are many imported ales from Scotland to use as comparison for your brewing. Some of the more famous are Traquair House Ale, brewed since 1491, and its companion ale, Traquair Jacobite, a version spiced with coriander and named for the Jacobite revolution. They are both examples of the Scotch or strong style, with an original gravity of 1.080 (20° Plato).

Another strong ale is MacAndrew’s. This brew is famous as an authentic Scotch ale. It has an original gravity of 1.080 (20° Plato), with lots of sweet malt flavors and alcohol.

Broughton Ales has a trio of Scottish ales that have recently won much acclaim. The lightest, Merlins ale, is golden colored and fairly dry with an alcohol by volume of
4.2 percent. Next in line is the Black Douglas, a darker, redder ale with much more malt but not tremendously sweet, with an alcohol by volume of 5.2 percent. The last is the most potent. Old Jock is darker yet and more complex. The alcohol by volume is 6.7 percent, and it shows. The malt is much richer than the other two, with nicely balanced sugar in the finish.

If you want something a bit interesting, try the Fraoch Heather Ale from Scotland. It is a light Scottish ale with heather in it, which gives the beer a very earthy quality.

From the United States there are the founding Grant’s Scottish ale, a very pale, light Scottish-style ale; Mactarnahan’s from Portland Brewing (although now called an amber ale for marketing purposes); Pike Kilt Lifter; Samuel Adams Scotch Ale; and Moylan’s Kilt Tilter, among myriad other medal winners.



9% ABV Scottish Ale
(5 gallons, all-grain)


• 6.5 lbs. Maris Otter malt
• 1 lb. carapils or dextrin-type malt
• 0.5 lb. crystal malt, 20° Lovibond
• 0.5 lb. crystal malt, 40° Lovibond
• 0.125 lb. chocolate malt
• 1.5 oz. Fuggle hops (4.2% alpha acid, 6.3 AAUs): 1 oz. (4.2 AAUs) for 90 min., 0.5 oz. (2.1 AAUs) for 30 min.
• 1 oz. Kent Goldings hops (5.5% alpha acid, 5.5 AAUs) at end of boil
• 1 pt. starter of Wyeast 1728 (Scottish ale)
• 2/3 cup corn sugar for priming

Step by Step:

Mash grain in 3 gal. 150° F water for 60 min. Sparge with 168° to 170° F water to collect 5.75 gal. of wort.

Total boil time is 90 min. At start of boil, add 1 oz. Fuggle hops and boil 60 min. Add 0.5 oz. Fuggles and boil remaining 30 min. At end of boil, add the Kent Goldings. Whirlpool and cool to 69° F to pitch starter. Oxygenate/aerate well.

Ferment at 69° F for seven days, then rack to secondary. Continue fermentation for seven more days until gravity is about 1.112 (3° Plato) or fermentation is done Let settle, rack, prime, and bottle. Age seven more days before drinking.

Extract with Grains Option:

Substitute 6.5 lbs. English pale malt extract syrup for the Maris Otter malt and increase the first Fuggle addition to 1.25 oz. Start with 5 gal. 150° F water. Steep crushed grain for 30 min. Sparge grains with enough 170° F water to make 5.5 gal. Heat to boiling and add extract syrup. Total boil is 60 min. At beginning of boil, add 1.25 oz. Fuggles and boil 30 min. Add 0.5 oz. Fuggles, boil 30 min. more, and add the Kent Goldings to finish.

OG = 1.048 (12° Plato)
FG = 1.012 (3° Plato)
Bitterness = 23 IBUs
Color = 18 SRM
4.5% ABV


Issue: October 1999