Scotch Ale: The Wee Heavy


Hey! Don’t dump the dregs in the primary fermenter from last month’s Scottish 60/- (note: /- is the symbol for “shilling”) – there’s an awful lot of yeast in them thar buckets and carboys, and we’re going to re-use it and do something awesome. Namely, jump a few steps up in the hierarchy of Scottish beers and craft a strong Scotch ale at home.

(If you did already clean out your primary, no worries – just get a new pack of yeast and propagate it in a starter prior to brew day – consult your local home brew store for yeast starter directions and supplies.)

Scotch ale – which also does business as Wee Heavy – is the biggest, beefiest, brawniest member of the ale family from Alba. A note here on terminology: the high-gravity beers are always “Scotch” ale, like the whisky – the “Scottish” designator is used for the everyday-strength 60/-, 70/-, and 80/- beers. Noted for their alcoholic potency and profound malty richness (think English barley wine or Bavarian Doppelbock) these beers are meant for laying down in a cellar, sharing on special occasions, and considerable sipping from a stemmed glass.

Going by the numbers:

Big and malty are the bywords here: a starting gravity of 1.070 to 1.130 and a typical finishing gravity of around 1.020 or higher, combined with a characteristically Scottish low hop rate makes for a sweet, powerful, and filling ale. A bitterness range of 18 to 35 IBU averages out to a bitterness unit to gravity unit ratio of only about 0.3, and means that we brewers will be spending a lot more on grain than on hops for this recipe.

What makes it tick:

Uh, malt? Duh. Glibness aside, this style is a vehicle for cereal grain goodness, much like the aforementioned Bavarian doppelbock and English barley wine. And also much like doppelbock, a cool fermentation – an element owed to Scottish brewers’ far northern climate – suppresses the fruity fermentation byproducts of other high-gravity ales, leaving the quality of the grain unadorned and lusciously pure.

A recipe to try:

Remember the explanation for the 60/- designation for last month’s Scottish Light? Well, this month’s 140/- Wee Heavy is more than twice the shillings, way higher in alcohol, and with a more massive shopping list – better bring a bigger bag to your LHBS, citizens. Extract brewers can substitute 13 pounds or so of good, fresh, light-colored malt syrup for the pale malt.

Twin Cities 140/- Wee Heavy

All grain, 5 gallons

Target OG: 1.093

Target IBU: 30

Shopping list:

•        Grain:

16 lbs English Maris Otter pale malt (good alternatives would be Simpsons Golden Promise or Fawcett Optic – consult your LHBS)

6 oz English roasted barley

•        Hops:

2.25 oz East Kent Goldings hop pellets

•        Yeast:

The reserved slurry from your previous fermentation – last month I suggested Wyeast 1332, but anything from a full-on Scottish ale yeast, or an English or American ale strain will work fine; OR a fresh yeast pack propagated  into a large, healthy starter.

Key Points for Key Pints:

•        Lots of yeast, don’t skimp on O2.  To get the best-tasting, smoothest, and most age-worthy Wee Heavy out of your fermentation, start with a large population of healthy yeast cells and aerate/oxygenate the cooled wort well prior to pitching. For a beer like this, I love reusing the yeast from a prior, lower-gravity batch because it’s like a yeast starter that you get to drink.

•        Think about mash temp.  Some folks like their Scotch ales a little more on the liqueur side of the sweetness spectrum, and that’s stylistically valid; I like mine a little more attenuated. Keep in mind that the high gravity and low hop rate will naturally make for a sweet impression on the palate no matter what.

•        Caramelize the first runnings.  All-grain brewers can exercise an option to caramelize the first, most concentrated and sugar-rich runnings from the sparge (see Mash & Sparge, step 3, below). This will increase color and complexity in the finished product.

•        A little late hopping.  Even though this is a malt-dominant beer, the merest suggestion of high-quality hops late in the boil will add complexity and interest to the profile without changing our drinking audience’s read on the maltiness of our 140/-.

•        Stay cool.  As the Fonz would tell us, the key to keeping this potent ale from becoming headache juice is not to let the fermentation temperature rage out of control – slow and steady wins the race against undesired fruity esters, fusel oils, and higher alcohol. Cool fermentations are one reason to love living in Minnesota during the winter. One trick I like to employ is to over-chill the wort and pitch the yeast just a tad too cold; the yeast will generate its own heat as it begins to ferment.

To the home brewery!

Note: these steps are general guidelines and assume you’re already familiar with the all-grain brewing process – refer to the instructions for your brew system, and adjust as needed based on experience with your own particular equipment.


1.        Make a yeast starter prior to brew day – if needed. If reusing the yeast cake from your 60/-, hang loose.

2.        On brew day, collect strike water (I use 1.3 quarts per pound, ratio may vary) and heat to approx. 170 F. Nota bene, given the size of this grain bill, you may need to adjust for your particular mash tun volume and make up the difference with sparge and/or top-up water.

3.        Mill the grains, or have it done for you at the shop.

Mash & Sparge

1.        Add grain to strike and mix to achieve a uniform temperature of 150-152 F.  Rest the mash at this temperature for 60-90 minutes.

While the mash rests, collect and heat sparge water.

2.        When the mash rest is complete, heat it to 170 F for mashout.

3.        Sparge and collect the wort in the boil kettle. Option: divert the first couple quarts of high-gravity runnings to a separate kettle or saucepan and boil for a few minutes (or longer) to caramelize and reduce, before adding back to the main wort prior to the boil.


1.        Bring the delicious, copper-colored wort to a boil. Add 2 oz East Kent Goldings hops when the wort begins to boil and boil for 60 minutes. Add 0.25 oz East Kent Golding hops for the last 5 minutes of the boil.

2.        Cool it! Aim for a wort temperature in the upper 50s.

Fermentation and beyond

1.        Transfer the cooled wort to a sanitized fermenter, aerate, and add the pitch of yeast you prepared back in step 1.

2.        Depending on the yeast strain being used, aim for a maximum fermentation temp in the low- to mid-60s F; depending on temp and yeast, fermentation for a beer of this gravity could take as long as 2-3 weeks to finish fermenting.

3.        Transfer to a secondary fermentor for a week or two before packaging (longer if you like).

4.        The beer can be ready to package roughly 4-5 weeks from brew day, and will show best after at least a couple months of conditioning in a cool, dark place. It is built to last in the bottle, so stash away a 140/- time capsule – see you in 2014, six pack.

Until next time: drink it like you brewed it.



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