Only five months until the Winter Solstice, but you’d never know it by today’s mid-90’s and high humidity. Many of us would trade a day like today for a mid-December chill. Alas, a brewer’s work and schedule require him to disregard the current weather and plan ahead for seasons to come.

Which is why today I brewed a Holiday Ale, destined to be served at the coming winter festivities. Most commercial brewers release a special brew during the holiday season, something different from their normal year-round fare. Many are spiced, most are a bit stronger and more full-bodied to help drinkers cope with severe weather and unseasonable conditions, and almost all are made in smaller quantities and are available for a limited time. Mine adheres to all of those conditions as well.

This year’s Holiday Ale is a Scottish Ale, about 6% abv, with notes of smoke, caramel, juniper and dark fruit. Hope ya like it – hope ya get a chance to try it!

Holiday Ale 2011

5 gallons, all-grain


  • 10 lbs. Thomas Fawcett Golden Promise malt
  • 1/2 lb. 120°L crystal malt
  • 1/4 lb. roasted barley
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 oz. East Kent Goldings hop pellets (@4.5% aa)
  • 1 oz Fuggles hop pellets (@4% aa)
  • 1 oz. dried juniper berries
  • White Labs Edinburgh Ale yeast (WLP028)
  • 2 lbs. black raspberries
  • 2/3 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Procedure: Crush grains. Heat 14 quarts of water to 167°F. Mash in grains, hold 60 minutes at 156°F. Heat another 12 quarts of water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge. Collect first 4 quarts of wort, put on to boil immediately and allow to caramelize until the rest of the wort is boiling. Collect 24 quarts of sweet wort in all. Add brown sugar to kettle, bring to a boil. Add EKG hops, boil 30 minutes. Add Fuggles hops, boil 25 minutes. Add juniper berries, boil 5 minutes (60 total) and remove from heat. Cover and steep for 15 minutes. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading. Pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Pitch yeast, seal and ferment warm (70°F) for ten days. Rack onto black raspberries in the secondary, age on fruit ten days. Rack again to allow beer to clarify, age in tertiary for three to four weeks. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and age three months.

OG: 1062

IBU’s: 28.7

Beer by Request

Once again, I am brewing something suggested, nay, begged for, by my friends Rick and Sarah. On a recent trip to Montreal, they tasted a beer they really liked, and thought that I would enjoy as well. They brought me back some, and hinted that they would love to have me try to clone it for them. I tasted it very carefully, took notes, and began thinking about how I would reproduce the beer. My notes sat there for a couple of months and then, suddenly, I realized that it was a good time to brew something along those lines. I dug up the tattered envelope on which I had written my tasting notes, did some calculations, and set out to replicate the Black Watch Ale brewed by Brasseurs de Montréal.

This is not a Scotch Ale or a Wee Heavy. It is, instead, a moderate beer, malty without being too sweet, smoky with a nice caramel flavor, low hop bitterness and almost no hop aroma. I think this is pretty typical of what the Scots would have been drinking on an everyday basis before they all started drinking light lagers in the modern era…

Black Watch Ale (clone)
5 gallons, all grain


  • 8 lbs. Golden Promise pale malt
  • 1/2 lb. peated malt
  • 1 lb. extra-dark crystal (135°L)
  • 2 oz. roasted barley
  • 1 oz. Whitbread Gold Varietal hops (@5% aa)
  • White Labs Edinburgh Ale yeast (WLP028)
  • 1/2 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Crush grains. Heat 13 quarts water to 165°F. Mash in grains, hold at 154°F for 90 minutes. Heat another 14 quarts water to 170°F. Begin runoff and sparge. Collect first gallon of wort in a smaller brew kettle and start boiling right away. Continue to collect wort in larger kettle. Collect a total of 25 quarts. When the first gallon has been reduced to approximately a quart, add to main wort. Bring to boiling and boil 15 minutes with no hops. Add 1/2 oz WGV hops, boil 30 minutes. Add 1/2 oz. WGV hops, boil 15 minutes (60 total) and remove from heat. Chill to 80°F, take a hydrometer reading. Pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Pitch yeast and seal. Ferment 6 to 8 days at 68°F, then transfer to secondary.

OG: 1058
IBU’s: 13

Notes on style: Scottish ales are generally more malty than hoppy. There may be historical and political reasons for that (hops didn’t grow well in Scotland and the Scots were unwilling to buy hops fro England), or it may be due to the legendary parsimonious nature of the Scots themselves (hops were expensive!). Malts in Scotland, both those used for beer and those used for whiskey, were almost always kilned over a peat fire, thus the prevalence of peat-smoke flavors in their beers. Scotch Ale is not the same thing as Scottish Ale – Scotch Ale, also known as Wee Heavy, is roughly the Scottish equivalent of a barleywine.

Notes on procedure: Many Scottish ales, this one included, owe much of their flavor, color and character to caramelization. The burnt-sugar and treacle notes in both the aroma and the flavor, as well as the deep reddish hue, are the result of heating the sugars to near burning temperatures.

Historical notes: The Black Watch is a battalion, formerly a regiment, in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, formed of Scottish soldiers in the early 1700’s. They have fought in such wide-spread battles as Fontenoy (1745), Ticonderoga and Quebec (during the so-called French & Indian War), Waterloo in 1815, El Alemein during World War II, and recently at Fallujah (Iraq) and in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Famous members of the Black Watch Regiment include Ian Fleming, and Stewart Granger. Their tartan is among the most recognizable of all Scottish patterns. For more information, see their website.

A Related note: I have begun research and work on a second edition of North American Clone Brews. I am hoping to add 50 new clone recipes from across the US and Canada, as well as updating, fixing errors, etc. on the old recipes. If you would like to help with the project, you can send me beer! Yes, if you have a local beer (bottled only), or come across one on your travels, that you think should be in the next NACB, send me a bottle or two! I can’t pay you for the beer, but I will put your name in the book (even if I don’t actually use the beer you send me). Please email me at scott@vthomebrewguru.com for the mailing address and general instructions on mailing beer – I would love to taste the beers from outside of New England, especially those that have been introduced since 2000 when the first edition came out. I don’t want or need any beers that are already in the first edition, but I would love to have a representative beer from every state and every Canadian province in the book. Any good bottled craft brews in Mexico or the Caribbean? They’re welcome too! Thanks in advance!

A reader’s question

Got an email from a reader and would like to address it publicly here. Brandon writes:
“I have read (Greg) Noonan’s book on Scottish ales, but I am not clear on the procedure for caramelizing the wort. I thought you might be able to answer some of my questions.
In the book, he says to lightly caramelize some of the wort. How much wort did he typically use? I have read of homebrewers boiling a gallon of first runnings and reducing it to a quart. Is this too much caramelization or is this similar to what Noonan did?
I have also read that longer boil times do not necessarily increase caramelization but instead increase Maillard reactions, which are two different things. So when making a Scottish ale, am I going for caramelization or Maillard reactions?
Any information you could offer would be greatly appreciated.”

Good question, Brandon – and potentially confusing! As I understand it, Maillard reactions do in fact produce pretty much the same results as caramelization, but due to amino acids rather than actual “burning” of the sugars. Maple syrup, bread crusts, milk caramels, etc. are darkened by Maillard reactions, true sugar caramel and the like are by “pyrolisis”, or burning. In terms of a Scotch Ale, I think we’d be hard pressed to differentiate – true caramelization should be easy to do, although if a Maillard reaction occurred we might not know the difference among all the other complex flavors in the brew…
What I usually do (and I have a recipe, inspired by Greg Noonan’s work, that comes awfully close to a Traquair House clone) is take the first 2 or 3 quarts of runoff (from a 5-gallon all-grain mash with a target OG of around 1080 at least) and boil it in a cast iron pot until it thickens to a syrup-consistency, and almost burns… takes some watching, especially if you are also still monitoring the runoff and sparging the rest of the mash… I will then dilute the caramelized wort with a few cups of ordinary wort and add it into the brew kettle….

I would love to hear from readers with more of a chemistry background, explaining, in layman’s terms, the difference between these two processes, and between their results…