Double IPAs, imperial red ales, New England–style IPAs—hoppy beers are certainly in fashion. I love hops-forward beers, but sometimes I want the malt to take center stage. It takes a big beer to balance those scales and a Scottish wee heavy offers the perfect example of malt writ large, where hops play a highly restrained role.
You might have heard the story of the Scottish brewery that still has the original hops cone from their earliest days, and they ceremonially wave it over each batch they brew. The style may demonstrate some frugality when it comes to IBUs, but it calls for a free hand with the malt. The best examples are celebrations of malt complexity. Caramel and toffee are just the start; toasted, nutty flavors and a bit of roast or chocolate malt should expand on that foundation.
I developed this recipe over several years, building up the malt character. I was aiming for a big rich beer, but I wanted to avoid slipping into cloying sweetness. What I settled on is nowhere near as syrupy as the style allows, but it doesn’t compromise on body. I start with pale ale malt, along with some Crystal 80, but the complexity comes from adding melanoidin malt, some home-toasted pale ale malt, and a bit of chocolate malt. I also intentionally drop the hops level a bit from the BJCP style guidelines.
You can play around with other specialty malts, but I really think the secret is the home-toasted malt. It adds a fresh malty immediacy that carries into the finished beer. Don’t worry if you’ve never toasted malt in your oven; it’s really easy. Spread the pale ale malt out in a thin layer on a cookie sheet. Place the cookie sheet into a pre-heated 300°F (149°C) oven for 15 minutes. You should be able to smell the nutty/toasty character. You might hear some popping sounds as moisture escapes the kernels of grain. It’s all right; you won’t end up with popped malt!
A Wee Touch of the Malt Scottish Strong Ale Recipe
Batch size: 5 gallons
Brewhouse efficiency: 77%
9.5 lb (4.3 kg) Pale ale malt (3.5L)
1.5 lb (680 g) Crystal malt (80L)
1.25 lb (567 g) Melanoidin malt (20L)
1 lb (454 g) Flaked barley
1 lb (454 g) Carapils/dextrine
8 oz (227 g) Home-toasted pale ale malt
2.6 oz (74 g) Chocolate malt
0.75 oz (21 g) Fuggles [4.2% AA] at 60 minutes
0.75 oz (21 g) Fuggles [4.2% AA] at 30 minutes
0.5 oz (21 g) Fuggles [4.2% AA] at 5 minutes
White Labs WLP028 Edinburgh Ale or Wyeast 1728 Scottish Ale. These are interchangeable. A yeast starter is recommended.
The first step is to toast the malt before grinding it into the rest of the grist. I usually pop it into the oven, then begin milling the rest of the grain bill while it toasts.
You might be tempted to do a decoction mash to accentuate the malt character. Feel free to do that, but I’ve been satisfied with a simple, single-step infusion mash. I hold it at a relatively high 156°F (68°C) for 60 minutes. I recommend a thicker mash (a little more than 1 quart per pound (946 ml/454 g) because of the higher mash temperature.
Boil for 60 minutes, following the hops schedule.
Primary fermentation should last 5–7 days, then transfer to secondary for 7 days (same temperature as primary). At that point, it should be ready to keg or bottle condition.
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