What Is the Difference Between Scottish and Scotch Ale?

Two Dark Beers With Distinct Flavor Profiles

Lindisfarne Scotch Ale
cogocogo/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Though they may sound the same, Scotch ales and Scottish ales are two different beers. Both are dark, but one is meatier than the other and one is lighter in both flavor and alcohol. Yet, they both represent the famous ales of Scotland.

With the caveat that beer styles are only as important as you allow them to be, let us explore these two distinct beers.

Scottish Ales vs. Scotch Ales

The line between Scottish and Scotch ale is a pretty clear one when you compare representatives of the styles side by side.

Scottish ales tend to be light, though definitely not shy in flavor and aroma. They also tend to clock in on the low side for alcohol, ranging from 2.5 to 5% ABV. In short, they are session beers (those that are light enough to drink for awhile).

Scotch ale, on the other hand, tends to be a big meaty beer. Although both styles use many of the same ingredients, Scotch uses more of them. Brewers will also occasionally throw in some smoked malt to give it an earthy or smoky character.

Scotch ales usually have a lot more alcohol, from 6.5 to 10% ABV. The flavor and aroma of Scotch ale are complex with notes of earth, roasted malt, and hints of plum or dried fruit. The profile tends to be sweet with a fairly dry finish.

Scottish Ales vs. Other British Isle Ales

Between the British, the Irish, and the Scottish there are many great adult beverages to be had. The people of the British Isles sure do enjoy their alcohol.

 

When it comes to beer, the islands are known for four distinct styles of ale. If you're familiar with one or all of the other three, you have a good point of reference for both varieties of the Scottish ale.

  • Scottish ales are not as dry as an Irish stout.
  • Nor do they have the toasty notes of a London Porter.
  • They are also not as complex in the fruity (estery) profile found in English brown ales.

How Do You Keep Them Straight?

It's easy to tell these two ales apart by flavor and profile, but how does one keep the names straight? The adjectives Scotch and Scottish mean almost the same thing, but if you relate the beer to Scotch whiskey, it becomes easy.

Scotch whiskey is definitely stout stuff, packed with flavor and lots of alcohol. That means that Scotch ale should fill the same role when compared to a Scottish ale, right? It's a silly mind trick that really does work.

Plus, there is the connection between the malt added to Scotch ale and Scotch whiskey.​

Scottish Ales and Shillings

Within Scottish ales are categories of increasing strength. You may hear them referred to as 60 shilling, 70 shilling, or 80 shilling and this goes back in time to the price of a hogshead (a large cask of about 64 gallons) of the beer.

Scotch ale, also sometimes called wee heavy, is sometimes called 90 shilling. However, that does not always make sense because there is so much variance from on Scotch ale to another.

It is accepted that ales over 80 shillings are the most classic versions of this style.