As the weather turns colder my beer turns darker. Porters, stouts and scottish ales replace hefeweizens, IPAs and pilsners. And while your bound to be familiar with the vast array of stouts and porters, Scotch ales don’t show up nearly as often. Scottish ales typically go through a longer boil in the kettle which results in caramelization. They are malty with a very low hop flavor and provide the perfect flavor to compliment the heartier meals of the fall and winter. It just so happens that the Midwest is home to three of the best expressions of the style, Brau Brothers Bancreagie Peated, Dark Horse Scotty Karate and Three Floyds Robert the Bruce.
Brau Brothers is one of the big players in the burgeoning Minnesota craft scene. Its copper-colored Bancreagie Peated does a great job of demonstrating how the style got its name. Describing it as drinking watered down Scotch is close but doesn’t do it justice. That would imply that it’s an inferior product, which isn’t the case. Rather, it retains a very Scotch-like flavor while reminding you it’s a beer. If it were a Scotch it would be an Islay, heavily peated for a rich, smoky flavor. Whereas most Scotch ales are a bit more subtle, Bancreagie comes out swinging with a full-blown smoke attack.
Located about equidistant from Kalamazoo and Lansing, Dark Horse is based in Marshall, Michigan. Its Scotty Karate pours dark brown with a light tan head that doesn’t stick around for too long. Surprisingly enough it smells just like a caramel apple. A boozy, delicious, not as messy caramel apple. The taste is smoke and chocolate with a slight bite from the 9.75% ABV. It will warm you up on a nice fall day
Three Floyds carries the craft beer torch for Indiana. The Munster brewery’s Robert the Bruce pours a dark ruby with a tan head that sticks around for awhile. You know that smell when you first walk into a brewery? That’s pretty close to what this smells like, full of malt with hints of chocolate. A combination of crystal and roasted malts combine to give the beer a complex malty body with touches of caramel, chocolate and smoke. It’s all balanced out with just a bit of hops to create one of the best Scotch ales you’ll ever try.
Head to Head: I did a blind taste test of all three to determine which Midwest Scotch ale reigned supreme. After much deliberation, the slightly smoky nature of the Scotty Karate combined with its caramel apple flavor prevailed, just barely. Second was the well-balanced Robert the Bruce. There was no shame coming in third for the Bancreagie Peated, and truthfully, taken in small doses it’s the best. It’s just tough to keep up with the peat bomb for a whole twelve ounces. But that’s just my opinion. Tried all three? Let me know which you prefer. Haven’t? Then get your butt moving and grab a bottle of each.