Debatable Brewers' Recipes: Scotch Ale

(brewed March 18th, 1996)

Recipe and Documentation by Tofi Kerthjalfadsson, Debatable Brewers' guildmaster; Ale made by Tofi, Anwen ferch Morgaunt, Ellisif Flakkari, Leif Hjalmsson, and Barak Ben David (called "Red").

(This entry is the strong ale, from the first runnings of the malt.)


2 1/2 gallons of a fine all-grain Scotch Ale may be made thus:


First, roast the 3 lbs of pale malt in the oven for 10 mins. at 350 F. (175 C.). Take out of the oven, and allow to start cooling. (I roast my grain in cookie sheets, spread out to a fairly shallow depth.)

While the above 3 lbs is cooling, start 16 qts. of water heating. Then start crushing the rest of the malt. Then crush the above 3 lbs. (If you have a fairly slow grain mill, the roasted malt should be fairly cool when you get around to crushing it.)

When the water is up to 175 F. (80 C.), pour it into your mash tun (I use a cooler), and add all the grain in, mixing well. The whole mess should be somewhere in the 155-158 F. (68-70 C.) range, and fairly thick. (Yes, this is a hot, stiff mash).

Mash (allow it to sit) for 1 hour. Heat about 3 1/2 gallons of water heating toward the end of this time.

Start the rinse by recirculating the liquor until it runs fairly clear. Then collect out 2 quarts of the first runnings into a 4 qt. (or larger) sauce-pan. Put this on the stove on high; have someone watch it very carefully to make sure that it doesn't boil all over the place. Be especially careful at first, as it hits hot break. Boil the 2 qts. of first runnings down to 1 qt. of volume. This will caramelize some of the sugars.

Meanwhile, start running out the rest of the liquor and adding 180 F. sparge water in the top, so that you collect about 3 3/4 gallons of liquor into a big pot (or several smaller ones). Start this all boiling. (Be careful not to let it all boil out when it hits hot break.) Soon after reaching hot break, add the hops.

Boil for 45 mins. Add the caramelized first runnings, and cool with a wart chiller.

Strain into an appropriate fermenter, aerate some more, and add the yeast starter. You should be starting with about 2 1/2 to 3 gallons of wart.

Our batch had a starting specific gravity of 1.098, and a final gravity of 1.030. We found it to be sweet and very, very strong. And very, very nice.

A Second Running

Since this is such a strong batch, the sparge is fairly inefficient. So there are still sugars to wash out of the grains. If you are interested in making an ordinary Scottish Ale from the remainder, do this:

After starting the main batch boiling (above), put on another 1 1/2 gallon of water to boil. When this is boiling, pour it into the lauter tun (with the grains) and stir well. Wait a bit, then start to recirculate it until it runs clear. Collect 1 1/2 gallons of liquor, and start this boiling.

After this has reached hot break, add 1/4 oz. of Bullion hops (or about 1/2 oz. of Hallertau), and boil for 45 mins. Cool, and strain through the hops of the first batch (after you have strained the first batch), into a smaller fermenter. Pitch in a small amount of the starter (don't quite use it all in the first batch).

We got a starting gravity of 1.056 for this second running. It was fine ordinary Scottish ale.


About the Recipe

This recipe is modeled after loosely after Digbie's "Scotch Ale from my Lady Holmbey" and several of the all-grain recipes in Noonan, with techniques from Noonan, the strong ale recipe Markham's strong ale recipe, and several recipes from Harrison. Digbie writes:

Using an insulated vessel for the mash

Digbie writes, in

Heat Spring-water; it must not boil, but be ready to boil, which you will know by leaping up in bubbles. Then pour it to the Malt; but by little and little, stirring them strongly together all the while they are mingling. When all the water is in, it must be so proportioned that it be very thick. Then cover the vessel well with a thick Mat made on purpose with a hole for the stick, and that with Coverlets and Blankets to keep in all the heat. After three or four hours, let it run out by the stick (putting new heated water upon the Malt, if you please, for small Ale or Beer) into a Hogshead with the head out. There let it stand till it begin to blink, and grow long like thin Syrup. If you let it stay too long, and grow too thick, it will be sowre. Then put it again into the Caldron, and boil it an hour or an hour and a half. Then put it into a Woodden-vessel to cool, which will require near forty hours for a hogshead. Then pour it off gently from the settling. This quantity (of a hogshead) will require better than a quart of the best Ale-barm, which you must put to it thus. Put it to about three quarts of wort, and stir it, to make it work well. When the barm is risen quick scum it off to put to the rest of the wort by degrees. The remaining Liquor (that is the tree quarts) will have drawn into it all the heavy dregs of the barm, and you may put it to the Ale of the second running, but not to this. Put the barm, you have scummed off (which will be at least a quart) to about two gallons of the wort, and stir it to make that rise and work. Then put two Gallons more to it. Doing thus at several times, till all be mingled, which will require a whole day to do. Cover it close, and let it work, till it be at it's height, and begin to fall, which may require ten or twelve hours, or more. Watch this well, least it sink too much, for then it will be dead. Then scum off the thickest part of the barm, and run your Ale into the Hogshead, leaving all the bung open a day or two. Then lay a strong Paper upon it, to keep the clay from falling in, that you must then lay upon it, in which you must make a little hole to let it work out. You must have some of the same Liquor to fill it up, as it works over. When it hath done working, stop it up very close, and keep it in a very cold Cellar. It will be fit to broach after a year; and be very clear and sweet and pleasant, and will continue a year longer drawing; and the last glass full be as pure and as quick as the first. You begin to broach it high. Let your Cask have served for Sweet-wine.



The English were fond of adding adjunct grains, typically wheat and/or oats, to their beer, However, I have found no evidence that the Scots did. So this recipe uses entirely malted barley.

Malt is produced by allowing the grains of barley to sprout just a bit, and then drying and baking them in a kiln. Historically, kilning was often carried out in what is essentially a large wood oven or smoker. The malt would be spread out on a false-floor made of hair-cloth, straw mat, or other suitable material, on top of some time of loose material, so to allow the hot exhaust from the kiln's oven to evenly penetrate the grain. Then a wood fire would be built in the oven, and the malt baked for several hours, and occasionally turned to prevent burning [Markham, pp. 186-190].

Modern kilning is quite different. Today the malt is roasted in a drum with a water spray to control temperature, patented by D. Wheeler in 1817 [Harrison].

To better approximate amber and brown malts, we roasted a portion of the Pale malt in an oven. This gives a slight roasted taste to the final beer, and better approximates the unevenness that would have resulted from oven kilning.

Another important aspect of the flavor of this beer comes from caramelizing the wort after it has been mashed. See below...


Historically, yeast would be caught wild out of the air by some brewer. (This technique is still used in the production of Belgian Lambic beers [De Keersmaecker].) Then the brewers who were lucky enough to catch a yeast that produced particularly good beer would cultivate it (by inoculating later batches from the barm of earlier ones; see the above Digbie recipe), and would pass it on to other brewers who would do the same.

Modern yeast is often cultured from single-cell colonies, based on heterogeneous yeast cultures that had been raised by brewers as above. But this, of course, is a modern innovation.

All that said, we used a commercial culture. Because we would be starting a very heavy batch of beer, we first made a starter. This is simply a small batch of beer that is used to build up the size of the yeast colony before it is pitched into the main batch of beer. When Digbie describes his method of adding "the best Ale-barm" (above), he is describing how to build up a series of starters.


Unlike England, Scotland generally had somewhat soft water. Even though Pittsburgh has reasonably hard water, Tofi is fortunate enough to have a water softener in his house which he can optionally use. (Those without a permanently installed water softener can either use bottled water, or a portable softener such as that produced by Brita).


According to Noonan [Noonan, pp. 72--77], the Scots didn't use many hops in their ale. He sites W. H. Roberts, writing in 1847, that the brewers use between six and four pounds of hops per quarter of malt. (A quarter is 336 lbs.) The Bullion hops we used have about three times the bitterness of the Hallertau hops, so the relative bitterness is equivalent to about 4 ounces of the Hallertaus. This puts this recipe at about 4.3 pounds per quarter.

Cultivated hops are a fairly recent thing, mostly showing up in the 19th century. That said, Hallertau hops are representative of one of the Noble variety of hops, being of one of the oldest cultivated. These are about the best we can manage for appropriate hops of a later period beer. All the high alpha acid hops are more recent than these.

That said, Noonan notes that the Scots have not preferred the flowery aroma of hops in their beer, and Scots brewers tend to boil all of their hops for a long time. So we used Bullion hops as well as the Hallertau variety, and boiled all of them for a long time.


Mashing is the process of converting the starches in the grains into fermentable sugars, using the enzymes in the grain. This is done by holding a mixture of grains and water at a relatively high temperature for a period of time (e.g. 150 F for an hour).

Of course, both the thermometer and hydrometer were invented after 1600. Being somewhat paranoid, however, we used them to control this particular batch.

Infusion mashing

The infusion technique was the predominate method used by the English. This is a very simple technique: grains are crushed into few pieces (each) to expose the partially modified starch kernels. Then these are mixed with hot water to the consistency of medium-thick porridge at approximately between 148 and 156 degrees F. Then this is allowed to sit for between one and three hours. During this time, enzymes in the grain convert the starch into sugars. Finally, the liquid would be drained away from the grain solids.

In the above recipe, Digbie suggests the use of a `` Then cover the vessel well with a thick Mat made on purpose with a hole for the stick, and that with Coverlets and Blankets to keep in all the heat. After three or four hours, let it run out by the stick...'' I use a 10-gallon Rubbermaid-brand water cooler, with an Easymasher(tm) screen-manifold (a 6-inch tube of stainless-steel screen, closed on one end and attached to a tube on the other) installed inside.


Sparging is the technique of adding additional hot water to a draining bed of grain in order to rinse more sugar out the grain. Period and post-period evidence implies that the English didn't do this, but instead used a double- or triple-infusion technique, where the liquor of first running is drained off, and then more hot water is added and the grain "re-mashed".

For this ale, we used the modern sparging technique, and then boiled off a lot of water from this first running. We also were able to do a smaller second running and get a fairly strong ale from that.


Boiling seems like an ordinary activity, but Noonan [Noonan, pp. 92--93, 110] notes that while Scotch ale is boiled like other beer, it is important to deliberately caramelize the wort in the kettle while boiling. This will give the beer a butter-scotch flavor which is distinctive to Scotch ales. I have found that while a large propane burner can be used to caramelize, it is much easier to collect the first couple quarts of the runnings, and boil them separately on the stove-top down to about half the original volume. These are then added to the main boil.


Digbie describes slow-cooling (in a large vat, for some 40 hours). Markham describes a quicker cooling technique involving pouring the hot wort into a shallow open vat. Neither of these are quite suitable for making a quick batch while avoiding inoculation with who-knows-what [De Keersmaecker]. So we used an immersion-type cooler.


Digbie, K, The Closet of the eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie, kt., Opened..., 1669, in Miscellany from D. Friedman & E. Cook

[Zymurgy special 95]
Grossman, R, "Home Grain Roasting", Zymurgy, vol. 18 no. 4, Special 1995, pp. 28-30

Harrison, J, An Introduction to Old British Beers and How to Make Them, 1991 Durden Park Beer Circle

Jackson, M., The World Guide to Beer, 1977 Quarto Ltd.

[De Keersmaecker]
De Keersmaecker, J., "The Mystery of Lambic Beer", Scientific American, August 1996, pp. 74-80.

Markham, G., The English Housewife, Best, M. ed., 1986 McGill-Queen's Press. (originally published 1615, 1623, and 1631.)

Noonan, G., Brewing Lager Beer, 1983 Brewers Publications.

[Scotch Ale]
Noonan, G., Scotch Ale, 1993 Brewers Publications.

[Belgian Ale]
Rajotte, P., Belgian Ale, 1992 Brewers Publications.

Harrison, preface to Hollinshed's Chronicles, 1587, in Miscellany as "Misc-4," from D. Friedman & E. Cook

Tofi Kerthjalfadsson, guildmaster, BMDL Brewers' Guild.
pwp+ (AT) cs dot cmu dot edu