Scotch Ales almost always treat me right. Really, I can’t think of a time when one hasn’t, so I always try to have a few in my fridge just in case the mood strikes me. Unfortunately in the LCBO we don’t have a wide selection of scotch ales, so many people aren’t familiar with the style.
If you enjoy the rich, thick and robust flavors of malt right upfront in your palate, than you may find something special in a scotch ale. Hops are usually subdued, and the oily sweet sugars of malted barley is what strikes at you, usually with significant force. Although the LCBO’s selection is not great, we do thankfully have the McEwan’s six pack pretty much at every location.
Everyone needs a staple beer for some of their favorite styles; Schnieder Weisse for a wheat beer, Dogfish Head 60 Minute for an IPA, or the Maudite for Belgium Spicy ales. The McEwan’s in mine for Scotch Ales.
The McEwan’s comes in six-packs of 355ml bottles at 8% abv. I prefer my scotch ales around cellar temperature, but always begin them cool around 10C (50F). At cellar temp you are able to absorb all the rich characteristics of the malt, but when cooler a scotch ale can offer great quenching and refreshing traits. So start cool and get the best of both worlds. The glass in this case should be anything with a narrower mouth than base; this way you are able to trap the huge aromas from the beer and capture all the aromatic properties of the malt. Even a straight walled glass though is ok, as shown.
Thats what this beer is all about, the malt. So get ready, cause it comes at you fast. The pour is smooth and easy developing a creamy soft off white head from the start. A slow pour gently builds a deep amber black beer with brown burgundy and rich oak red notes. By the end of the pour it rests calmly showing no signs of life, just a soft and silky head contently sitting above a smooth and oily dark beer.
The nose is packed with rich and thick roasted malts. Sweet luscious caramel and butterscotch lifts from the beer and dominates your senses. If you can get behind the power of the malt, notes of espresso, cocoa, black berries and brown sugar all show themselves as a soft lingering scent in the aftermath of malty gooey caramel. Still, there are more complexities to be found here; classic plum, cherry, fig, date and raisin are shy but friendly also.
Let this beer in big and wide – it will coat your tongue and mouth easily without question and shows you its malt right away. Thick and dense caramel malts glide everywhere forming a barrier almost to keep the sweet brown sugary sweetness in. Toffee and butterscotch candy is your friend as they float through your cheeks and lift the caramel off your palate.
Smooth mild chocolate and roast is right behind, but also comes in as a malty treat. It is obvious that this beer’s party piece is the malt. It is hugely aromatic and potent everywhere on your palate. As the beer warms the dark fruit flavors begin to show themselves with a touch of smoke, oak, and vanilla sweetness. Overall it is a very warming sensation and soothing on the palate. The alcohol is there, but hides behind the succulent malts that easily dominate this beer.
The mouthfeel is relatively average; smooth with a touch of carbonation; I would have preferred it to be a bit creamier. The balance is completely malt, but softly bitter chocolate and smoke help aid this sensation. Additional roast or smoky flavors may have balanced it out more, or even a note of whisky. Hops are almost negligible, and as they should be for a beer of this stature.
As a house Scotch Ale the McEwan’s does treat me quite well. The finish is appetizing, and it pairs very well with rich meats and BBQ. Smoked cheeses can be nice, but this beer is very potent and may overwhelm cheese. Enjoy it on its own for best results.