15 Scotch Ales Ranked. Which Was the Best?

Drink Lists

The first thing you need to know about Scotch Ale, also called Wee Heavy, is that it’s a distinct style of beer from lighter Scottish Ales. Scotch Ale is boiled until the wort caramelizes, making it richer in both color and flavor. This also concentrates the alcohol—Scotch Ales range from 5.5% to well over 7% ABV with many of the higher alcohol volumes coming in American versions.

We selected 15 different bottles of Scotch Ale to taste, judging them more on overall taste than strict adherence to the style. Here we count down to our favorite Scotch Ale. Let us know your own favorites in the comments section below.

15. Pipers Scotch-Style Ale
Brewery: Sprecher
City: Glendale, Wisc.
ABV: 8.27%
The Verdict: To get that authentic Scottish flavor, Sprecher imports peat from the Highlands, chars it and dumps it straight into the barrels. Okay, not really, but there’s enough smokiness here to make Groucho Marx give up his cigars—or at least turn off our judges completely.

14. Innis & Gunn Original
Brewery: Innis & Gunn
City: Edinburgh, Scotland
ABV: 6.6%
The Verdict: Credit where it’s due: Innis & Gunn has created a line of beers that taste distinct. Sweet, with just enough smoke to keep it from making you pucker. But distinct doesn’t always mean delicious, and this didn’t sway enough of our judges to break through the ranks.

13. Commando Scotch-Style Ale
Brewery: Sprecher
City: Glendale, Wisc.
ABV: 10%
The Verdict: Our apologies to the state of Wisconsin, but neither Sprecher impressed. The Commando was over-the-top boozy, which isn’t always a bad thing. But here it came off as unbalanced with some funky sour notes.

12. Innis & Gunn Cherrywood
Brewery: Innis & Gunn
City: Edinburgh, Scotland
ABV: 8.3%
The Verdict: This is a beloved beer, but was entirely too sweet for our panel. It’s aged on Canadian cherrywood, a rarity for beer, and while there’s something interesting going on with the wood flavors, it tastes more like Canadian maple syrup. If that sounds compelling, you might love this beer.

11. Skull Splitter
Brewery: Orkney
City: Stromness, Scotland
ABV: 8.5%
The Verdict: With a name like Skull Splitter, we didn’t expect this beer to smell like Cherry Coke. It’s one of the fruitiest beers of the bunch. The alcohol isn’t hidden, but its muted by brighter, sweeter flavors. An interesting beer, but not one that wields an axe.

10. Dirty Bastard
Brewery: Founders
City: Grand Rapids, Mich.
ABV: 8.5%
The Verdict: The flagship beer from one of our favorite breweries has a hops bitterness that’s unusual for the style. It’s dry and crisp with just a hint of smoke. A solid version of the style that will please IPA drinkers who don’t think they like dark beers.

9. Old Chub
Brewery: Oskar Blues
City: Longmont, Colo.
ABV: 8%
The Verdict: This is probably the Scotch Ale I’ve consumed the most of, and no wonder—it goes down so smooth. Light with a malt sweetness, a hop finish and just a hint of smokiness, it’s great example of the style.

8. Innis & Gunn Rum Aged
Brewery: Innis & Gunn
City: Edinburgh, Scotland
ABV: 7.4%
The Verdict: Our favorite of the Innis & Gunn beers was aged in Rum casks. It’s sweet without becoming cloying, boozy but balanced. It’s the spiciness that really cuts through. Scotland meets the Caribbean in a really interesting way.

7. Drafty Kilt
Brewery: Monday Night
City: Atlanta
ABV: 7.2%
The Verdict: It’s the smoked malt that really makes a Scottish Ale, and that’s what comes through wonderfully in Drafty Kilt from one of Atlanta’s newer breweries. It’s a dry, roasty substantial beer.

6. Outta Kilter Wee Heavy Scotch Red Ale
Brewery: Hoppin’ Frog
City: Akron, Ohio
ABV: 8.2%
The Verdict: Boozy and malty, this tastes bigger than even its 8.2% ABV. Wee heavy is right. With a bit of peaty smoke, this is the beer version of Scotch whiskey.

5. Traquair House Ale
Brewery: Traquair House
City: Innerleithen, Borders, Scotland
ABV: 7.2%
The Verdict: Traquair is the oldest continually inhabited house in Scotland. It’s a fortified mansion with its own brewery—one that until 1965 provided beer solely for its residents. The House Ale has a a rich oaky flavor thanks to a week spent fermenting in oak barrels and a dry, smooth finish.

4. Claymore Scotch Ale
Brewery: Great Divide
City: Denver
ABV: 7.7%
The Verdict: This is full-flavored beer—lots of roasted malt, a pleasant peatiness, a touch of hops—and yet it drinks so smooth. Delicious.

3. Mc Chouffe
Brewery: Brasserie d’Achouffe
City: Achouffe, Belgium
ABV: 8%
The Verdict: We have plenty of American Scotch ales on this list; why not a Belgian one? This beer was inspired by the Wee Heavies of Scotland but retains some of its Belgian qualities, as well (I’m guessing in part from the yeast strains used). The result is the first beer I ever fell in love with, back in the dark days of Georgia Beer Laws. The Brick Store would sneak this one in under the radar, and I learned how good beer could be.

2. Jacobite
Brewery: Traquair House
City: Innerleithen, Borders, Scotland
ABV: 8%
The Verdict: The Bear Gates to the Traquair House were closed after Bonnie Prince Charlie walked through them in 1745, and tradition states they won’t be opened until a Stuart once again sits on the Scottish Throne. This spiced beer was initially brewed to celebrate the Jacobite rebellion. The coriander adds a kick to go with chocolaty roasted malt flavors. This won our tasting until last week’s Paste Untapped when I got to try…

1. Backwoods Bastard
Brewery: Founders
City: Grand Rapids, Mich.
ABV: 10.2%
The Verdict: What’s the opposite of Wee? Call this a Mickle Heavy. Gigantic flavor at 10.2%, this is a Scotch ale and a barley wine rolled into one. Aged on oak, this complex ale calls to mind caramel from the local fair, the smell of a peat-burning cabin north of Inverness and a perfect glass of single-malt Scotch. Founders, please send us more.

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