Warming infusions for cool weather

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Gordon Kendall Special for the Roanoke Times

One recent morning, I looked out the window and noticed that my car had a frost coating on it. This informed me that the scorching, humid days of a month ago have given way to the cool, cool days of fall. Just as leaves turn from green to brown, seasonally appropriate beers shift from aggressively hopped beers to less bitter styles. Cooler weather calls for beers with a malty backbone of caramel and vanilla flavors and a bit more punch.

Think Scottish beers. The country, known for its single malt Scotch whisky, has a harsh and windy climate due to its northern location. Scotland also grows very fine barley which, when soaked in water and allowed to germinate, turns into malted barley or malt. Whiskey makers take their share of this high quality malt, leaving the rest to the brewers.

The Scots have been brewing since antiquity. According to the great beer writer Michael Jackson, an archaeological dig on the Isle of Rum in 1985 unearthed Neolithic pots covered with the remains of ancient beer. A botanist specializing in archaeological deposits determined that it was barley, oats, honey, heather, meadowsweet and royal fern. Rum is located in the Inner Herbrides on the west coast of Scotland. Sir George Bullough, who owned the island in the 20th century, changed the spelling of the island from Rum to Rhum because he did not want to be associated with alcoholic liquor.

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The ancient Picts are said to have brewed mead (from honey) and beers seasoned with heather. According scottishbrewing.com there was an ancient Pict who refused to divulge his recipe when his two sons had been put to death. They say the recipe died with him. Over time, heather gave way to hops as a seasoning, possibly due to the antimicrobial properties of hops. Until the 15th century, most brewing was done in monasteries. By the 18th century, large companies had taken over brewing, including Dudgeon & Company’s Belhaven Brewery in Dunbar.

Belhaven was founded in 1719 about twenty kilometers from Edinburgh. The brewer is known for its ancient brewhouses, which resemble pagodas. Belhaven produces a wide range of products, but not all are available in this area. I was able to get some Belhaven Scottish Ale, which sells for around $14 a six-pack. The brewer adds crystal malt and black malt to a biscuit malt base to achieve a dark amber color. Challenger and Goldings hops are used, resulting in moderate hop bitterness, balancing well with the malty flavors. On the palate, I detected aromas of roasted pecan nuts and notes of roasted malt pods. The infusion weighs 5.2% alcohol by volume and is quite refreshing. It goes well with grilled sausages or even burgers.

Beer connoisseurs distinguish between Scottish ale and Scotch ale styles. The Belhaven Scottish Ale above is a classic example of Scottish beer, with moderate alcohol and a balance of malt and hops. I found a guy online who said there wasn’t much difference between the two, but he must not have tried Belhaven Wee Heavy because it’s drastically different.

Belhaven Wee Heavy is a Scottish beer. The name Wee Heavy comes from the fact that it was once sold in small (small) ⅓ pint bottles and is a heavier alcohol at 7.4%. It retails for around $14 per four-pack. The label displays an enigmatic 90/~. According to Jackson, this reflects the price written on the barrel long ago, which in this case translates to 90 shillings. The brew has a dark brown, almost opaque color. Aromas of molasses, molasses, toasted nuts and brown sugar rise from the glass.

The flavor is rich and malty, with hints of brown sugar and toast and is much heavier than Scottish ale. There is just enough hops to enhance the flavors. It would be good with a Scotch egg. For the uninitiated, a Scotch egg is a lightly boiled egg that is peeled, wrapped in herb sausage, and dipped in a mixture of flour, beaten egg, and breadcrumbs. This is fried until golden and delicious.

Some brewers outside Scotland have imitated Scottish beer. One of those iterations is the Chaos Mountain Sqatch Ale. The brewery, located near Roanoke in Callaway, produces this Scottish beer which has a caricature of Sasquatch on the label. The brewery’s history dates back to 1998 when Wendy Hallock gave her husband Joe a beer brewing kit as a gift. Joe loved making beer so much that in 2012 they liquidated their business interests and used the money to set up a brewery in a building at the base of Cahas Mountain in Franklin County. They changed the name to the more fanciful Chaos Mountain.

Squatch Ale is available locally for around $11 a six-pack. It has an amber brown color and aromas of freshly roasted malt. The palate is very malty with graham cracker and brown sugar notes, but the infusion is not too sweet. Just enough hops are used to balance it out. Some people like hops and some don’t, so if you fall into the latter category, this might be for you. It weighs 7.5% alcohol by volume (ABV). It goes well with grilled or smoked salmon.

Colorado-based Oskar Blues Brewery opened its location in Brevard, North Carolina in 2012. The brewery is known for making high-quality beers available in cans. Oskar Blues Old Chub Scotch Ale is brewed with crystal and chocolate malts and just a touch of beechwood smoked grains imported from Germany. The brew has a dark amber color and weighs 8% ABV. The brew has hints of caramel and cocoa with just a hint of sweetness and muted hop notes. It’s available locally for around $12 for a six-pack. Try it with a grilled cheese sandwich in front of a crackling fire.

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