About as Michigan as Michigan beer can be!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Want to save Michigan's economy? Buy Bell's Christmas Ale!!

Ok... So perhaps buying Bell's Christmas Ale isn't going to save our slowly sinking state, but what we've got here is a beer brewed by a Michigan brewery, using 100% Michigan grown barley, Pacific Northwest and Michigan hops, and of course Michigan water and Bell's house yeast.* Bell's calls this a Scotch Ale on the label, but this is not like what we think of when we think typical Scotch Ale, a la Dirty Bastard or Arcadia Scotch Ale. What I think we've got here is closer to a 60 Shilling Scottish Ale, being somewhat low in alcohol (5.4% ABV in this case) and not as sweet and heavy. (Honestly, I don't know much about the "lower" styles of Scottish Ale, perhaps Smitty can chime in with some more info?)

The brew pours honey-gold to amber with a medium sized light toffee colored chunky head. It leaves a little lacing in my mug and a thin film sticks around all the way down. I get spicy hops on the nose... no hint of malt that I can smell but my sniffer has been a bit off of late. Juicy-bitter hop notes up front blend into dry, toasty malt with just a hint of toffee. As it warms it gets a bit sweeter, but still falls on the side of dry and bitter. Body is not as heavy as I expected, and this beer goes down EASY.

Not at all what I was expecting from a beer that says "malt driven scotch ale" on the label, but a good tasting very satisfying beer. Honestly if you had given me this brew blind I would've pegged it as an APA. It doesn't have the color, body, and sweet maltiness that I expect of scotch ales. My normal experience with scotch ales in very low to no bitterness, thick body resulting from LONG boils (two hours, sometimes more), and nice dark red colors... but again I've only had the Scotch Ales that would be classified as Wee Heavies or 80-shilling ales (and I'm not even sure if 80-Shilling Ales is right...), so perhaps this is on style for a 60-shilling ale. Regardless, it's good, just don't get this expecting heavy and sweet, or high ABV.

*So my only questions for Bell's... Where is the Maltster? Where do the raw materials come from and the manufacturing happen for the bottles, labels, caps and six-pack carriers? We're getting close to a 100% Michigan beer here, and I would love to find out that a lot of the packaging is Michigan based too!


Smitty 9:33 AM  


Sounds like Bells is dumbing-down again. Oh well.

Scottish Light (60), Heavy (70) and Export (80) all follow roughly the same descriptions, just getting slightly stronger and more intense flavors. The Strong Scotch Ale (Wee Heavy) is HUGE in flavor and body, and often adds the smoky/peaty flavors.

The commonality among 60, 70 and 80 is that the bitterness should be moderate- to low, and the balance is always toward the malt, not the hop like an APA. So if your initial impression was APA...the beer is off. In fact, much of the bitterness is from the kettle-roasted/burned malts, and you should get a caramelized flavor to the beer for the same reason.

My final problem: Christmas/Winter Specialty Beers are their own style in the BJCP guidelines (category 21...I think 21 B...I remember because I judged some recently). Bell's is marketing a Scotch Ale as a Christmas Ale. Lazy, Larry. Lazy.

The shilling categories were nebulous and rough guesstimates, based on the price per barrel. The higher abv beers would ostensibly cost more. But the Scots would not ask for the beers by 60, 70, 80 shilling or whatever. That was for the brewers. Scots would ask for a "light," "heavy," or "wee heavy." And these are not designations that date back a zillion years; just back to the price of beer in the 19th century or so. 60/- is anything 3.5% or under. 70/- goes to like 4%, 80/- goes to 5.5% or so, and wee heavy is anything above like 6%, if I remember correctly.

Sopor 9:44 AM  

Wow, so they TOTALLY hacked this one up. Thanks for the info!

Again, good beer, but do not get this expecting anything NEAR a Scotch ale!!

Smitty 9:50 AM  

Bells increasingly disappoints me. Every beer, I am more and more impressed with Bobby Mason's (MBC) attempts at maintaining purity of style with seeking broader appeal, versus Bells, for whom Oberon is nearly unrecognizable.

That said, Bells Expedition, Bells Kalamazoo, and 2-hearted are still killers.

Bob 10:28 AM  

...for whom Oberon is nearly unrecognizable.

Why does Oberon taste so different everytime I drink one? Is it quality control.

More than once I have tasted a metallic-like flavor. Cannot drink it anymore.

Sopor 12:06 PM  

Well I couldn't agree more about MBC! They make some AWESOME beer! Stick right to style, and still blow me away with quality!

Rickey Henderson 4:46 PM  

Off topic but, there was a GREAT article in the New Yorker on Dogfish Head beer if you folks want to check it out...

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