Scotch ale, also known as wee heavy ale, was first brewed in Edinburgh during the 18th century. A variation of English-style pale ale, scotch ale is typically boiled for longer in order to caramelize some of the malt sugars in the wert. Scotch ales are typically made with less hops than other pale ales, and often have higher alcohol content. In a process similar to scotch whisky, some breweries add peat-smoked malt to their beer for a special earthy, smokey flavor.
Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons, Colorado, has a reputation for making extreme versions of established beer styles, and Old Chub Scotch Ale is no exception. Caramelization lends Old Chub a dark brown-red color, which, along with its layer of thick, creamy foam, portend the thick and rich flavor lurking within. An earthy, cereal smell makes itself noticed first, then a savory scent of soy sauce in the middle, finishing with spicy hops and a tinge of alcohol. Oskar Blues chose to smoke some of their malt with beechwood rather than add peat-smoked malt. Instead of lending a smoky flavor as one might expect, this combines with the sweet caramel malt sugars to create a very dominant sweet/savory flavor similar to teriyaki sauce or rye bread. Mouthfeel is thick and creamy, almost syrupy, like some imperial stouts. Bitterness is light but noticeable, with faint spicy hop flavors similar to black pepper. While most scotch ales weigh in at around 6 or 7% alcohol, Old Chub packs a hearty 8%, although with all the other strong flavors fighting for attention the alcohol is relatively subtle.
Old Chub is definitely not an every day session beer, and it will not pair well with most foods except maybe teriyaki or other dishes with lots of savory “umami” flavor like miso soup or pad thai. Nevertheless, Old Chub is worth a try, even for those with an aversion to dark beer or aluminum cans. The judges of the World Beer Championship agree, having awarded Old Chub a gold medal twice. In the eyes of this slightly less-qualified beer judge, Old Chub earns a B- grade, mostly because it is too extreme for many beer drinkers and most drinking occasions. Fans of scotch ale might also be interested in Orkney’s Skullsplitter, which is lighter in flavor than Old Chub, but no lighter in alcohol.