Category Archives: Scotch Ale

#72 – Gordon’s Highland Scotch Ale

#72 - Gordon's Highland Scotch Ale

Size: 330 ml

ABV: 8.5 %

I was fairly uneasy talking about this beer as part of the Belgian Beer Odyssey. The commercial description says everything about how un-Belgian this beer is – “Gordon Scotch Ale was born in the limpid highlands among isolated lochs and haunting Scottish castles”. Then if you consider the tartan and thistle on the label and bottle, and the fact the glass is shaped like a thistle you quite wonder how this can possibly be continental? There isn’t even the faintest hint of its intended market in the title, and yet the brewers John Martin (an equally non Belgian appellation) started to brew this beer in Belgium as early as 1924 in Antwerp. Maybe it is here that I should stop a while and consider the term ‘Scotch Ale’, which might help to begin easing my discomfort.

A Scotch Ale is one of many types of Pale Ale, which is a bit of a convenient catch-all for a variety of beers of low to medium strength which utilise ale yeast and pale malts. These could include IPA (India Pale Ale), Red Ale, American Pale Ale and good old English bitter on which I was raised. Some of these pale ales are made stronger (normally above 7%), and Scotch Ale is an example of this. There are a couple of convincing reasons why the term ‘Scotch Ale’ came about. Some say it is due to the fact that it originated in Edinburgh in the 1700’s which seems a reasonable claim – others suggest it is due to the fact that the Scots tended to use smoked malts while brewing which gave the beer the flavour of whisky or scotch.

None of this explains however why this is a Belgian Beer by designation, or why a brewer in Antwerp wanted to create this beer outside of its obvious surroundings. Well, sadly the answer is probably that Belgians (and Americans where this beer is also very popular) have a particularly sweet tooth. The beer in question was known in the UK as McEwans Special Export, a drink normally associated with the unkempt who frequent railway arches at night. Because the Belgians enjoy this kind of drink and have learnt the art of drinking in moderation, an even stronger version of this beer was introduced to the market where it has remained remarkably popular as a heavy aperitif or nightcap on winter nights. The fact that you are unlikely to find it in Scotland amidst the wispy lochs and limpid highlands satisfies my concerns for now.

The beer itself was on the menu of the Lowlander at Creechurch Street (now sadly closed), and ended up on my table only due to the fact that about another four beers were apologetically not available. It was dark, very dark, with a surreal red glow permeating through it when any light source caught it. The flavour was heavy and sweet, and not distinctly unpleasant, but at the same time not a drink that I would eagerly seek out again, unless of course they surrounded it in a label of the Belgian flag or stuck TinTin eating a waffle on the front.

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Filed under 6, Brewers, John Martin, Scotch Ale