|Scottish Wee Heavy 1.082 OG Sample|
When attempting to brew a beer that falls squarely within the guidelines of any individual style, I start off by learning all I can about the history of that beer. Obviously the Wee Heavy originated in Scotland, the geographic location being incorporated in the name is a dead giveaway to that. The first questions to answer before brewing a Scottish Ale are what would the water profile have been like, what types of grain were available to breweries in the region and which variety of hops were likely used. As for figuring out the brewing water profile it's no secret that the underground springs near Edinburgh Scotland provided the perfect soft water to produce the rich malty beers that have become synonymous with the area.
Golden Promise Malt, long recognized as the traditional grain used when making Scottish Ales and whiskey, is also a great choice to use in a grain bill for a Wee Heavy. Thought to be produced by selective breeding of UK 2 row barley, Golden Promise is an early spring barley that is well suited for the growing conditions of Scotland. As for determining the yeast strain used when fermenting Scotch Ales, to me the qualities are indistinguishable from the UK Whitbread strain as far as I can tell. The yeast should be fast fermenting and alcohol tolerant, producing little or no esters when the beer is fermented between 62F to 68F, while accentuating malt character. The yeast should also be a high floculent, medium to high attenuating strain that forms a tight compact sediment once fermentation has completed. Yeast with those qualities will be perfect for fermenting a high gravity beer and are well suited for the months of cold conditioning that follow.
|Wee Heavy Original Gravity 1.082 And Final Gravity 1.017|
According to some historical accounts the Wee Heavy was originally brewed with herbs and spices because Scottish hop production at the time was nearly nonexistent. As time passed hops were imported from England to replace the herbs and spices but they were used sparingly. This resulted in an ale that was rich malty, slightly sweet with an unmistakable warming produced by high levels of ethanol and propanol that developed with extended aging. The hops provided just enough bitterness to keep the beer from becoming excessively sweet and the beer was left to ferment cool enough to keep esters at a minimum while enhancing the rich malt flavors.
One unique characteristic when brewing the Wee Heavy is how malt caramelization is achieved in the kettle, through a long boil instead of the addition of Crystal malts. During a two to three hour boil the wort caramelizes, or darkens, as the sugar molecules change causing them reflect light differently. The extended boil time also increases the Malliard reaction in the wort to produce complex flavors that would not have time to develop any other way in a shorter boil. The color of the wort, the complex malt flavors and the medium to full body and mouthfeel of this beer is a combination of grain selection, wort boil, fermentation and long cold conditioning. I should mention patience too, this is one style of beer meant to be enjoyed a year or more after it's brewed, so plan on having an area dedicated to storing the bottled beer at 45F for quite a while.
When using mash temperatures in the 155F range in combination with soft pH 5.6 water a very chewy caramelized wort will be produced with the potential for easily creating a 9% or higher alcohol beer. With all great things comes great responsibility and care should be taken to ensure there are enough viable yeast cells, vital enough to convert a huge amount of sugars before going dormant. For a five gallon batch of beer a large yeast starter made with two vials of Whitbread strain yeast and four thousand milliliters of 1.040 starter wort should be sufficient to do the job.
|Monster Pitch Of S-04 Yeast Ready To Go|
The Whitbread strain has many qualities that make it a perfect choice for Bitters, Stouts, Porters, Brown and Scottish Ales and IPAs. It thrives in the 62F to 68F temperature range making short work of converting sugars while keeping ester production down. A medium attenuation strain with high flocculation and sedimentation properties that produces a clear, malty, sweet beer with little yeast flavor and perfect for long periods of cold conditioning. A trick to fermenting a high gravity beer is to make sure you pitch enough yeast to get a fast and furious fermentation going quickly and to get the most attenuation possible. Yeast gets stressed out quickly in a high alcohol environment, pitching plenty of yeast reduces the amount of stress on the individual cells which in turn reduces the chance for off flavors to develop in the finished beer.
|Blowing The Lid Off - Use A Blow Off Tube|
|Half Gallon Jar With StarSan And Blow Off Tube|
The recipe I used for the Wee Heavy consisted of just three grains. The base grain I chose to use was (90%) Pale Ale Malt, it was easier for me to order than Golden Promise Malt,
(8%) Melanoidin Malt and (3%) Roasted Barley Malt. The Roasted Barley Malt was used mainly to deepen the color of the beer and the Melanoidin Malt to increase the rich smooth maltiness of the beer without having to do a decoction mash. For hopping I added 4 ounces of East Kent Golding (UK) pellets to the kettle with 20 minutes remaining to the boil. I brewed this batch in a 15 gallon kettle and had no trouble at all fitting in all the grain and water needed for eBIAB mashing. I set the PID controller to 155F and mashed for 90 minutes stopping to give the mash a stir every fifteen minutes. I use single crushed grains and by stirring in between have been getting a little better than 70% efficiency everytime.
|Scottish Wee Heavy After 1 Year Of Cold Conditioning|
The beer was bottle primed and has been carbonating at 68F for just over three weeks now, next week I'll refrigerate a bottle then open it to test out the carbonation. The carbonation level for such a high gravity beer is very low, the lowest carbonation level in any other style of beer I've brewed before. Even the high gravity Barley Wines I've brewed then conditioned for a year had higher carbonation levels than the Wee Heavy's .75 to 1.3 volumes. If I'm reading between the lines correctly the Wee Heavy is more like drinking a Scotch whiskey than a beer, especially when you start reading about the propanol that develops in the beer with long cold conditioning. Once the carbonation levels have proven out the beer will go into 45F cold storage for the next twelve months to condition in the bottle. Based on what I've read a Wee Heavy like this one can reach it's peak flavor in a year and can retain a great flavor profile for up to three years, before the beer's flavor starts to degrade.