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Scottish Ale - Name it after the tax

Scottish 60, 70 and 80 shilling and Mini Mash BIAB

If you think that the Scotts aren’t focused on money, then your argument will be undermined by the way that the beer styles are named after the amount of duty that was paid on a hogshead of beer, a hogs head being a 54 gallon cask. Revived in the 70s, the names 60/-, 70/- and 80/- (/- means Shilling, worth 12 pence). How different Scottish ales are from English ales is more of an emotional debate than a qualitative debate as there is plenty of variation and overlap, but both are identifiably British, or what an observer from a hot dry climate, used to cold and sparkling styles, would describe as warm and flat


The first time I remember having a classic McEwen’s 70/- was at a pub in Edinburgh officially named the Athletic Arms but known to the locals as Digger’s. It was renowned as the place to get the best McEwen’s ale. Digger’s was across the cemetery from the McEwen’s brewery and so the grave diggers drank there. Also there was a rumour the beer was so fresh because it was pumped from the brewery, under the graves, straight to the pub.  My Scottish mate said if I walked in the door with two fingers politely in the air, by the time I made my way through the crowd to the bar, two pints of 70/- would be sitting on the bar ready for me, and I would pay. If not, he would pay. I did as instructed and an attentive barman, in a colourful dusk coat, nodded to me as I came in then scurried around, and before I could push my way through a fairly crowded pub, he had my two beers on the bar. It was worth losing a shout to see that sort of service.

Also, in peak times they only served pints of 70/-. If you want a gin and tonic, cider, whisky, or even another type of beer, go somewhere else, they haven’t got time for all that fancy nonsense. I was where it was barely tolerated to ask for a half pint for my wife. This was in 1988, so it may have changed, but I hope not too much. 

Mini Mash Brewing

In the theme of the Scots, I have used a brewing method with good results while being canny with my equipment. A few years back, I made a 70/- when I was at the mini mash stage of the brewing journey and still didn’t want to commit to expensive brewing gear. Mini mash is a good comprise that gives a big lift in quality without investing as much in equipment. With mini mash you basically mash all the specialty grains with about half of the base malt and add malt extract at the end of the boil. You then use clean, cool water to both help chill the mash and bring the wort up to full volume.  


The logic I used to design my system (read - pot size, recipe volume, energy source, method etc.) is as follows. I had a 20 litre (5 Gallon) target batch size as lots of recipes use this and it is the basic fermenter size. I knew that you need two standard tins of malt extract, like Coopers or Muntons, (1.1litre or 1.5kg) to do a typical 20 litre batch of extract brewing. Also, recipes for 20 litre all grain use about a kilogram of malt per 1% alcohol by volume (abv), i.e. 5kg gives about 5% abv.  These amounts will change with about 1000 different variables but are close enough for now.


Working out the ingredients

Let’s start with the idea that you want to use one can, no more, no less, of liquid malt extract (LME). Storing parts of cans of LME is not something that appealed to me. Storing small amounts of grain is easy, sandwich bags and a tightly sealed plastic box are your friend. (Not all grains are malt but all malted grains are grain) The typical ratio for replacing malted grain (aka malt) with LME (aka goop) is 1 kg of malt = 0.75kg of goop, so the standard 1.5kg tin of goop = 2kg of malt. So if the recipe asks for 4kg of malt, drop it to 2kg and use a 1.5kg can of goop. Yes, try to match the style of extract to the style of malt you remove. Light LME for pilsner and pale malt, amber LME for fuller malts like Vienna, Munich or Marris Otter and wheat for wheat. Dark LME should not be used as there isn’t any dark base malts. Dark LME is made for dark beer kits, or pure extract brewers making dark beers. Stick to the base malts, the specialty malts you will use give all the good flavours, body, rich colours and aromas. I have won some good results in competition with mini mash and feel it was the biggest step forward for me.

So if you are using one can and are aiming for about 18-24 litres of wort, depending on the recipe, one can of extract needs about 10 litres of water to make a typical strength wort. Therefore you need a mash output pre boil of around 12 litres to make up the rest or the wort. So if you have a recipe with an all-grain grain bill of 4kg of base and 500g to 1kg of specialty grains, reduce the base malt grain bill by 2kg for the goop and you have 2.5kg to 3kg of grains left. You need to use about 3 litres per kg to mash and about 2/3s as much, 1.5 to 1.8, litres per kg, or 6 litres to sparge. (sparging is rinsing the grain and this water should be about 82 deg C). This depends on the design of your mashing pot and why the bag (we’ll get to this soon) needs to be slightly bigger than the pot to mash with the minimum amount of water.

Equipment

For equipment you can get away with stuff you may already have or can get from bargain kitchen shops and the like. The pot is the king. To fit 3kg of grain and 9 litres of water to mash it into a pot, the pot needs to be at least 15 litres. 15 to 20 is the size to get. Be aware you need to boil this pot so it needs to fit on a stove you can access. 20 litres is very big on a normal kitchen stove. Soup pots are about 8 litres and seem big. The 16 litre pot I used was massive and I used a wok burner. It boiled OK but try to join the dots on your system before you buy anything expensive. If you don’t have the right energy source to boil, all could be lost.

You can do mini mash using a method know as brew in a bag (BIAB).  BIAB is where you put the gains in a special, heat resistant, mesh bag and place it in the boil pot to mash. This means you don’t need a separate mash tun and, keeping to the canny theme of this post, save on a vessel.  You then add the strike water (water at about 80 to 85 deg C) and leave the mash, sitting at the correct mashing temperature for at least 25 min. It is good to have extra sparge water to rinse the goop out of the can.

Once you have mashed, you gather the top of the bag together and lift it up. Sounds easy but a hot dripping bag needs to go somewhere, so have a clean bucket handy. Hold the bag over the pot as long as you can until most of the drips subside. As the grain soaks up about 1 litre per kilo of water, the bag now weights at least twice the dry weight or about 8kg before you let it drain.  A friend and rubber gloves are assets here. The friend can squeeze the bag to hurry up the process, twisting works. If you happen to have a spare clean 8 litre container, pour the wort in to it and you can use the main pot to sparge. Put the bag back in the big pot and fill it with the sparge water. Leave it for 10 min and the repeat the squeeze process. Return the original wort (aka first runnings) and you are ready to boil. Follow the recipe for boil time and hop additions.

Five minutes before the end of the boil, add the can of goop so it can dissolve in time. Add the remaining water into the fermenter after chilling most of the way. It is part of the art to get the temperature correct to add the yeast. Normally it is about 25 to 30 deg C but that is another blog.
To make the bag you need a buy a meter or more of plain Swiss Voile. It is a mesh used for things like shower curtains or hard wearing sections of clothes that need to be shear and crumple free. Hence it is strong, boil proof and a fine mesh that works as a filter for the grain.  The bag should be just big enough to fit the boil pot. I was able to sew one up myself as my mum, who didn’t want me to be as dependent on a wife as my dad and her dad were, taught me how to sew, cook and clean. It is a simple rectangle twice the height of the pot by 120% circumference of the pot. Also cut a circle about 6cm in diameter more than the pot. Using thread that is tough, Use a sewing machine to sew it up in to a pot shape with French seams (sew it up, fold it back over the seam and sew it again). The idea is it won’t fray with all the rough and tumble it will suffer. No-one is wearing it to a wedding, so don’t care about the flaws, just make sure the seams are robust and secure. Use any left over to make hop bags.  

I had a 16 litre stock pot that was on special. You can get away with smaller if you use dry malt or add more than a can at the end but you need to work all that out for yourself.  Some brewers have used electric urns of various sizes. They need to keep the mash bag away from the element. This is important as many brews and bags have been ruined by brewers heating the mash and the element or base of the pot melts a hole in the bag.

Making an authentic Scottish ale and serving it at 12 deg C, and with correct carbonation, won’t find you fans amongst those who haven’t been in a Scottish pub on a cold night. I had Scottish Ale at a wedding served from goon bags, i.e., wine bladders, and the locals were fine with it, that’s the carbonation level they like, almost none. Even if your friends have been to Scotland, it will need to be cold where you are to win them over. In context, it is great beer, I love it. Out of context, it is not satisfying and seems wrong, but if you up the carbonation and chill it to around 5 deg C, it will win new friends. 

Scottish ale is a malt driven beer and the aim is to capture the malt character with just enough bittering hops to bring balance but not bring any taste or aroma. A basic ale yeast is fine and one that finishes well like Fermetis US05 does the job. If you want to make an all-grain 70/-, for malts, use about 4.5kg marris otter or pale malt as the base, a small amount of crystal malt 100g to 150g and a similar amount of chocolate malt or roast barley, and, to give the real malt kick, about 200g to 250g of Simpson’s imperial malt or Weyerman’s melanoidin. Use some British hops like EKG or Fuggles and about 25g @ 5.5AA at the start of the boil. Mash mid-range at 67-68 deg C to give some malt sweetness. Ferment low for and ale at 18 deg C. You should end up with a light copper colour and a slightly creamy head, depending on carbonation.

If you really want to go crazy, search for recipes for neeps and tatties, seek out some haggis and, if you over do it, you will need some Aberdeen morning rolls, aka rowies, for breakfast. The best rowies are from Thain’s Bakery in George Street.