The Wee Heavy, more commonly referred to as a Scotch Ale, is a deliciously malty beer. The Wee Heavy originated in Scotland and continues to be popular throughout the world. In this article, I’ll walk you through my Wee Heavy/Scotch Ale BIAB Recipe.
What is a Wee Heavy?
As mentioned before, a Wee Heavy may be better known as a Scotch Ale. This is due to its place of origin, Scotland. A Wee Heavy is dark in color, very malty, and has respectable strength 6.5-10% ABV. Hop character should be minimal in this style with the majority of the focus on malty richness.
The 2015 BJCP Guideline for 17C: Wee Heavy reads as follows, “Rich, malty, dextrinous, and usually caramel-sweet, these beers can give an impression that is suggestive of a dessert. Complex secondary malt and alcohol flavors prevent a one-dimensional quality. Strength and maltiness can vary, but should not be cloying or syrupy.”
I very much like their descriptor of a ‘dessert’ as this is what drinking a well brewed Wee Heavy often feels like to me.
An interesting debate that I found while reading about this style was on the use of hops in Scotland. Given that Scottish styles generally use fewer hops, this was assumed to be due to the fact that hops were not native to Scotland. However, there seems to be sufficient evidence that Scotland would regularly import hops from various countries for use in beer.
If you’ve been reading this website for any amount of time, you know I love my brewing books! I highly recommend the Scotch Ale (Classic Beer Style Series Book 8) for more details!
Each one of these Classic Beer Styles books I’ve read have been great. My goal is to slowly get through the whole series!
How to Brew a Good Wee Heavy
One of the first things I should advise against is using peat malt in your Wee Heavy. Using peat malt to obtain a smokiness in Scottish Ales became popular with homebrewers and commercial brewers. This is not traditional of Scottish brewing and is considered a fault in this style, however.
In both the ‘flavor’ and ‘aroma’ section of the BJCP guideline, they say that “peat smoke is innapropriate”. They then go on to say, “Peated malt is absolutely not traditional”. So it goes without saying further, if you’re brewing for competition or to match the style, don’t use peat malt!
That said, the focus should be on the malt in this style. Though many popular styles today use hops out the wazoo, it is important to keep hopping to a minimum in the Wee Heavy. English hops such as Fuggle, Target, Challenger, or East Kent Goldings should be used in the Wee Heavy.
Most of the grain bill should be made up of a well-modified pale malt such as Maris Otter. You do want additions of roasted malt as well as Crystal/Caramel for color/sweetness.
Water profile should be on the softer side.
To obtain further caramelization, many brewers choose to either perform a prolonged boil or to do a separate wort ‘reduction’.
I chose to perform a reduction or caramelization of a portion of the wort during the boil as well as a 90 minute boil. I simply removed 16oz (473.2mL) of the wort and placed it in a separate pot. This pot was boiled alongside the main wort. This should result in a darker, caramelized, stickier wort to be added back to the main wort. Stop boiling the wort to be caramelized before you get to the ‘candy’ stage of reduction.
This recipe is for a 1.5 gallon BIAB batch. It can be scaled up as much as you need to for a larger BIAB or all-grain batch!
Wee Heavy/Scotch Ale Recipe
77oz (2.18kg) Maris Otter
5oz (141.75 grams) Crystal 40L
3oz (85.05 grams) Honey Malt
2oz (56.7 grams)Crystal 120L
2oz (56.7 grams) Munich
1oz (28.3 grams) Chocolate Malt 250L
0.3oz (8.5 grams) East Kent Goldings (60 minutes)
0.1oz (2.83 grams) East Kent Goldings (10 minutes)
Irish Moss (10 minutes)
Flagstaff Tap Water
1/4tsp (0.86 grams) CaCl
0.3mL Lactic Acid
*** Remember you want a soft water profile for this style
Wyeast 1728 Scottish Ale Yeast – (1/3 Packet)
Heat 8 quarts (7.6L) of strike water to 165°F (73.9C). Add brewing salts. Mill the grains and mix with strike water to reach a mash temperature of 154°F (67.8C). Hold mash temperature for 60 minutes. Sparge the grains with 170°F (76.7C) water until you reach a volume of 2.5 gallons (9.5L) of wort. Boil for 90 minutes, following the hop schedule. Remove 16oz (473.2mL) of wort for reduction/caramelization. After caramelization, add back to the main wort. Add Irish moss at 10 minutes.
After the boil, chill the wort to slightly below fermentation temperature, about 64°F (17.8C). Aerate the wort and pitch the yeast. Ferment at 64-68°F (17.8-20C) for 2 weeks, then cold crash the beer to 35°F (1.7C). Bottle or keg the beer and carbonate to approximately 2.25 volumes of CO2. Age until delicious.
How to Perform a Wort Reduction
It sounds easy enough to separate some wort and boil it down more. In theory, it definitely should be! However, if you’ve ever tried to do a balsamic reduction or any other sauce reduction, it can be tough.
I recommend watching the pot that you are performing the reduction closely. The point between water boiling off and getting the carmelization you’re after and getting a candied, sticky mess seems to happen very quickly!
Your goal is to obtain a thicker, slightly more viscous wort. However, you do still want this wort to be in liquid form! I recommend stopping this separate boil sooner rather than later to be on the safe side.
Most homebrewers agree that Wyeast 1728 Scottish Ale Yeast is the absolute best choice for Wee Heavies. It gives a clean and neutral profile that really lets the malt shine.
It can be fermented down to about 55F (12.8C) for ultimate ‘cleanness’.
However, if you have time to order the correct yeast, I would highly recommend it!
Increased Boil Time
Many recipes for this style of beer use prolonged boil times in the 90-120 minute range. You will get increased caramelization and thicker mouthfeel with this prolonged boil time. If this is something you would like to experiment with, please make sure to adjust your hop schedule so you don’t end up with an overly bitter beer.
As many beer styles hop at the beginning of the boil, you will want to remember not to do this if you’re going to boil for longer than 60 minutes!
Roasted Barley vs. Chocolate Malt
If you’ve been researching this style, you’ll notice that many styles will use roasted barley vs chocolate malt. This is more traditional. I chose to use chocolate malt in this recipe as it tastes less bitter, which is what I was going for.
You can’t go wrong going either direction.
Thank you for stopping by!
If you are interested in how to homebrew using the brew-in-a-bag BIAB method, please see my post here.
If you would like to see more small batch recipes like this, please follow this link.
As mentioned before, if you’re trying to learn as much as you can regarding Scottish Ales, I highly recommend reading Scotch Ale (Classic Beer Style Series Book 8)!