At one time, both Ireland and Scotland were part of the British Empire. (Today, the Republic of Ireland is a sovereign nation.) There is evidence of brewing in Scotland and Ireland dating back hundreds, if not thousands of years. More recently, both countries have contributed a variety of distinct beer styles to the world of brewing, a few of which are listed below.
When it comes to beers of the world, one of the most widespread styles of beer comes from Ireland, but Guinness isn’t the only player. Kilkenny, Beamish, and Murphy’s all brew traditional Irish beer.
- Irish Stout – Mention Irish beer and the first thing that comes to mind is Guinness. Arthur Guinness founded his brewery in 1759 and soon defined the style known as Irish stout. Black malt and/or roasted barley give the beer a strong, coffee-like dryness. Guinness used a small proportion of soured beer to give its stout a slight pucker. Murphy’s makes another famous stout. Learn what it takes to brew your own Irish stout with our Simple Style Guide: Irish Stout.
- Irish Red Ale – Though few truly Irish red ales make it to the shelves in the US (Smithwick’s is one), many breweries on this side of the pond have adopted the style. Killian’s (a Coors brand) has been a transitional beer for many a craft beer drinker. Irish red ales are copper in color with an emphasis on caramel and/or toasty malt flavor. Since they’re not too hoppy or alcoholic, Irish red ales are agreeable to a wide range of palates. If you’d like to try your hand at an Irish red ale, consider brewing the Steam Freak Dublin Dock Red Ale.
Another country noted for brewing beers of the world is Scotland. As recently as the early 20th century, Scotland had a vibrant brewing industry. During the colonial era, Scottish “export” beer was shipped throughout the British Empire, as far as America, Australia, and India. A variety of traditional styles that originated in Scotland are still brewed today.
- Scottish Ale – Scottish beer is generally more malt forward and sweet than English ales, though there was a fair amount of cross pollination across borders. 60/-, 70/-, and 80/-schilling Scotch ales are named in respect to the price per barrel, which varied based on the alcohol content of the beer. 90/-schilling ales were sometimes intended for export, while 100/-schilling and stronger brews were often called “wee heavies. Read more about guidelines for brewing a Scotch ale at home.
- Heather Ale – Though not widely brewed, a type of beer particular to Scotland is heather ale. There’s no strict definition for it in the BJCP guidelines, but there is evidence that a fermented beverage made from heather, barley, oats, and honey was brewed thousands of years ago in Scotland. Just a handful of breweries still make heather ale: Williams Bros. Brewing Co. in Scotland and Cambridge Brewing Company in Massachusetts are two. Brew your own heather ale with a Brewcraft Heather ‘n Honey Deep Brown Ale recipe kit.
Do you enjoy Irish and Scottish ales? What are some of your favorite beers of the world?
David Ackley is a beer writer, brewer, and self-described “craft beer crusader.” He holds a General Certificate in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and is founder and editor of the Local Beer Blog.