3.3AROMA 5/10 APPEARANCE 4/5 TASTE 6/10 PALATE 3/5 OVERALL 15/20
2/3/09 UPDATE: I recently drank this beer after not having it in 18 months or so and was genuinely surprised by how much it has improved in taste. It’s quite possible I’ve developed a palate that can appreciate this style but I clearly remember the beer not tasting as good now as it did at the time I wrote this review (I’m pretty sure Sam Adams tweaked the recipe). I probably should have re-written it but I’ll keep it for posterity’s sake because it’s an accurate reflection of how I thought of it at the time.
I’ve been a devoted fan of the Samuel Adams line for years. I have bought their brew master’s mix pack several times a year and I have enjoyed nearly every beer in it except for Scotch Ale (and more recently the Honey Porter). It’s been nearly a year since the last time I had this beer and I was hoping that having spent this entire summer and autumn reviewing beers that I might have developed an appreciation for it. However, after all this time I still cannot force myself to enjoy this beer. It’s not nearly as bad as I remember it being since it’s easily drinkable, but not very appealing.
POUR, COLOR AND AROMA
One might actually confuse Scotch Ale with an Irish Red since this beer pours to a similar complexion: a dark amber/brick red hue with hardly any carbonation present. It flows so smooth it’s difficult to produce any real head. What we do get is a thin, off-white, soapy head which leaves a lot of lacing on the glass, initially, but quickly dissipates down to nothing.
The aroma is similar to a porter (and we know how I feel about that type of beer); very malty and dry. Additionally, this beer has a smoky, whiskey-like scent that isn’t so much off-putting as it is strange.
I’m a beer drinker, not a liquor drinker. If I wanted to taste whiskey I’d order a Jack and cola. I don’t want my beer to taste like a “bomb” drink I might have at a frat party. I guess what I’m trying to say is that Samuel Adams Scotch Ale tastes more like whiskey than it does beer. This isn’t surprising since it’s made with peat-smoked malt, which gives the beer an extremely smoky taste. It’s like drinking the taste of a cigar – who could find this enjoyable?
Not that it’s horrible, since it drinks like any other ale for the most part. In fact, the smoky, dry taste of the beer’s mixture of four different malts is certainly tolerable and almost appealing as it first hit my palate. It when it actually goes down that the strong, whiskey-like flavor hits me and makes me wince.
Ironically, the beer is not difficult to drink despite the unappetizing taste, in fact it’s quite smooth. It does seem to be slightly coarse, but this is mostly due to the dry, malty taste. Even the average Joe Six Pack should be able to get through a bottle of this beer without much resistance.
Since this is a beer for drinkers with the most discriminating of tastes and only sold in mix packs, Scotch Ale is clearly meant to be savored and not chugged. And at 200 calories per bottle it’s easy to understand why. Such a full-bodied beer is practically a meal in and of itself, and at 5.4% ABV it’s a little more potent than your mass market lager. Neither of these would be a problem if the taste was delectable, but such a weighty beer should be much more enjoyable to drink.
Samuel Adams Scotch Ale was originally a much stronger brew, probably similar to Magic Hat’s “Jinx” (a strong Scotch Ale I really like), but it was discontinued in 2000. From what I understand, when it was brought back after a few seasons the recipe was altered making the beer weaker. I have a feeling I would have preferred it in its original incarnation, since this version is entirely too gimmicky and unbalanced to enjoy.