Barrel Aging Turns Scotch Ale Into Something Else

by Jim Lundstrom

I’ve been looking forward to this one, Bourbon Barrel-Aged Scotty Karate Scotch Ale from the Dark Horse Brewing Co. of Marshall, Mich.

Scotch Ale is a favorite style of mine. It’s a malt-heavy beer, including a helping of peat-smoked malt. Rich, smoky, sweet, with great depth. 

Scotty Karate is a good example of the Scotch ale style, but I wonder if there are certain beer styles that should not be barrel-aged. 

Aging Scotch ale in bourbon barrels sharpens the taste of this beer. I wish I had a regular old Scotty Karate to compare it to the barrel-aged. 

I think that while the bourbon barrel-aging adds some of its own character to Scotty Karate, it also detracts from some of the attributes that attract me to the style, such as the inherent malty sweetness, tempered here by the oak tannins.

I mean, it’s a good beer. I like it, but I can’t really consider it a Scotch ale any more. If given a Scotty Karate in a blindfolded tasting, I’m pretty certain I could identify the style, but that is not the case with this iteration. It no longer tastes like a Scotch ale.

But it still takes like a great beer. There is a lot going on here. Layers of dark flavors ripple across the palate. Yes, a cornucopia of plummy flavors, but not the defining character I would expect from a Scotch ale. Nothing wrong with that. It’s just a different beer.