The Almost Official Montana Scotch Ale Scotch-Off

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Montanan’s love scotch ale. At least that’s what we’re told.

You’re also told to be sure to have a scotch ale or two when you travel to Montana because Montana makes the best scotch ales.

But could it simply be a case that there’s more scotch ale available in Montana compared to other states? And if that’s true, then does that necessarily ensure the scotch ales are good? And if that’s the case, does it really make scotch ale a “must try” for visitors?

Expert panel - Scotch Ales
The prodigious panel of appraisers ponders the serious selection of Scotchiness placed in their path.

These burning questions have been around since the early Bronze Age. So to answer these age-old conundrums, a panel of highly dedicated judges was assembled to hold the first ever Montana Scotch Ale Scotch-Off.

Judges came from as far away as 30 miles to participate in the Bozeman-based event. And the level of expertise ranged from craft beer savants, to aficionados of quality beer, to PBR lovers, to beer neophytes. This variety was intentional in order to ensure a level playing field, and increase generalizability.

Ultimately, the panel of judges spent hours and hours tasting, re-tasting, deliberating, evaluating, expectorating, cajoling, convincing, scoring, bribing, sharing, whining, complaining, and naming the best Scotch Ales in Montana. A variety of Scotch Ales were put to the test, including some from breweries outside of Montana simply for comparison sake.

Now the results are in. And the Scotchie goes to …

GoldNeptune’s Brewery Scottish Ale — The Livington-based brewery averaged 3.9 out of 5 starts to take first place. Disclaimer: This technically is a wee heavy because it has higher alcohol content than a traditional Scotch Ale. And the reason it checks in at 8.6% ABV is because it s barrel aged. So that could be two strikes against. But the argument in favor is, well, just listen to what the judges had to say …

“Subtle, quite nose, soft beginning, bold body, strong finish.”

“Tastes just like what a Scotch Ale should. Pow!”

“Good stuff. Complex.”

“Yummy!”

The brewery’s website says that it is “Smooth and sweet, yet bold and strong. Our Scottish is just the kick in the kilt you deserve.”

The judges agree.

SilverMeadowlark Ole Gus — Made in Sidney, Mont., by Meadowlark Brewing Co., this Scotch Ale offering checked in with a 2.95 out of 5 starts in the Scotch-Off. Again, technically this is a “Scotch rye wee heavy.” But “wee heavy” is such a Scottish-sounding phrase, anything called such makes it into a Scotch-Off. Our judges were impressed with this 7.0% ABV effort:

“Strong malt body with tones of nut. Powerful strong finish.”

“Big date/fig flavor with slight toastiness. Medium body.”

“Malty, with sweet/salty finish.”

“Grapey. That’s all I have to say about that.”

Fun fact #1: Ole Gus is the name of one of the brewer’s dogs, a big, black, slobbery Neapolitan Mastiff.

Fun fact #2: Sidney is near the Montana-North Dakota border. Who knew?

Fun fact #3: According to Google Maps, it would take almost 9 hours to fly to Sidney from my house, but only 6 to drive.

Scotch-Off scoresheets
The panelists took their responsibilities vigorously, as evident by the amount of spills, smudges, and stains on the scorecards.

Bronze — 17CO12 — A late entry into the Scotch-Off, this came to the judges from a homebrew competition that took place in Bozeman, Mont., a few weekends prior to the Scotch Ale challenge. Aaron Franzmann’s beer performed exceptionally well against the larger brewery options, earning an average of 2.85 stars. While the name 17CO12 was simply what it was labeled in the blind competition from two weeks before, the judges didn’t care. It worked. Here’s what they had to say:

“Opaque caramel color, bright fruity nose yet malty. Caramel strong finish.”

“Slightly cloudy, roasted chestnuts. Creamy.”

“Incredibly balanced.”

“Real Scotch.”

It will likely be difficult for you to find the 17CO12 in grocery stores or on tap, whether you’re a Montanianian or just visiting. But if you ask nicely, I bet Aaron will share.

There were two other beers with which the judges were impressed, and so earned Honorable Mention status in the first ever Montana Scotch Ale Scotch-Off. They are The Front Brewing Co.’s Mountain Man Scotch Ale, which earned a 2.63 rating from the judges, and Outlaw Brewing‘s The Dirk Scotch Ale which finished at 2.55. The latter is named after the large dagger Scottish Highlanders used in close combat, and checks in at 6.4% ABV. The former is available everywhere in Montana, but the brewery may or may not be closed. It’s hard to tell.

Now it’s official. Scotch Ales can be found in Montana. We’ve definitely confirmed that. As for answering the burning questions that initiated the Scotch-Off, no one’s really sure. That’s because after the tasting was completed, the judges emptied the fridge of the IPAs and porters.

— Eric Van Steenburg

NOTE: No one from Scotland was harmed during the duration of the Scotch-Off.

A few Scotch Ales were consumed in the name of science.

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