THOUGH DARK HORSE Brewing is rather well-regarded for several ales, they become their name in at least one style race: Scotch ale. Hailing from Marshall, Michigan, the brewery lies not 100 miles from Founders Brewing, whose Dirty Bastard is the Wee Heavy benchmark for not just Michigan, but the entire nation. Thus, just as Founders’ own Centennial IPA was the underdog against Bell’s Two Hearted (albeit the eventual victor), so do they in turn overshadow Dark Horse and their Scotty Karate.
The beer is a Wee Heavy, full-bodied, slightly brown garnet in the glass with a half-finger of head and an ABV of 9.75%. That strength is surprisingly well-masked, as it drinking more like 7% for its smoothness and lack of alcohol in the flavor or bouquet. The feat is worthy of respect but also arguably a misstep—more of a warming sensation in the finish would likely have made Scotty at least a point or two more satisfying.
And that’s because there really isn’t quite enough else going on in this beer, at least relative to the style’s touchstones. Its aroma is soft and supple—moderately kilned grains, some light smoke (from phenols more than malt, one suspects), a bit of yeast and caramel—its body generous but not excessively girthy, and the flavors round if not quite regal. Understated carbonation ushers sweet, faintly chocolaty malts and a smooth mouthfeel from entry to finish, barely interspersing a bit of hop earthiness (but no bitterness). A slight minerality rises towards the finish along with a touch more phenol smoke in the aftertaste. Overall malts are naturally quite powerful in the flavor, though not quite with the density of sweetness or great complexity that would make them unwieldy. Indeed, prominent fruit esters would be inappropriate for the style, and Dark Horse largely avoids them aside from perhaps a few nods at raisin or black cherry. Yet neither do they cultivate much of the smoky, leathery, chewiness, or even a bit woody qualities that can make Scotch ale so evocative of rustic dens atop soggy crags. Thus while Scotty Karate runs a smooth and steady race, it stays always in the dust of that Dirty Bastard.
Served: On tap (Beer Bistro, Chicago)