Scotch Ale & Shortbread

scotch ale and shortbread

It’s not a simple act to find a beer to pair with sweets and dessert. Beer doesn’t always play well with other sweet things, and can easily overwhelm or be minimized by dessert. The trick is to not only think about complementary flavors but complementary mouthfeel (texture) and body (richness) as well. You probably wouldn’t have great success in pairing a barley wine with a lemon sorbet, for instance, but a light-bodied brighter beer (like a tripel or a strong golden) would probably do just fine. So here I put rich, buttery (and rather crumbly) shortbread cookies alongside a malty, caramel-y beer for good effect.

Scotch ales can be medium through heavy in body depending on producer, and can range from somewhat sweet to fairly sweet, but they’re almost never cloying or thick like a barrel-aged stout or barley wine would be. Let’s call scotch ales everyday dessert beers, perhaps. There is an Italian (and European) tradition of having so-called digestive biscuits with a sweet wine, often as an after-dinner treat. This is a similar take.

Three Reasons This Pairing Works

  1. Butter + caramel. The warm buttery flavor of the shortbread goes fantastically with the caramel notes in the beer. Traditionally a result of a long boil (and thus achieving kettle caramelization), scotch ales can also be nutty, biscuit-like, and have other pastry-like flavors. Obviously then a buttery pairing makes sense.
  2. Textures. The slightly rich mouthfeel of a scotch ale (with all its dextrinous malty goodness) lingers on the palate and provides a good friend to the also long-lasting butter-cookie experience.
  3. Light and dark. A good shortbread is barely browned and tastes not just of butter but wheat flour, a mild and comforting flavor. Scotch ale provides an opposing brown flavor. The colors (light and dark) are results of recipe treatment and ingredient choices. Two sides of a coin, or a similar analogy.

Homemade shortbread cookies are rather satisfying if not difficult to photograph and eat without crumbs erupting in every direction, but if you know a good butter-cookie baker, by all means support them. Craft scotch ale producers abound–it’s a popular style. Try Oskar Blues Old Chub, Pike Brewing‘s┬áKilt Lifter, or Silver City Brewing‘s Fat Scotch Ale for starters!


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