Tartan Ale – Alexander Keith’s

Time to kick the hornet’s nest:  The last time I got a bottle of special-release Keith’s beer (their Harvest Ale), I got my wrists slapped and stired some controversy, in my support of it.  You see, I’m not a huge fan of Labatt and what they’ve done to themselves (compare the number of Stella cases to Blue cases you see in the grab-n-go at the Beer Store.  Stand up for yourselves!).  And I don’t generally drink Keith’s, and have a significant problem with them identifying their flagship brand as an IPA.  But as I mentioned in the Harvest Ale post, I know a lot of people for whom Keith’s was a stepping stone out of the macro lager world and into the craftbeer universe.  Now, AB-InBev, and by proxy Labatt, and therefore Keith’s as well, are really starting to get concerned about craftbeer.  So the obvious thing to do, is buy or start a brand (in this case, Keith’s, which already has the benfit of being viewed as “High-end” by most of the macro-drinking population) and produce beers that are simultaneously better than the flagship brews, and yet not so compicated it’s undrinkable to folks who are used to beers made mainly out of corn or rice.  In this end, Keith’s has started their “Brewmaster’s Limited Release” series.  The good news is, the beer (so far), has actually been pretty good quality.  Still pretty simple forms of their style, but much more interesting than, say, a Canadian.  The really good news, is they are giving unintentional (I assume) support to craftbrewers.  If a Bud drinker is curious enough to try a Keith’s Harvest, it isn’t out of the question to think they might, having not been disapointed or gone blind, then be willing to try another beer labelled “Harvest Ale”, say Muskoka’s excellent offering.  Or they might find their Bud just doen’t taste as nice, compared to the new style, so they continue seeking out other more flavourful beers.  So I’m all for these developments.

All this condered, I was very happy and excited when I was notified that I would be getting another bottle from the Keith’s line.  This one arrived in a bubble-wrap filled manilla envelope, which was actually more difficult to get into than the wooden box and lock in the last Keith’s review.  It’s a Scotch ale, a style I don’t drink a lot of, but generally enjoy when I do.  A heavy sweet malty beer with next to no hops and higher alcohol, these beers are great for the winter.

Tartan Ale - Alexander Keith's

Tartan Ale - Alexander Keith's

From a 341ml brown bottle with some undesipherable date stamp on the front label, the beer pours a clear copper brown with a about 1″ of head that dropped to nothing pretty quickly.  Aroma is quite malty and sweet, caramel and a hint even of yeast.  There is a touch of booze that is a little astringent, and a hint of woodiness.  Taste is also fairly malty, more grains and bread than caramel on the tongue.  Strangely, there is still a noticeable hop.  Like, more hop than I got the last time I drank a Keith’s IPA.  Not particularly aromatic, but definitely a clean dry hop on the finish, along with some alcohol warmth (the beer is 6.1%).  The brew is on the medium side of light bodied, significantly fuller bodied than your average macro lager, but definitely on the light side for a Scotch ale.  Some fruitiness is coming out as the beer warms a bit, and the alcohol is becoming more noticable.  For a Scotch ale, it’s remarkably easy drinking, though it’s certianly no lawn-mower beer.  More warming then I would want in warmer months, I would happily take one of these if I found myself in a pub serving only Labatt products.  Is it stylistically a text-book Scotch Ale?  Definitely not, but it is a nice beer, and possibly my favourite of the Keith’s line.  If this was available on tap all winter, and their white was available all summer, I would never fear finding myself in an X and the Firkin again.

Keep up the intersting beers, Keith’s.  Thanks for encouraging people to explore.  Cheers!