Beerism goes… Simple? A “Simple Malt” Scotch Ale Comparison

Les Brasseurs Illimites – a brewery out of St. Eustasche, Quebec – have a line of beer called “Simple Malt.” I have always praised their offerings because of their diversity, quality, and generally reasonable prices. Almost everything that I have tasted from them, I have enjoyed with few exceptions.  They are one of the only Quebec based breweries that make a solid IPA, and they actually make an American and English version which are produced all year round. Most Quebec breweries pull from the Belgian brewing style – which I am not complaining about – but it’s nice to have diversity. Les Brasseurs Illimites don’t produce anything Belgian, but rather concentrate on American, English, Scottish, and German influences.

Les Brasseurs Illimites are now one of the very few Quebec microbreweries that have beer available for sale at the SAQ. For those that are not from Quebec, the SAQ is basically our government run liqueur commission – which has a very limited, and in my opinion, a rather embarrassing beer selection, local and international.  In Quebec, things always tend to be complicated. Apparently it is not legal to sell a particular beer at corner stores AND and also sell the same beer at the SAQ, so Les Brasseurs Illimites were forced to create a slightly different version of two of their beers in order to get them on the SAQ shelves.  One is a Scotch Ale, and one and American Cascade IPA/APA.  So this basically means that you can now get slightly different versions of two of there offerings – but again you will never see them side by side on a shelf because that would be wrong, just wrong.

I ended up picking up both versions of their Scotch ale and decided to compare them to see the differences and also see if I preferred one over the other, which it turns out I do. For those not familiar with “Scotch Ale,” I’ll provide a bit of background. Well, to start, It originates in Scotland – big surprise. It has nothing to do with Scotch Whiskey,  although some have a certain smokiness to them, and are brewed using smoked malt, similar to how certain scotches are produced. These slightly smokey Scotch ales are often called “Whiskey Ales.”  Scotch ales are also not to be confused with “Scottish Ales,” which resemble a maltier English pale ale, and have a low to average alcohol level, with paler color. Scotch ales (also known as a Wee Heavy – who knows why) are generally very high in alcohol; anywhere from 6-11%+. They are very dark in color, and quite sweet, which is from malt carmalization during the boiling process. They also have little to no hop presence and age quite well.

On to the drinking! I’ll start with the the SAQ version as it’s not quite as big of a beer.  They lowered the alcohol content to 6.8% from 8.2% – I found this odd that the liqueur store version has a lower ABV, but whatever. It pours out a dark, chestnut brown color with a lot of red highlights. The body doesn’t look too thick, as I can see light passing through it pretty easily.  There is a small head that rests on top, but eventually dissipates. On the aroma from I’m getting nice warm smells of burnt caramel sugars mixed with what appears to be a smokey peat aromas.  I’m also smelling some zestyness lingering in the background. It doesn’t taste nearly as sweet as the nose would tell you, and although is it quite fruity, there is a certain dryness here. The smoked malt is quite apparent, but not overwhelming, which can be hard to balance properly. Whatever sweetness is there is cut by the peaty smoke taste followed by a bitter and slightly zesty sour end. This is quite nice, not particularly rich – one could have several of these.

On to the second. This non-SAQ Scotch Ale pours out a deep brown color with a massive head. This thing’s got a lot of carbonation going on, I’m pretty sure it’s bottle fermented. The foam piled up about five fingers high from a pretty gentle pour. The aroma at first is yeast centric, with a lot of funky earthiness right off the bat; almost tangy as well. At first it’s hard to get past the giant foamy head, but as it dissipates to a more reasonable level,  hints of caramel,  chocolate, and general dark roasted aromas start to escape and make it’s way into my nose. It’s a little bit fruity and spicy as well – this is actually starting to really come together. For the taste I’m getting lots of Chocolate, caramel, and funky sour earthiness from the yeast explosion –  Quite loving this. It’s rich and robust, and well balanced. Lots of toasted grains, with an almost pumpernickel bread character to it.  It is sweet, but not too much so.

I am very much enjoying this, however I’m thinking purists might have an issue with the hyper-carbonation. In my experience, this style is generally far less “bubbly,” and the yeast character is usually much less predominant.  That being said, I’m not someone who cares whether the style is mimicked 100%, as long as I’m not tricked into buying something I didn’t select. I have come to love bottle fermented beer with big frothy  heads, so for me, this was a great combo. Because it was so effervescent, it lightened what is normally a heavy body, adding an interesting refreshing effect. I recently tried a couple of different kinds of sparkling shiraz, which is  basically rich red wine that is carbonated. I felt a similarity here in the balance of bold body and rich flavor with a sparkling effervescent carbonation – making it quite drinkable.

Overall both were great offerings from Les Brasseurs Illimite’s “simple malt,” but the winner for me here was certainly their original scotch ale, which found at lots of depaneurs around the province of Quebec, but not at the SAQ, because that would be illegal and just plain wrong.

A Review by Noah Forrest