On the basis of experience, research and speaking with actual Scottish brewers, I’ve long maintained that the notion of Scots using peated malt in their ales was mostly rubbish. Hence, the idea that Scotch ales should necessarily have a peaty note to them is similarly misguided.
Thing is, it never occurred to me that cartography might be the ultimate supporter of this argument. Or at least, it didn’t until I logged on to Ron Pattinson’s site this morning and discovered a trio of very useful maps.
You’ll have to click over to Shut Up About Barclay Perkins to see the evidence for yourself, but the essence is that Ron mapped both peat and coal deposits in Scotland and overlaid each with a map showing Scottish breweries in 1837. And guess what? The coal fields line up with the breweries, but the concentrations of peat do not.
(Where peat is prevalent, one tends to find whisky distilleries. No surprise there.)
So why do so many brewers labour under the impression that peated malt is necessary for crafting a true Scotch ale? My guess is the pioneering efforts of the late and much missed Greg Noonan, who used peated malt in his Scotch ale at the Vermont Pub and Brewery, even though, in his Classic Beer Style Series book Scotch Ale, he specifically states that there is little historic evidence to support its use.
So there you have it. Use all the peated malt you want in your Scotch ales, but attribute it to a northern Vermont brewer rather than generations of Scots.