View Larger MapWe're in Wisconsin. Deutschland Westen. Lagers are the undisputed kings of the land. So, how is it that 30 miles west of Madison we find one of the best Scotch Ales in the world?
Named, ironically, for a lake that isn't a lake just south of a river near a relatively unforgettable population sign (pop: 726) on the way to Spring Green is Lake Louie Brewing Company. While Lake Louie's beginnings have been well documented, it is still a bit of a mystery as to how Tommy Porter picked a scotch ale to hang his hat on.
The mystery is particularly befuddling because the Scotch Ale style is practically unheard of in the United States. Few breweries attempt it probably because it is a difficult style to brew well. The long boil times make for a small margin of error between malty, appropriately caramelized, and overly sweet. The long fermentation times make for a small margin of error in yeast quality and temperature control. The low hop rate provides little cover for poor quality. Overly peat-like and the beer could end up tasting like liquid dirt.
It is a specialized style that does not generally appeal to the macro-lager, orange-peel beer chugging neophyte. It has a softly sweet, but dry singularly malt flavor. Any hops are usually late-addition hops that provide a subtle brightness to the aroma, but contribute little to the flavor. While some smokiness may be prevalent and roasted unmalted barley can provide some dry grainy earthiness, there is very little get in the way of the base malts. In other words, the style is all about subtlety; it would be nearly impossible to create an "Imperial Scotch Ale" (even Three Floyd's Robert the Bruce is restrained).
Thus, it takes great skill to brew a fine scotch ale. And Lake Louie's "Louie's Reserve" is one of the best. It is also priced like it is one of the best. Purchased at Star Liquor, it cost $11.99 (apologies to Star, I had originally posted that this was $14.99) for a six pack. Even at such a rather steep price, I will go back for more. This is also a beer that should age extraordinarily well; and this year's vintage may be a classic.
In terms of glassware, the style is pretty flexible. A snifter will bring out any hop aromas best, and is particularly well suited for this beer as it warms up. A standard pint glass will keep the aroma and flavors well-contained. But I chose a newly acquired Becher Pint; in theory, this glass will show off the coloring and keep the aromas and flavors contained for maximum punch while drinking. This theory was supported immediately upon pouring. This is, in all honesty, one of the prettiest beers I've ever seen. Only Ename's Abbey Tripel would give it a run for its money. A creamy, bubbly, one finger head sits on top of a crystal clear, saddle brown ale. A faint caramel scent comes through the bread-like maltiness; a back-bone of roasted malt gives way to chilled musty earthiness. The creamy flavor is complex yet restrained, a subtle smokiness belies the sweet instense maltiness. The long finish is balanced by equal parts alcohol and peat and earthy, grassy brightness. The body is thick but not heavy; it pleasantly coats the mouth, but is not syrupy. Perfect for the late-fall crispness that necessitates turning on the fireplace (no one seems to have real wood in their fireplaces these days). While Capital's Autumnal Fire and Winter Skal are similar lager versions, the ale smoothness of Lake Louie's "Louie's Reserve" provides a nice creaminess to compliment its rich earthy maltiness.