Who the hell is Steve Stewart? That’s exactly what we thought when we first caught wind of this new Scottish Ale, Harpoon Brewery’s 100 Barrel Series’ 22nd brew. According to Harpoon, back in 1998 a young Scottish brewer named Steve Stewart joined Harpoon’s brewery intern exchange program. He worked as an apprentice at Harpoon for a short time, and then took his newly gained knowledge back to Scotland to open up his own brewery. In April 2007, Harpoon staff visited Steve’s brewery in Edinburgh and invited him to return to Boston to brew a guest 100 Barrel Series. He did, and Firth of Forth was born. It’s a Scottish Ale named after the estuary, or firth, of Scotland’s River Forth, a fjord created by the Forth Glacier in the last glacial period of Britain.

What’s a Scottish Ale? A brew that traditionally goes hrough a long boil in the kettle, caramelizing the wort and creating a deep copper- to brown-colored brew and a higher level of unfermentable sugars for a rich mouthfeel and malty flavors and aromas. Overall hop character tends to be low, with light floral or herbal notes, allowing its signature malt profile to be the highlight. Smoky characters are also common. Historically, the Scottish Ales were broken down into Light, Heavy and Export. In 19th century Scotland, a nomenclature (based on the now obsolete shilling currency) was devised in order to distinguish each—60/- (light), 70/- (heavy), 80/- (export), 90/- to 160/- for Scotch Ales—still applied by some brewers today. Harpoon’s version is brewed with Scottish malts and American hops. Let’s give it a try.

The Taste

Pours a rich, dark amber-colored brew with deep ruby red hues and a slightly off-white creamy lacing. In the nose: a deep caramel note, some dark berry fruitiness, background of dusty malts, soft herbal and faint smoke. Surprisingly light in body, but incredibly smooth and creamy on the palate, which provides a bit more fullness. Watery toasty malt base, brown bread, subdued roasty flavors, notes of grape, hints of caramel, slight raisin-like tangy linger. Low hop character, with an herbal base throughout and a smack of lemony bitterness towards the end. Overall the beer is quite dry, with a bready, semi-husky grain finish.

Final Thoughts

Firth of Forth Ale is a decent stab at the style, but misses the mark. It’s a bit too dry, not malty enough and the use of American hops seems out of place. The beer needs a bit more Scotland punched into it! However, for what it is, it’s a fairly unobtrusive session ale at 5.4 percent alcohol that has just enough going on to keep things interesting. We’d love to see more brewers tackle this often overlooked style range.