Welcome back to Sip Northwest’s Beer Hall of Fame: a twice-monthly induction into a list of essential Northwest beers that have made their mark on the field and region.
One of the founding parents in the Emerald City craft beer lineage, Pike Brewing, founded in 1989, first released its famous Kilt Lifter Scotch ale in 1997. The malty, peaty, red beer has gone on to occupy bar and pub taps throughout the Seattle area for decades.
“Back then, I think people actually thought there was some kind of Scotch or whisky involved in the beer,” says Art Dixon, Pike’s head brewer. “But times have changed – though our recipe really hasn’t at all.”
For the uninformed, the name “Scotch ale” points to the roots or history of the beer style, not an ingredient. While Scotch ales can be aged in Scotch whisky barrels, the name is derived from ales made in Scotland, where beers weren’t made or finished with a great deal of hops — or sharp bitterness. Rather, the beers were made malty, or sweet, and often brewed in a way that came out red.
For Pike, the Kilt Lifter has been a top seller for years. “I’d have to say it’s at least 20-25 percent of our production,” Dixon says. “We probably sell about 60-percent of that for draft and the rest is bottles.”
Dixon says that the drinkers of Pike’s Scotch are tried-and-true — they love the stuff. “Sales don’t fluctuate all that much,” he adds. “true fans wind up drinking it and stick to it. There are a lot of people who’ve loved it all these years.”
And why they come back has everything to do with the beer’s unique flavor, especially in a region known for prickly IPAs. “It’s a ruby red that is, to me, malty with sweet undertones to it and a slight hint of peated malt and caramel malt to balance it all out,” Dixon describes. “It has a very low bitterness. It’s actually a well-balanced beer I haven’t had to chance the recipe on it. It’s worth a lot to our customers and I don’t want to screw up a good thing.”