wee heavy beer in the highlands

Wee Heavy Beer: A Complete Guide to the Scottish Beauty

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A wee heavy is not what you may think it is. It’s not the relief you feel after a long car ride and a big gulp. A wee heavy beer is an incredibly strong Scottish ale, perfect for getting plastered and watching Hamilton for the 50th time (this might be what I’m doing). If you’re willing to learn about the wee heavy, join us for a dumping of information. Just imagine I’m your Scottish pal Ian at your local pub, talking your ear off. 

What Kind of Beer is a Wee Heavy? 

A Wee Heavy is a style of Ale that originates from Scotland and is often referred to as Scottish Ale. Characterised by its rich and malty profile, a Wee Heavy boasts deep caramel flavours, sometimes with hints of dark fruit. It typically exhibits a higher alcohol content, ranging from 6.5% to 10% ABV. 

Man in a kilt drinking a wee heavy beer
Wee Heavy Beer and Spotted Dick, Anyone?

The name “Wee Heavy” suggests a small but potent brew, with “wee” denoting its Scottish roots and “heavy” indicating its robust nature. This type of beer is brewed using a long boil in the kettle, intensifying the malt flavours and contributing to its distinctive sweetness. 

I recommend enjoying a Wee Heavy during the colder months as it serves as a warming beverage. They also pair excellently with hearty dishes or decadent desserts. Go for the spotted dick (oh, grow up). 

The style is renowned for its smoothness and complexity, making it a favourite among those who appreciate beers that offer depth and a strong malt presence.

Why is it Called a Wee Heavy? 

“Wee Heavy” originates from the Scottish tradition of categorising beers by their strength and price. In Scotland, beers were historically named based on the shilling price per barrel, corresponding to their alcohol content. 

For example, Light (60/-), Heavy (70/-), Export (80/-), and Wee Heavy (90/- or sometimes higher) were standard designations, With the “/” symbol denoting shillings. The “Wee Heavy” represented a stronger and more expensive variety, typically the richest and fullest of the traditional Scottish ales.

The “Wee” part of “Wee Heavy” is a bit of a playful contradiction, as it is the Scots dialect for “small” or “little,” while “Heavy” indicates the beer’s substantial body and alcohol content. 

Therefore, “Wee Heavy” suggests a potent and valuable beer offering a rich, deep flavour profile. This terminology reflects the beer’s Scottish heritage and the historical pricing system, with “Wee Heavy” now being recognised internationally as a distinct style of rich, malty ale with origins in Scotland.

What does Wee Heavy Taste Like? 

Well, according to G-Lo, not to be confused with J-Lo, wee heavies are a smoky, malty delight. I agree! Here’s what you can typically expect from the taste profile of a Wee Heavy.

Wee Heavy Beer - a small glass of Scottish ale on a bar.
The Majesty of the Wee Heavy Beer

1. Malt-Forward: The most prominent characteristic of a Wee Heavy is its strong malt profile. This gives the beer a foundation of deep, rich caramel flavours, often with a sweetness that can evoke notes of toffee or molasses.

2. Complexity: Many Wee Heavies exhibit secondary flavours beyond the malt. These can include hints of dark fruits like raisins, dates, and figs, adding depth and richness to the taste.

3. Peaty or Smoky Notes: Some Wee Heavies may have a subtle peatiness or smokiness, though this is not universal. When present, it harks back to the traditional Scottish brewing practices and adds a unique dimension to the beer’s profile.

4. Warmth from Alcohol: Given their higher alcohol content, typically ranging from 6.5% to 10%, Wee Heavies often carry a noticeable warmth. This alcohol presence is usually well-integrated into the flavour profile, contributing to the beer’s overall richness without overwhelming the palate.

5. Low Hoppiness: Hops are generally downplayed in Wee Heavies, with the bitterness kept low to allow the malt and other flavours to shine. Any hop presence usually provides balance rather than a distinct taste.

6. Full Body and Smoothness: A Wee Heavy is characteristically full-bodied, smooth and sometimes creamy. This makes it particularly satisfying, especially in colder weather, as mentioned, or as a contemplative sipper.

7. Sweet Finish: The finish on a Wee Heavy tends towards the sweet side, with the malt’s richness lingering on the palate. Some versions may also exhibit a slight earthiness or mineral quality in the finish.

Each Wee Heavy can vary depending on the brewery’s style interpretation. Still, these characteristics offer a general guide to what one might expect. Its depth and richness make it a favoured choice for those looking to savour a beer with complexity and tradition.

5 Wee Heavy Beers that we love

So, fancy a go on the ol’ wee heavy? Here are five wee heavy beers that we absolutely love!

  1. Traquair House Ale (7.2%)- Brewed by Traquair House Brewery in Scotland, this Wee Heavy is known for its rich history and deep, complex flavours. It’s a classic example, offering a beautifully balanced profile of malt sweetness, dark fruit notes, and a touch of earthiness.
  2. Founders Backwoods Bastard (11.2%) – From Founders Brewing Co. in the United States, this beer takes the Wee Heavy style to another level by ageing it in bourbon barrels. The result is a beer with added layers of vanilla, oak, and bourbon to the traditional rich maltiness, making it a sought-after variant for those who enjoy barrel-aged beers.
  3. Belhaven Wee Heavy (6.5%) – A product of Belhaven Brewery, one of Scotland’s oldest and most respected breweries, this Wee Heavy is noted for its smooth malt flavours, hints of peat smoke, and a warming finish. It’s a quintessential Scottish ale that balances tradition with accessibility.
  4. McEwan’s Scotch Ale (8%) – Known for its rich and robust character, McEwan’s Scotch Ale is a classic Wee Heavy that offers a full-bodied experience with notes of caramel, toasted malt, and subtle fruitiness. Its deep amber hue and satisfying complexity have made it a favorite among fans of the style.
  5. Old Chub (8%) – Brewed by Oskar Blues Brewery in the United States, Old Chub is a modern take on the Wee Heavy style. It offers a bold malt profile with notes of chocolate, coffee, and a hint of smoke. Despite its American origins, Old Chub pays homage to the Scottish tradition with its rich flavours and hearty character.

These beers represent a range of interpretations of the Wee Heavy style, from traditional Scottish brews to innovative American adaptations.

What is the difference between wee heavy and Scotch Ale?

The terms “Wee Heavy” and “Scotch Ale” are often used interchangeably to describe the same beer style.

However, the distinction, if any, comes down to tradition, naming conventions, and sometimes the specific characteristics brewers aim to highlight in their beers.

Historically, Scottish ales were categorised by their strength and price, using a shilling currency system (e.g., 60/-, 70/-, 80/-, etc.), with the stronger and more expensive beers being designated as “Wee Heavy” or “90/-” and above. This categorisation points to both “Wee Heavy” and “Scotch Ale”, referring to the upper end of the strength spectrum in Scottish brewing tradition.


  • Wee Heavy and Scotch Ale are characterised by their strong malt focus, presenting flavours like caramel, toffee, dark fruits, and occasionally a peaty or smoky note. 
  • They are low in hop bitterness, which allows the malt and other complex flavours to take centre stage. 
  • The alcohol content is typically high, ranging from around 6.5% to over 10% ABV.


  • The term “Wee Heavy” is traditionally Scottish and tends to be used more specifically to refer to the strongest of the Scottish ales. “Scotch Ale,” on the other hand, is a term more commonly used internationally (outside of Scotland) to describe strong, malty ales of Scottish origin or inspiration. 
  • Some might argue that “Scotch Ale” could encompass a broader range of Scottish-style ales, including those not quite as strong as a Wee Heavy. Still, this distinction is not strictly adhered to.

In contemporary craft brewing, the differentiation between the two has become increasingly blurred, with the choice of naming often coming down to the brewer’s preference or marketing considerations. 

Regardless of the name, both aim to capture the essence of traditional Scottish brewing, offering a rich, warming, and malt-forward experience.


Too long didn’t read? You lazy b*stard. A Wee Heavy, also known as Scotch Ale, is a rich, malt-forward beer from Scotland. It is celebrated for its deep caramel and dark fruit flavours, with an alcohol content between 6.5% and 10% ABV. Wee Heavies are known for their complexity, smoothness, and sweet finish. While “Wee Heavy” and “Scotch Ale” are often used interchangeably, “Wee Heavy” tends to denote the strongest ales in the Scottish tradition, embodying a rich, warming experience with minimal hop bitterness and a focus on malt. 


What is the difference between a bitter and a wee heavy? 

A Bitter is an English-style ale known for its balanced malt and hop bitterness, often lower in alcohol (3-6% ABV) and typically light to medium-bodied. 

What is the strongest beer in Scotland?

The strongest beer in Scotland as of 2024 is the “Scottish Beithir Fire“, boasting an ABV of 75%. This beer is created by blending a high-ABV Scottish-style barley ale with the purest Scottish spirit, resulting in a remarkably potent brew. This makes it the world’s strongest beer, surpassing previous records by BrewDog’s “The End of History“. 

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