Beer review: Big Sound Scotch Ale from Cigar City Brewing

As this 25 ounce bottle of excellence sat on the bar warming to the appropriate temperature, I asked to hear the story behind the bottle art, done by Matt Callahan, which features a picture of the famous New York club CBGB, a set of bagpipes decked out in faux punk patches, and riotously clever text that made me giggle out loud. As the legend goes, the brew's name and label theme are inspired by a pal of Joey's who was simultaneously a punk rocker and bagpipe player. Go figure. Apparently, he came up with the nomenclature before the product was even in production. Foresight and planning has never been so anti-establishment. Or drinkable. The commercial description reads --

Big Sound Scotch Ale is dedicated to our good buddy Gino, the most punk rock bagpiper you'll ever meet, and the rest of the men and women of Tampa Bay Pipes and Drums. Big Sound Scotch Ale pairs well with Haggis, Highland Games, Huge Heads and Enormous Pillows and of course Bagpipe music.

The cap popped off with the ceremonious vigor of perfect carbonation; it was the signal that a celebration was about to begin. As it was poured from the bottle into a miniature chalice, the deep ruby red brew gave rise to head that was tan and creamy like cappuccino froth. As I gazed at the remarkable color, Wayne said, "It's darker than a normal Scotch Ale; that just allows me to put more flavor in there." I can dig it.

If you look up Strong Scotch Ale in beer judging style guidelines, one of the major defining factors is profound malt presence. Big Sound delivers, with 11 different malts going into the mash tun, each one asserting character in its own way, leaving a part of its essence behind for us to enjoy. In terms of flavor, the malt comes through as a really well blended assortment of dark fruits with a very slight molasses sweetness that is cleaned up by a sublimely roasty, toasty finish. The 8.5% ABV is more detectable in the nose than on the palate. In addition to a slew of malt, the brew's recipe also utilizes English hops, but they have been grown in the Northwest United States. Cigar City's sleeves bursting with tricks, and I want to drink them all.

I asked Wayne to weave the tale of his vision for Big Sound while we sniffed, swirled, and savored our glasses of Scotch Ale. Around 1998, while at Buckhead Brewing, he did a mountain of research on Scotch Ale, and devised a killer recipe based on the information dig's findings. The complexity of this formula led to accusations of writing beer recipes like a homebrewer instead of a commercial brewer. To which he replied, what's the difference? Amen, brother. That recipe went on to win gold at the Great American Beer Fest and second in the world at the World Beer Cup in 2000. Cigar City's Big Sound Scotch Ale is essentially the same recipe as this award winning brew, only with smoked malt removed from the grain bill.

Like the entire CCB product line, Big Sound is super über multidimensional. So cheers to Joey, Wayne, and all the other folks who have helped the new hometown brewery crank out knee-weakening beer.

Coming up next in the limited/special release lineup is 110K + OT. Say it just like it reads -- one ten K plus O.T. The brewery describes the project as a brash, braggadocios line of beers that are unapologetically over the top. The commercial description makes me laugh hysterically. It's very sassy, reminiscent of Stone Brewing's approach to promoting Arrogant Bastard Ale, wherein they simply declare, You're Not Worthy.


1101K+OT is not for college pukes, white collar sissy boys or mamby-pamby Nancy boys who haven't done an honest days work in their lives. Nor is this beer for the common man. This beer is for the working man who has arrived. If your work boots are steel toed, come back when they are gold toed!

110K+OT is reserved for the hard working man with a taste for the finer things in life and the curiously structured salary that allows him to obtain them. In fact if you are reading this you probably attended college and should just put this beer back on the shelf for a real man to buy.

110K+OT varies from year to year, but will always be a brash style-bending brew that pairs well with sweat, clenched knuckles and over the top bravado.

110K+OT Batch #1 Der Rauch Gott is a corked and caged 750ml.

All smart-assery aside, this 11.5% daddy beer sports 90 IBUs (International Bitterness Units), has been dry hopped with Mt Rainier hops, which add licorice notes and bitterness to the finish, and has been lightly cedared to catapult the brew to the next level of enormousness. Bottles of 110K + OT Batch #1 hit the shelves next week, so prepare for the intensity. According to Wayne, "It's menacingly black, more intimidating than Darth Vader." I say bring it.

Big Sound Scotch Ale, the latest seasonal release from Cigar City Brewing, can be purchased in 25 ounce bottles at Whole Foods, Leukens, Kingdom Liquors, World of Beer Clearwater, and several Total Wine locations. But get it soon; bottles are going fast, and once they're gone, there'll be no more until next year.

Luckily enough, I was able to persuade Wayne Wambles, the head brewer and man with the beer plan, to score a bottle that we could split. So we sat down at the Oldsmar Tap House and proceeded to geek the hell out on a really great beer.

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