Caramel and Copper: these two words encapsulate most of what I have to say about Laughing Lab Scottish Ale by Bristol Brewing. Very malty, it delivers a coppery tang which lingers for quite a while. Like other Scottish Ales, it has a warming effect, but it's not very pronounced. The complexity of the flavor increases over time while drinking; I'm not totally sure if this is because the beer is warming up and de-carbonating, reducing the acidity and letting other flavors come through, or because the alcohol is warping my mind...probably the former, as this is a quite mild Scottish at 5% alcohol. And while I'd love to knock back a dozen pints of each beer I review here just to hone in on the flavor, I do kind of need my liver, so I tend not to go that route (it's a hard knocks life, I know).
The hop aspect is well-managed for a Scottish Ale, because it actually achieves decent balance and imparts a little bitterness. There are no specific hop elements that are apparent (as citrus and pine are in an IPA, for instance), at least to me, but the fact that I don't get the syrupy, overwhelming malt sweetness overload that I've experienced with other Scottish Ales—the kind that no amount of hops will ever be able to truly balance--says to me that they're doing this part right.
Because it's balanced, Laughing Lab is in that liminal space where it's not an all-afternoon session beer and it's not the robust warmer that some other Scottish Ales (Oskar Blues' Old Chub, anyone?) easily qualify as. But while it may not fit squarely in one beer niche, it could fit many without much of a stretch. I think this is Bristol's general strategy—not to go to go so overboard as to appeal only to the extreme hop-head or malt junkie. I respect the balanced approach, and I think it'll pay off as the trend of super-intense beers as a rebellious answer to the insipid Coors and Bud products of the world cools down. You know, when there's a micro brewery on every block 5 years from now with a decent range of styles available.
Overall I'd say Bristol has a good product here—apparently Laughing Lab has been winning medals since they opened in 1994—and it's probably better than my prejudiced, not-a-big-fan-of-Scottish-Ale self is able to comprehend it.
For reviews of other beers by Bristol Brewing, see: