Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Fraoch Heather Ale

A good friend first told me about Fraoch Heather Ale about a year ago. My inner history nerd/beer lover couldn't resist giving it a try.  

First, the history nerd gets a word.

Scottish Brewing

The Scot's have over 5,000 years of brewing history under their belts, so in the interest of brevity I will try and keep this short.  

Early beer in Scotland, like the rest of the Celtic and Germanic world, utilized local ingredients. Herbs, fruits and grains that grew in the wild were the primary brewing agents. Heather is plentiful in Scotland and the use of heather in brewing can be traced back as far as 2,000 B.C.  

There is a great deal of legend that goes along with Scottish brewing. These stories include battle hardened warrior brewers being thrown from cliffs. You can read more about that here. I have no idea where the marketing hype begins and the legends end, so I will let you decide for yourself.

When Scotland officially became a part of Great Brittan with the 1706-1707 Acts of Union, rules were put in place that limited brewing to hops, malt and water. This benefited the British Lords who just so happened to grow and sell hops. It also had some positive effects on brewing.  It lead to a more consistent product free of "fillers". The acts also provided favorable tax breaks to Scottish brewers, which greatly aided the Scottish brewing industry.  

The negative effect of these new regulations were that they put a halt to the use of heather and other botanicals in Scottish brewing. Let's face it consistency can be kind of boring. There were, however, some Scottish brewers in the Highlands and Western Islands who continued to brew using the traditional methods. They were the home brewers of their day. Fortunately for us, they kept the recipes and traditions of ancient Scottish brewing alive.

Thanks to the modern revolution in home and craft brewing you can now purchase Heather Ale and other Historic Ales of Scotland at your local beer and wine specialty shops.  

The Beer 

Froach Heather Ale is 5% abv.  

The color is golden but cloudy, similar in appearance to a Saison (Farmhouse Ale). It has no head to speak of, even with a fairly vigorous pour.

It smells bright and sweet like orange blossom honey with a slight piny hint.

It has a light body and a crisp effervescence in the mouth. Again there are hints of a Saison style, but more perfumed and even a little soapy (My wife strongly disagrees with the adjective soapy, so I should note that I don't find this to be a particularly negative attribute.) The sweetness and floral flavors are there too.

The finish is very dry and short.


This beer is good, not great. I think I enjoyed the history of the beer more that the beer itself. It wasn't bad and is certainly worth a taste if you are interested in beer. As for budget, at $2.99 a bottle it isn't cheap, but then again you probably don't need more than one.  I'll give it a 6/6 value to quality rating.


  1. I tried the heather ale a few times over the years. First time at Monks in Philadelphia. My story is pretty much the same as yours. After reading about Scotish brewing and hearing of the heather ales I was intrigued. Although I enjoyed the beer I enjoyed the idea of it more. Definetly worth trying though. Ever had any seaweed ale? Check out Kelpie. Rock on.

  2. I have tried Kelpie, but it was just a taste from someone else's glass so I can't give it a real assessment. I have also tried the Scots Pine Ale and Gooseberry Wheat Ale, both of which I found superior to the Heather Ale. I will try and get my hands on those again and post a proper review in the future.

  3. hehe.. glad to see the heather ales gettin some props!:)
    yeah, some styles are better than others, but I think overall the whole line is good. And like you say, the historical aspect is really intriguing.