Many of the indigenous beers of Scotland, with their unusual ingredients and varied flavors, slipped away into extinction ages ago. But with a multitude of very interesting styles, reflective of the various cultural and agricultural influences present in the region over the centuries, the area has a rich past of fine ales and lagers that was destined to reappear. Paramount in reclaiming these ancient beers from the deep vaults of time is Bruce Williams, a brewer and homebrew shop owner in Scotland. In 1986, Bruce began making batches of a unique Heather Ale using an astonishingly old recipe.
Heather is the flower responsible for the purple hues in the mountains of Scotland. It was used to make beer long before the first hops were ever added to ancient brewing vessels. Beer made with heather is among the oldest beer styles produced in the world. Brewed in Scotland since 325 B.C. by the Picts, a Celtic tribal race who defended their land from Roman, Saxon, Briton and Viking invasions, the history of heather in alcoholic libations goes back much further than even this ancient date. Traces of a fermented beverage made with heather flowers have been found by archaeologists dating back to 2,000 B.C.! However, it was the Picts who made this ale legendary—guarding the secret recipe, quite literally, with their very lives. In a famous legend of the Scots’ invasion of Pictish land, the local population was decimated. The final two survivors were a Pictish Chief and his son, the last individuals known to hold the secrets of the Heather Ale. The two were tortured and the chief offered the invading King of the Scots the secret recipe of the Heather Ale if their captors would agree to kill his son quickly. After the boy's body was hurled from a cliff side, the Pictish chief faced the King and said “But now in vain is the torture, fire shall never avail, here dies in my bosom the secret of the heather ale.” He then threw himself at the King, taking him down as they both fell to their deaths from the cliff.
Now don’t ask us how, but in 1986 Bruce Williams uncovered an ancient recipe for “leann fraoich” (Gaelic for heather ale). Since then he has triumphantly resurrected this and other styles which are currently enjoying widespread acclaim through a partnership with Heather Ale, Ltd., a company dedicated to the resurrection and preservation of authentic Scottish beers. Included in their current line up are revived concoctions that once passed the lips of Welsh Druids, Vikings and Celtic tribesmen. Each contains unconventional ingredients—anything from bog myrtle, meadowsweet, Scottish gooseberries, Scots pine, spruce shoots, elderberries, bladderwrack seaweed and of course, the famed heather. This month, we are proud to offer you an authentic taste of Scotland’s tasty malted heritage by bringing you an ancient ale of distinction—Kelpie—a seaweed ale that is as surprisingly delicious as it is famous.
For more information about Heather Ale, Ltd. and their many interesting, historic libations, check out their web site at http://www.heatherale.co.uk/