Beer has been brewed in Scotland long before hops were used to act as the bittering agent in beer. As beer is principally derived from boiling malted grains in water, it is inherently sweet due to the sugars released by those grains. To balance the beverage, a bitter flavor counterpoint is needed to offset this sweetness. Today, that's done almost exclusively with hops, but until fairly recently in the grand history of beer, beer's natural sweetness was offset by many other ingredients from roots to flowers to bark to fruit. But the first documented use of hops in brewing dates back to 1079, and they weren't widely introduced to UK beers until the early 1500s. And since beer has been brewed for thousands of years B.C., and because groups of people were rather isolated from one another, that meant cultural and agricultural influences played a huge part in creating many regional differences in beer. Many of the indigenous beers of Scotland, with their unusual, pre-hop ingredients, showcased varied flavors—but largely slipped away into obscurity ages ago. But one man had a plan to reclaim these ancient beers from the deep vaults of time.
Bruce Williams, a brewer and homebrew shop owner in Scotland, began in 1986 to make batches of a unique "Heather Ale" using an astonishingly old recipe. Don't ask us how, but in 1986 Bruce uncovered an ancient recipe for "leann fraoich" (Gaelic for heather ale). Heather of course 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 (traces of a fermented beverage made with heather flowers have been found dating back to 2,000 B.C.!). Since brewing his now famous Heather Ale, Bruce has triumphantly resurrected additional traditional Scottish beer styles through a partnership with Heather Ale, Ltd., a company dedicated to the resurrection and preservation of authentic Scottish beers. Included in their intriguing and tasty line up are revived concoctions similar to those which once passed the lips of Welsh Druids, Vikings and Celtic tribesmen. Each contains unconventional ingredients—anything from bog myrtle, meadowsweet & Scottish gooseberries (all used to create this month's featured ale, "Grozet Gooseberry & Wheat Ale"), meadowsweet, 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 another of their ancient ales of distinction.
For more information about Williams Bros Brewing Company or their sister company, Heather Ale, Ltd., including their many interesting & historic libations, check out their web sites at http://www.williamsbrosbrew.com & http://www.heatherale.co.uk/