May 1, 2010

FRAOCH HEATHER ALE Review

Filed under: NEWS — Matt @ 4:36 pm

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Well, here it is folks, the first review from the Brewhouse’s time in the UK. Cetainly not the first traditional ale that I tried, but cetainly one of the nicest and most interesting ones, which is why I have chosen to post it first. Available easily in Scotland (of course), and to varying degrees elsewhere in the UK, Faoch is distressingly COMPLETELY ABSENT from the shelves of bottle shops in Melbourne, Australia :-(

Anyway, read on for all the info….

Hailing from the Williams Bros. Brewery in Alloa, Scotland, just north of Stirling, this ale is a pale amber colour with a light yet naturally lively carbonation suited perfectly to the ancient combination of barley, sweet gale (also known as ‘bog myrtle’) and Scottish Heather flowers.

Yep, that’s it folks. Nothing more than that, except water and yeast of course, and YES!!!…….beer CAN be made WITHOUT hops!!¬† Actually, the use of hops as a spicing and bittering¬† ingredient is a relative late-comer to the world of beer brewing, with herbs such as sweet gale being used as the bittering and preservative agent instead.

This beer comes with a history, and a magnificently long one at that. It is believed that this type of ale is the oldest recipe beer still being brewed today, having been produced for near on 4000 years, putting it only second place to the truly ancient¬† beverage made from fermenting honey known as ‘Mead’, though the combination used by Williams Bros. is reputed to hail from the mid 16th century.

So, enough of the history lesson and onto the important bit……how does it taste?

Fraoch starts with a nice light malt aroma with a hint of herbal, floral woodland to tingle your nostrils that gets your brain ticking into overdrive to work out just what that ingredient may be - it is most certainly not hops in any way, shape, or form, as there’s no ‘traditional’ ale hoppiness to be found in this brew. The first sip will intrigue you, starting with a stronger sampling of that herbaceous spiciness that gently lilts up the back of your nostrils as you exhale. The second sip reinforces the intrigue, leading into a middling-full maltiness and a wonderful ever so slightly sweet and spicy fruit undertone with a light bitterness that only adds to the surprising complexity of character that tapers to a nice clean, somewhat dry aftertaste.

Considering Fraoch’s reputation as being brewed to such an ancient recipe, the ale has a far wider depth of flavour and complexity than I thought it would, with a moderate mouthfeel (for a Scottish ale) and a natural, lively carbonation that complements this beer style perfectly. Interestingly, Sweet Gale is rumoured to impart strong ‘thirst quenching’ attributes amongst it’s medicinal values in ancient herb-lore.

It’s a top beer for a freezing winters’ night by the fire, yet refreshing enough to down a few by the BBQ on a warm summer evening….even in the Australian summer heat, as long as it’s chilled a wee bit more than usual.

Label design is elegant old-world Celtic style that is very well executed. At 5% ABV, Fraoch isn’t overly strong, nor lacking in ‘grunt’, and comes packaged in 500ml dark glass bottles or two different cask sizes for traditional hand pumping or cask tapping in your favourite pub or at parties. Supposedly (according to the Williams Bros. website) you can order these casks for your party, but when I emailed them an inquiry regarding prices and delivery for a party at our Edinburgh flat I completely failed to receive a reply, even after sending a second email stating I would prefer to get a cask of Fraoch but would go to another more local brewery and buy one one of their cask ales if I didn’t get some sort of reply soon………….result?? I ordered and picked up a cask of Stewart Brewing Edinburgh Gold Real Ale instead, which proved to be a magnificent choice also.

I had the opportunity on a number of occasions at various pubs around Edinburgh to ’sample’ a pint or three of Fraoch from both pressure keg dispenser and traditional ‘Real Ale’ hand-pulled beer pump, and, I’m happy to say, Williams Bros. certainly have their brewing right in all aspects for Fraoch.

If you live in the UK, then you’ll have plenty of suppliers to buy from. If you live accross the other side of the world like I do, then good luck in finding it anywhere….and if you live in Melbourne and manage to find it on a shelf, then consider it your solemn duty to email me here and LET ME KNOW WHERE!!!

And if you can find two people who pronounce it the same, you’re better than I was!!!

Slainte, my friends **hoists a pint up for mates**


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