Thursday, 18 July 2013

Beer Review: Fraoch Heather Ale

This is not the first time of tasting this ale. I first had it a few months back but couldn't get round to actually reviewing it because I was busy in the vortex of marking hell. You may have also noticed the appearance of older reviews working backwards. I must have mixed up some of the scheduling settings. Anyway, they're getting published now with the right dates, just not on the right dates.

Tonight, then, I am drinking Heather Ale and it claims to be Scotland's oldest still-brewed ale. As a sucker for that kind of thing and interesting write-ups on the labels on beer bottles I will of course allow myself to be sucked in by that.

Would you like to know more?

There isn't much action when you open it but there was a rapid appearance of a head in the bottle. When I carefully poured it into a glass there was a very frothy head that was created and a woody smell that put me in mind of the heather we grew in the garden back when I was a teenager. I suppose that's why it is called what it is. Anyway, the head did not last as long as something as frothy and thick as that would have suggested and I got a clear stab at the liquid beneath. A golden wooden colour, putting me in mind of the parquet flooring in Tsarskoe Selo, and still that heather-like aroma. 5% ABV, and it knows it, and a taste that verges on being fiery without ever actually being so. It has a spice to it, like it wants to be strong, but then this hoppy fire is overcome by the subtle tones of malt that bring the whole thing back down. It's not so much a roller-coaster ride but it may have comparisons made to a trip over a particularly undulating back road.

It is an overall dry beer that is a bit... bready. Okay, that's not a terribly helpful description, it reminds me of the feeling in my mouth after I've eaten some nice toasted ciabatta with an oil dressing but without the hints of olive about my tongue. These are, instead, replaced by something warmer and fuzzier. On sipping one is assailed by the points of the bubbles on the tongue, carrying hints of hops, and then smooth honey-like texture of the malt and then a pleasant warming sensation as it goes down your throat. The aftertaste is not a bad thing and lingers longer than the head did. The bottle claims that this is the oldest ale still brewed anywhere in the world, being four thousand years old, and that the current recipe dates back to the 1500s - challenging Shepherd Neame for age. There is a fruity hint to each mouthful as well. The label helpfully informs me that there is a peaty aroma, a full-bloodied fruity hops taste and then a full malt body and a dry white wine finish. That would seem to be rather correct given my own feelings on the matter. I prefer my ciabatta middle-class stylings to the dry white bourgeois gubbins.

Drink pretty much whenever you like but in conifer woodland above vast lochs. This is Scottish ale that calls to mind my own trips there flitting between Ben Nevis and Inverness along the Loch Ness road. All jagged and rugged glacial valleys with steep sides, heather above the treeline and strange noises in the dark. Drink alone or with close companions in a private setting open to nature as much as possible, this is not a party ale but the kind of brooding presence one associates more with Lord Byron and early versions of Dracula - like the Historian isn't but apes well - and so needs to be brooded over for full effect.

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