Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

25 June, 2015

Several Species of Small Flowery Botanicals Gathered Together in a Vat and Brewing with a Pict: Fraoch Heather Ale by Williams Bros. Brewing



After drinking my trifecta of gruits I figured that was it. Where else was I to get a gruit in these parts? Well, a trip to my local purveyor of adult beverages induced anamnesis. Fraoch Heather Ale from Scotland's Williams Bros. Brewing Company must surely qualify as a gruit. It's not uncommon in Madison stores and I'd had it before. How could I have forgotten?

Williams Bros. likes to portray themselves as the keeper of an ancient Gaelic beer recipe and, while it makes for good copy, I'm a bit skeptical that Fraoch tastes much like the heather ales that Picts drank while groovin' in a cave back in the day. Still, I give them credit for brewing this beer regardless of how close it hews to tradition and for getting good distribution so that Fraoch didn't languish in the High Street specialty stores of Edinburgh and Glasgow. If I can get it at my grocery store down the street, they've surely done something right.

Fraoch is brewed with wheat in addition to barley malt. Aside from the titular flower, there's bog myrtle and ginger here as well as some First Gold hops which must be more prevalent in the UK than here in the States. Yeah, there's hops but they're outnumbered here by other botanicals so I see no reason to disqualify Fraoch from my gruit pursuit.

As you can see from my not-too-shabby photo Fraoch pours a beautiful light gold. It was clear and I got a pillowy white head that dissipated rather quickly. The beer wasn't particularly effervescent as there were only a few bubbles to be seen making their way up the glass. Ooh, that aroma! It was positively luscious with a wonderful floral scent along with bread and a malt sweetness that was akin to stone fruit.

Unfortunately Fraoch didn't taste as good as it looked or smelled. It began rather tastily with a brisk, slightly minty attack followed by the wonderful taste of heather. As someone whose experience with heather is confined to this beer, I am rather flummoxed as the Internet purports that heather is rather low in floral qualities. But I tasted a taste that was floral in the way people tend to think "floral" tastes. Perhaps another ingredient highlighted the floral bit or it depends on what parts of the heather plant you use. Regardless, this flavor segued into a spicy bitterness which I took to be the bog myrtle and hops in combination. There were hints of bread and malt sweetness underneath but the beer has a rather light body to the point of tasting a bit watery. This is not a cardinal sin in and of itself but the heather flavor was rather weak. I had to let the beer sit on my tongue in order to get a good dose of it. Now this is a problem. While it's admittedly been a while since I've had Fraoch, I recall the heather taste being much more prominent then than now. Since I've been on this gruit pursuit, I've come to adore floral flavors in beer and this was rather disappointing.

The beer finished a bit on the dry side with moderate spicy bitterness. My glass was adorned with just a little bit of lacing that clung to its side.

Fraoch needs more heather. The bog myrtle/hop bitterness dominated here instead of providing balance to the malt and the heather. It was as if there was a pause on my tongue where the heather should have been before the bitterness kicked in. I will also note that I couldn't taste the ginger but it may have been responsible for that bite at the beginning of my sip.

Junk food pairing: Froach pairs well with sharp cheese-food products such as Easy Cheese as well as Haggis & Black Pepper Potato Chips.

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|| Palmer, 10:24 AM

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