Author Topic: Historical Beer Category - Heather Ale  (Read 1131 times)

Offline Viper Mike

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Historical Beer Category - Heather Ale
« on: January 25, 2017, 09:33:43 PM »
Okay, so I went through this about 4 months ago on this Forum: trying to figure out what category 'Heather Ale' belongs to for competition purposes under the 2015 Guidelines. The best answer came down to entering it as an historical Beer, but with the added pain of having to prepare and submit a description for the style with your entry. I have finally gotten around to it (feeling some pressure, having recently packaged a batch of Heather Ale with an eye towards competing with it later in the year) and produced a style description for that purpose. I have attached it, and am looking from feedback from any historical beer brewers, or even better, brewers with an affection for Heather Ale itself. All comments welcome to improve this thing before I have to actually make a submission:

Historical Beer: Heather Ale

Introduction: Heather Ale, believed to have been drunk since around 2000 BC and reputed to be one of the oldest styles of ales in the world, has enjoyed a renewed interest since the re-introduction of the long forgotten style and art of making the brew a few years ago. It is made from the flowering tips of wild purple heather, boiled with Scottish malts, and perhaps honey and other Scottish herbs, in order to extract the flavour and nectar.
Overall Impression:  Full and of firm character with a floral, and sometimes peaty, fruity aroma. A light copper to dark amber ale with full malt character, and a spicy herbal, sometimes wine-like finish.

Aroma: Heather, floral, caramel and/or herby. Low hop aroma, usually floral or spicy in character. Clean fermentation character. No DMS. No sourness. Smell of malt and heather in the balance.

Appearance: Typically clear, but may have some light haze due to limited
conditioning. Foam stand may not be long lasting, and is usually white to beige in color. A light copper to dark amber ale.

Flavor: Malt, heather, grassy, herbs, light spice, and possibly peat and/or honey.  Moderate grainy-sweet maltiness with low to medium-low caramel notes. Medium-low to medium-high floral or spicy flavor. Low hop bitterness, when used. May exhibit light fruitiness. The finish is fairly dry and wine -like, including a hint of honey where used. No sourness. The style favors the use of low-character yeasts.

Mouthfeel: Medium-low to medium-high body with a relatively clean mouthfeel and a wine-like finish. Low to moderate carbonation.

Comments: The modern characterizations of the style tolerate a low level of bitterness hopping, consistent with the English-influenced brewing traditions of the late17th thru 19th centuries as well as a surviving early 19th century Heather Ale recipe, and is common to both dominant commercial examples of the style (Williams Brothers Brewing’s Fraoch and Highland Brewing Company’s Highland Heather Ale). When used for bittering, hops are usually British or possibly European floral noble hops of relatively low AA content.

History: Heather Ale is believed to have been drunk since around 2000 BC and is reputed to be one of the oldest styles of ales in the world. Folklore tales attribute the original recipe for Heather Ale to have gone to the grave of a Pictish elder, at the hand of the Scots around the 4th century AD. The Scot Kenneth MacAlpine resolved to exterminate the Pict people of Caledonia (Scotland) sparing the lives of all but two…an aged father and son. As brewsters, both possessed the recipe of brewing the valued heather beer. Their lives were promised to be spared if they divulged the secret recipe. The father asked for his life to be spared in exchange for his son’s death…the father then said…“now I’m satisfied…my son might have taught you the art,  I never will…!”

The original neolithic versions have been lost, but based on archaeo-botanical and molecular archaeological research they were likely robust sweet malt beverages, fortified with significant amounts of honey, and with the taste of peat smoked barley and notes of heather, meadowsweet, royal fern and/or bog myrtle/sweet gale. That said, It is a style that continued to exist and evolve throughout much of Scottish history, and starting in the early 1500s, accounts of making ale with heather began to surface again. Even though heather ale was all but reduced to legend following the Act of Union in 1707 (an Act was passed which prevented brewers using any ingredients other than hops and malt), the later versions produced up until that time, and the heather ales that continued to be produced in the Highlands and Western Isles until at least as late as 1809, would have evolved in their formulation under the influence of then current Scottish brewing practices and available ingredients.

In 1986 a Gaelic-speaking Islander translated an old family recipe for "Leann fraoich" to Bruce Williams, a homebrew shop owner. He then began the crusade to revive Scotland's brewing heritage by trying different varieties and quantities of heather flowers, making up batches and testing them on his customers. When the formula was perfected he began selling the brew as "Fraoch Leann" (heather ale). By 1992 the first twenty thousand pints were produced at a small West Highland Brewery in Argyll. In 1993, an agreement was reached with Scotland's oldest family brewers, Maclay & Co. at the Thistle Brewery in Alloa which allowed Bruce Williams to brew larger quantities during the heather season (July to September). Every batch was inspected and recorded for the Scottish Brewing Archive in Glasgow. Under supervision of The 'Scottish Office' in Edinburgh, the tradition and custom of brewing with heather is protected, and Heather Ale receives a "Certificate of Specific Character".

Characteristic Ingredients: The revival style of Heather Ale attempts to capture 4,000 years of brewing evolution and traditions, and is a representation of the style as it was most likely produced in the early 19th century before it was all but lost. Heather Ale can be a fairly broadly interpreted style, and can utilize a combination of Scottish-grown 2-row barley malts (2-row pale ale base malt, crystal and chocolate malts, roasted barley, and/or peat smoked barley), malted wheat, wildflower honey, treacle, and/or traditional scottish brewing seasonings (sweet gale/bog myrtle, royal fern, root ginger and/or meadowsweet), and of course, plenty of wild heather tips.  Hops, when used, are generally British and European varieties that  impart a low level of floral noble hop bittering. Fuggles, Kent Goldings, Saaz, German Hallertau or Hersbrucker, and First Gold are typical.

Style Comparison: More robust and ancient versions will present as being similar to a Scottish ‘wee-heavy’, while the revival style based on early 19th century versions (and reflective of current commercial examples) will be more like a richer Scottish 70/- Ale, but always with a floral/herbal/spicy character and possible hints of peat and honey. Hops, when present, are non-assertive and floral.

Vital Statistics (based on the commercial and non-commercial examples noted below, and depending on the time period of provenance of the recipe):
OG: 1.048 – 1.082
IBUs: 11 – 23
FG: 1.008 – 1.020
SRM: 9 – 18
ABV: 5.0 – 8.2%

Commercial Examples: Williams Brothers Brewing Company’s Fraoch Heather Ale, and Highland Brewing Company’s Highland Heather Ale.
Non-commercial Recipe Examples: Randy Mosher’s (Radical Brewing, 2004, pg 242) Heather Ale, and Discovery World’s Archeological Brewing Highland Heather Ale (https://distantmirror.wordpress.com/2011/03/24/brewing-a-5000-year-old-scottish-ale/)

Additional references:

1. Brewing a 5,000 Year-old Scottish Ale (posted 24 March, 2011) (https://distantmirror.wordpress.com/2011/03/24/brewing-a-5000-year-old-scottish-ale/)
2. Did You Know? – Fraoch Leann (http://www.rampantscotland.com/know/blknow_heatherale.htm)
3. Game of Brews - Last Hearth Heather Ale (https://gameofbrews.com/2013/04/01/hearth-heather-ale/)
4. Fraoch Heather Ale – Williams Brothers Brewing Company (http://www.williamsbrosbrew.com/beer/fraoch0)
5. Howarth, Les. The Homebrewer’s Recipe Database, 3rd ed., p. 317. Highland Heather Ale. (https://books.google.ca/books?id=ce5DCwAAQBAJ&pg=PA317&lpg=PA317&dq=highland+brewing+company+highland+heather+ale&source=bl&ots=09w2lR5tZ4&sig=BHQUFqznU6n164xKPqHvUyr6Yf4&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwivj8W1k97RAhUow4MKHW6pDKwQ6AEINjAF#v=onepage&q=highland%20brewing%20company%20highland%20heather%20ale&f=false)
6. Howarth, Les. The Homebrewer’s Recipe Database, 2nd ed., p. 252. Fraoch Heather Ale.
7. Mosher, Randy. Radical Brewing, pp. 240-243. Heather Ale.

Mike

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Online klickitat jim

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Re: Historical Beer Category - Heather Ale
« Reply #1 on: January 25, 2017, 09:46:04 PM »
Style write up? Or is this what judges would get with your beer in the flight?

Offline Viper Mike

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Re: Historical Beer Category - Heather Ale
« Reply #2 on: January 25, 2017, 10:26:26 PM »
Style write up? Or is this what judges would get with your beer in the flight?

Kind of both. According to Gordon Strong, to enter a non-described historical beer (i.e., other than the eight for which a description already exists in the 2015 guidelines), you must submit a style description with your entry that provides judges the basis for an evaluation. So the judge receives it with the flight. I figure it has to have some rigor behind it, otherwise you end up describing the specific beer you made, and what would be the point of that? So my description attempts to respect the history and development of the broader style. Maybe I am wasting my time, but I suspect this stuff provides the basis for future inclusion in the guidelines, so it may as well be sufficiently detailed. That said, I brew heather ale from a formulation that is derived from a point in time in the 5000 year history of this beer that is about 200-250 years ago, and I don't want to describe it so as to exclude other versions, in particular the much older ones.
Mike

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Online klickitat jim

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Re: Historical Beer Category - Heather Ale
« Reply #3 on: January 25, 2017, 10:29:01 PM »
Not wasting time at all. Clearly you love this style, and brewing, enough to put a ton of work into it. Mega kudos!

I could be wrong but I think most competitions limit how many characters in the description required forms. Think of the judge, they've got to do one of these every six minutes... good job, but now try to boil it down to a twitter version

Offline Joe Sr.

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Re: Historical Beer Category - Heather Ale
« Reply #4 on: January 25, 2017, 10:49:21 PM »
There are commercial versions of heather ale, so I would hope some judges are familiar with it even if only anecdotally.
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Offline kramerog

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Re: Historical Beer Category - Heather Ale
« Reply #5 on: January 25, 2017, 11:35:06 PM »
I could be wrong but I think most competitions limit how many characters in the description required forms. Think of the judge, they've got to do one of these every six minutes... good job, but now try to boil it down to a twitter version

The competition entry software is likely very limited.  I know because I've had difficulty entering a spiced sour into competition because of the limited space available to describe the 2 spices and 2 bacteria involved.

While historical may be the best style designation in theory, for practicality spice, herb, vegetable beer based on a Scottish ale makes more sense to me unless you can get the competition organizer to pass on the guidelines to the judges in advance.

What you have written should be submitted to the BJCP for inclusion in the next guidelines.

Online klickitat jim

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Re: Historical Beer Category - Heather Ale
« Reply #6 on: January 26, 2017, 12:12:36 AM »
I've judged "historical" at a Pro Comp that used to use BJCP guidelines. Frankly, it all comes down to intangible drinkability in the end

Offline Viper Mike

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Re: Historical Beer Category - Heather Ale
« Reply #7 on: January 26, 2017, 01:18:46 AM »
I could be wrong but I think most competitions limit how many characters in the description required forms. Think of the judge, they've got to do one of these every six minutes... good job, but now try to boil it down to a twitter version

The competition entry software is likely very limited.  I know because I've had difficulty entering a spiced sour into competition because of the limited space available to describe the 2 spices and 2 bacteria involved.

While historical may be the best style designation in theory, for practicality spice, herb, vegetable beer based on a Scottish ale makes more sense to me unless you can get the competition organizer to pass on the guidelines to the judges in advance.

What you have written should be submitted to the BJCP for inclusion in the next guidelines.

I am thinking twitter version would be harder than the full meal deal. I will see what the limits are and what it can be boiled down to. I went to this trouble because of a Gordon Strong e-mail that someone shared back in September that essentially says that the Historical Beer category is a place holder and that it wasn't populated because of a lack of demand or apparent interest. That is also why the existing 8 Historic styles that are detailed are not numbered within the category. It is an open-ended category that is meant to be permissive and not restrictive.

I can say with certainty (based on my one and only competition to date) that at least a few (Canadian) judges have very little idea of what heather is. I even had one of the judges comment that she wasn't sure what heather was, but then went on about the floral flavour and aroma. Part of the problem was that I avoided the Historical Beer category to avoid doing the description, and entered it instead as an Veg/Spice/Herb Beer. Of course, you then have to declare a style on which the beer was based, and frankly there isn't much out there like it. I went with a 70/- Scottish, but with no detectable hop it is really not going to be recognizable as such (and that in a nutshell captures the feedback I received). So although it was cited as a well-made beer, it missed the mark as a Scottish, which it ain't. So I am determined to see it judged as a Historical Beer to hopefully raise the profile of Heather Ale a bit, have the beer judged and considered on its merits, and maybe even educate a couple of judges along the way.

Anyone know how you would go about submitting something like this to the BJCP for consideration for future iterations of the guidelines? Their forum is closed to non-judges...
Mike

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Offline kramerog

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Re: Historical Beer Category - Heather Ale
« Reply #8 on: January 26, 2017, 02:41:54 AM »
The judges misjudged your beer by requiring it to have hop character.

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Offline santoch

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Re: Historical Beer Category - Heather Ale
« Reply #9 on: January 26, 2017, 04:07:05 AM »
The judges misjudged your beer by requiring it to have hop character.

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Offline homebrewdad7

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Re: Historical Beer Category - Heather Ale
« Reply #10 on: January 29, 2017, 06:44:40 PM »
I find this topic to be fascinating.  I hope that you'll keep us updated as to how this goes.

Offline Viper Mike

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Re: Historical Beer Category - Heather Ale
« Reply #11 on: February 05, 2017, 08:55:10 PM »
I found a very well written and researched piece on a beer blog written in 2008, that discusses whether heather ale is Scots or Irish (the conclusion is that it is probably both). That said, I believe the detail Martyn Cornell provides in his blog would necessitate some amendment to the historic style description I have proposed, in particular in the identification of common ingredients: Cornell, Martyn. Heather ale: Scots or Irish?. (http://zythophile.co.uk/2008/07/23/heather-ale-scots-or-irish/)
Mike

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