Williams Brothers’ Historic Ales Part 1

I recently picked up a set of Williams Brothers Historic Ales. I’m
a big fan of Williams Brothers beers. Since I live only twenty or so
minutes from the brewery, I can regularly get hold of most of their
core range. Getting my hands on the Historic Ales did involve a trip
to the Scottish Real Ale shop at the Lade Inn in Callander. On a side
note the Scottish Real Ale shop is well worth a visit if you’re in
the area, but back to the beers.

There are five different
beers in the Historic Ales range: Fraoch, Grozet, Ebulum, Kelpie and
Alba. For some reason Alba wasn’t included in the box set, so I had
to buy it separately. A little leaflet is included explaining what
makes these beers special. Essentially instead of using hops, a
variety of natural ingredients that are native to Scotland are used
to flavour the ales.
One minor issue I have
with the stated rationale of the Historic Ales of Scotland set, is
the way in which modern beer is criticised in the supplementary
leaflet. I’ll quote from the leaflet, “it’s hardly surprising
that most of today’s beers taste the same, they are made with the
same four ingredients.” I’m assuming that they are referring to
mass marketed, multi-national beers. To suggest that all Craft Beer
tastes the same would be ridiculous. However saying that the mass
marketed beers taste the same because they are made with water, malt,
hops and yeast is also a bit silly. There are dozens of malt types,
hop breeds and yeast strains. Enough choice to allow brewers to
create yet more dozens of beer styles. The mass marketed beers taste
the same because they are made with cheap and inferior ingredients,
brewed for profit and not for quality.
Anyway, last night I
cracked open the three lighter beers in the range. I started with
Fraoch (5% ABV). It was inspired by an ancient recipe for Heather Ale
from around 2000 B.C. Heather flowers are used to flavour the beer
instead of hops, Fraoch actually means “Heather” in Gaelic. The
aroma is sweet and malty. This is to be expected considering that
few, if any, bittering hops are used. It tastes, if possible, maltier
than it smells. The lack of hops is very noticeable as there is
little discernible bitterness. I do get slight vinous notes,
definitely a white wine quality to it. It finishes on Heather with a
mild floral after-taste. Fraoch is too sweet for me. I’ve actually
tried a couple of time in the past, usually on cask. I did try once
at the Williams Brothers Brewery in Alloa, as fresh as it could ever
possibly be and I must admit it was pretty good then. This is
definitely an ale for those who prefer a sweeter beer. You have to
appreciate the history of the recipe, and it is a well made beer. But
it is not exactly to my tastes. I’ve decided to start giving beers
a score as a review them. Got to give Fraoch a 5/10.
Next came Grozet (5% ABV).
Ripe Scottish Gooseberries are added to the secondary fermentation,
hence the name Grozet, which is Auld Scots for Gooseberry. Brewed
with Lager malt and wheat, it is very pale in colour. The
Gooseberries come through in the aroma and the flavour. More obvious
vinous notes than Fraoch. A light summery ale. I would give it 6/10.
The final beer I reviewed
last night was Alba (7.5%). Pine sprigs are added to the boil and
spruce shoots are infused in the wort before fermentation. Described
as a “tawny brown”, it is certainly darker than both Fraoch and
Grozet. Quite a sweet fruity aroma but with less emphasis on malt.
There’s a sweet almost  sticky mouth-feel to it, in contrast to the
first two lighter beers. The flavour itself is slightly and
pleasantly complex. Rich and sweet jammy flavours dominate the
initial taste, followed by a noticeable alcohol note. The Spruce and
pine come in right at the end giving it a mild woody after-taste. I
loved this beer. Definitely my favourite of the Historic Ales so far
8/10. Try it in a tulip to accentuate the sweet fruity aroma.
I’ll be reviewing the
other two beers in Williams Brothers’ Historic Ales range in my next
blog post. If anyone is looking to get a hold of these beers, try the
Williams Brothers website. A couple of specialist beer shops do stock
them as well. I have seen Fraoch as far away as the United States in Whole Foods stores.


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