In our world, heather ale (or Fraoch, the gaelic word for “heather”) was enjoyed by the ancient Picts in what is now Scotland. With various conquests and later laws, the original recipes for Fraoch were lost. As the legend goes, the Pictish king, when taken captive, leapt from a cliff rather than share the secret of the heather ale recipe. However, starting in the early 1500s, accounts of making ale with heather began to surface again.
Neolithic shards of pottery from the Isle of Rhum tested positive for traces of a fermented beverage made with honey, grains, meadowsweet, and royal fern, made around 2,000 BCE. The first kind of recipe I could find doesn’t show up until the late 18th century, although there are earlier 16th century mentions of using heather for ale. There are also rumors from around 1840 of a manuscript with the recipe for fraoch being found in a monastery near Limerick, then mysteriously disappearing. Later recipes include using treacle, ginger, and other ingredients more readily available as the world grew smaller. However, heather ale remained a mostly hypothetical brew until the late 1980s, when fraoch enthusiast Bruce Williams began looking into how to brew it commercially.
The proportions and ingredients for my recipe came from a combination of sources. I incorporated the meadowsweet from the neolithic recipe, and used the 2/3 heather to 1/3 malt proportion from the 1777 work, Flora Scotica. Weighing the same amounts didn’t seem to make sense, given how light heather is, so I went with volume measurements. The sweet gale is commonly added to gruit recipes, so I included it in this as well for an added flavor.
At the one month mark, my fraoch had great flavor, and was fully carbed. The head didn’t last long, but it stayed pleasantly fizzy the whole time I was drinking it. Beautifully clear and richly colored, it’s a striking homebrew.
Flavorwise, it’s lovely. Nice and light, with the slightest floral tones in the nose and aftertaste. It’s a fairly mild beer, but the heather does give it some slight bitterness without the addition of hops, which would add their own distinct flavors. The honey flavor pretty much ferments out. Because of its relatively low ABV, it’s very drinkable in large quantities, and at any time of day.
For an awesome kick, try adding scotch soaked wood chips to the secondary. I haven’t tried it yet, but it seems like an amazing idea. 🙂
In Westeros, heather ale is an ideal match for a place like Last Hearth. The stronghold of House Umber is located on a large expanse of open land between Winterfell and Castle Black, east of the Kingsroad. I imagine it looking very much like the Scottish highlands, with steep heather-covered hills and valleys cutting through them. While this particular recipe probably wouldn’t be hearty enough for the Greatjon, it would make a wonderful everyday ale for drinking at table with meals.
Suggestions for label art welcome. 🙂
Last Hearth Heather Ale Recipe
Brewer’s Tip: Measure everything out ahead of time, like they do on cooking shows. It will make you much happier than if you try to measure as you go, in a panic.
Ingredients for 1 gallon:
- 4 oz. (~4 cups) dried heather tops, divided in two (mash, and at 30 minutes to end)
- 1.5 gallons water, total
- 1 lb. (~2 cups) crushed malted barley (I used a combination of Scottish Pale, Crystal 60, Biscuit, and a smidge of peat smoked barley)
- 1 Tbs. meadowsweet (at 30 minutes to end)
- 1 tsp. sweet gale (at 10 minutes to end)
- 1 tsp. Irish moss (at 10 minutes to end) [optional, clears the ale]
- 1 cup honey (at 5 minutes to end)
- 1 packet Scottish ale yeast
- 1 oz. honey
- 1/4 cup hot water
Mash: Heat 3/4 gallon water to 155F, and add the malted barley and 2 cups heather tips. Cover the pot and swaddle in blankets to keep warm. Allow to sit for an hour. Strain off the water, then sparge by pouring 1/2 gallon of boiling water over the grains. Add this water to the other batch. Boil for 30 minutes.
Add half of the remaining heather, and the meadowsweet. Boil the liquid (wort) for 30 minutes, adding the sweet gale, rest of the heather, and Irish moss 10 minutes before the end of the boil. Add the honey 5 minutes before the end of the boil in order to melt it into the water. Strain the wort into your primary fermenter and allow to cool to room temperature. Take an OG reading. Pitch the yeast and attach airlock.
When it’s done actively working, prime with 1 oz. honey dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water.