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.
27 Comments Add yours
How about the four chains of house Umber with each chain representing a season in some fashion.
Another method for adding the herbal aromas to your beer is to let the wort ferment through primary, then either in your primary fermenter or to a secondary fermentation vessel, add an herbal tea. My Castle Black Milk Stout was flavored in this way. I boiled 1/2 L of water and let it cool for less than 5 minutes before steeping my heather tips in a French Press for another 5 min. I didn’t know how strong the heather was going to be, so this method ensured a sanitary addition and let me control by taste. I also recommend steeping heather in a loosely tied tea bag in addition to pouring through a strainer/press. I strained, sieved, and decanted my wort through cheese cloth, and I’m still finding little bits of heather in the bottles.
Wow, that’s a really great way to use botanicals! I do so love my French Press!
Where you can find the dried heather tops ? I want to try it
I got mine at my local brewing store, https://www.beerbrew.com/, but I think it’s also available on Amazon. I look forward to hearing how you like it!
Eh … i’m Italian and after 3 days of research i think it’s impossible for the italian people to make heather ale … mainly because there’s no store that have heather tips and all the american don’t sell in Italy .. i’m burning in rage !!!!!!!!
That’s terrible! I’ll keep looking for you…
Is there no heather growing nearby your location ? I harvested some in the French Alps for my first batch and my next will be brewed with heather from my Belgian Arden. They love acid woodlands and silicate soils and apparently several subspecies of heather grow in Italy but I don’t know where more accurately 😉
But sadly, as far as I know, not in the mountains of Vermont. At least… Not yet. 😉
I love this recipe! I made up 5 gallons with 2 oz of scotch soaked oak cubes in the secondary and it ended up with a very citrusy initial taste and a malty finish.
OOH! I’ve been meaning to try it over some scotchy woodchips! Great to know!
How does it turn out? Close to original?
I’m a really big fan of this recipe, which makes a light, summery ale. However, it’s not too close to the commercially available Fraoch, which has more body and oomph to it. I’d love to make a version like that, too. 🙂
I am trying to make the fraoch receipe..it is ny gavorite beer. I am not sure where to start though. .I did come across a video on youtube of one of the williams brothers making it but they don’t give specifics on ingredients or quantities.
This looks amazing. Definitely going to have a go at some of your brew recipes this year! Off to Scotland tomorrow to drink Fraoch on tap!
I’m getting ready to make this recipe in time for the Season 4 premier. I found heather flowers instead of tips, any idea if there is a difference when using on over the other. Thanks for the recipe.
You mention that this ale has a relatively low ABV. What was the ABV? Would you consider doing it again with a bigger grain bill?
I think the ABV of my first batch came in around 4%. I will *definitely* do this again, hopefully this time with a 5 gallon batch, and definitely up the grain bill. Stay tuned for updates. 🙂
Scaling your recipe up to 23l consistently gives me a 4% brew, which is nice for drinking at the trailer. However, the Auchentoshan Distillery has released a barley wine- strength Fraoch that has been aged in Scotch casks. I’m considering going for a similar strength next time I brew this – keeping the gruit herbs and the heather at the same amounts. About 4.5 kg of Maris Otter and .5kg of crystal 60L should get a 10% brew, something the Greatjohn could get into.l
Quick question; Is this brew supposed to taste quite sour?
Me and a mate made 10L a few weeks ago, and today we tasted the finished brew. It doesn’t taste bad, just very sour. Neither of us have ever tasted heather ale before, so we’re not really sure what to expect.
Real fraoch is not sour..almost sweet
Yeah… We we’re suspecting that something was not quite right. The brew is bottled and I think we’re going to let it sit for a while, might make for an okay drink for a hot summer day.
For the meadowsweet did you use flowers or leaves or a combination?
Mostly leaves, although I think a few flowers crept in.
I am making a first-round of heather beer, but I am using lager yeast rather than ale. And I am not adding anything other than 2-row malt, 3 additions of heather (2 oz for flavor, 2 oz for aroma and a further 2 oz to “dry-hop”). No hops, no specialty malt. Only medium toasted cherry wood as an added flavor (to simulate barrel fermenting/aging). I added a note in the forum, and I’ll be sure to update on progress.
Have you done any more of this brew? Any variation compared to the first?
I haven’t had a chance yet, but thanks for the nudge! Work keeps getting in the way of more brewing, but I’ll bump this one up the list. 🙂