It’s a remarkable process. You put in a request for an obscure beer at your local store, and they get it for you! And just in time for Christmas, my local watering hole was able to procure for me a pack of the Historic Ales From Scotland. This variety pack consists of Scottish beers that are made in accordance with traditions that predate the adoption of the Bavarian Purity Law in Scotland, all of which are brewed by the the Williams Brothers Brewing Company.
These include beers made with berries, heather flowers, spruce and even kelp (if you’re lucky enough to find a pack that includes it). And having had them before, I can honestly attest to their quality. Though they are surely not for the faint of heart or uninitiated, they are all fine examples of traditional ales which are sure to appeal to the discerning beer drinker.
And over the next few days, I’ll be reviewing each of the beers in turn. First up, their Alba Scots Pine Ale.
Introduced by the Vikings, spruce and pine ales were very popular in the Scottish Highlands until the end of the 19th century. Many early explorers, including Captain Cook, used spruce ale during long sea voyages since its natural vitamin C content prevented scurvy and ill health. Shetland spruce ale was said to “stimulate animal instincts” and give you twins. Alba is a triple style ale brewed to a traditional Highland recipe from Scots pine and spruce shoots pickled during early spring. Malted barley is boiled with the young sprigs of pine for several hours before the fresh shoots of spruce are added for a short infusion before fermentation. In this respect, spruce and pine are used much as wet and dry hopping are, and imbue the beer with a crisp, refreshing, piney taste. In terms of color and appearance, the beer is similar to a pale ale, but with little head to speak of, and clocks in at a robust 7.5% alc/vol.
Appearance: Amber, clear, mild foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Syrupy malt, sweetness, strong piney notes
Taste: Immediate sweet burst of malt, gentle spruce and pine flavor
Aftertaste: Lingering malt sweetness and spruce/pine flavor
So far, its been a good season for beer. Tomorrow, its on to my favorite of the bunch: the Ebulum Elderberry Black Ale, followed shortly thereafter by the Fraoch Heather and the Grozet Gooseberry Ales. Stay tuned…