Salt Spring Island Heather Ale

saltspring_heatherAs the beer class I am hoping to teach nears, I have found myself feeling a little hard pressed to secure all the styles of beer I would need to make an effective presentation. After all, how can one accurately represent the history of beer when it’s so long, diverse and varied? Sure, there’s no shortage of British-style ales, German lagers, and Belgian ales here on the west coast. But what of beers that predate the Belgian Purity Law?

Lucky for me that Salt Spring Island specializing in creating beers of this kind. For awhile, I was hoarding bottles of Salt Spring Island’s Spring Fever Gruit, but as expected, they ran out. And while their Saturnalia Gruit is an equally fitting example of an ancient brew, it too suffers from seasonal availability. Lucky for me, their Heather Ale is year-round and I was able to grab a few, knowing that I could drink them and not fear that the supply would run dry.

And I thought that while I was doing that, I might finally give it a review. It goes without saying that Heather Ale is a renowned style of beer, one that is very popular in Scotland and abroad. It dates back to 4000 BC when it was introduced to Scotland by the Picts, and is therefore one of the most dated styles in existence. And Salt Spring Brewery, in tune with their commitment to organic brewing that’s faithful to its roots, produce a very nice and easy-drinking beer that has a subtle array of herbal notes and flavors that is very appealing, especially to people who are looking for a break from the hoppy beers the Pacific Northwest is famous for.

Appearance: Amber, clear, good foam retention and carbonation
Nose: Mild malt, hints of flowers and honey
Taste: Smooth malt, mild tang, hint of vanilla, notes of honey
Aftertaste: Clean finish, lingering tang and minerality
Overall: 8.5/10

Though I am a big fan of the hops, I have to give high credit to this beer for its clean taste, mineral-like tang, vanilla and honey like flavor and gentle aroma. I naturally couldn’t help but compare it to Fraoch, the famous heather ale by the Williams Brothers Brewery. And honestly, I feel this one gives it a good run for its money. I hope those who attend my beer class can appreciate it too!

Salt Spring Island Spring Fever Gruit

saltspring_gruitThough it may seem like I’m late to the party with this beer, let me assure my readers that I’ve had a bottle of this in my possession for some time. After last year’s Saturnalia Gruit, I was both curious and hesitant to try it. On the one hand, I wanted to sample another example of brewing that predates the Bavarian Purity Law. On the other, I was gearing up for a History of Beer class that I’ve been planning on teaching. As a seasonal limited release, this beer comes and goes, and I wanted to make sure I had at least one bottle in reserve before it went out of stock. Well, lucky for me, my local store has kept several bottles in reserve, so I grabbed some more and treated myself!

Much like the Saturnalia, this beer is definitely for the experimentally minded who appreciate authenticity and examples of historic brewing. It pours a deep amber, is clear, and has relatively little foam or carbonation to speak of. The nose is sweet, fruity, and effervescent, calling to mind orchard fruit and apple cider. The flavor is consistent with this, being tangy, sweet, slightly sour, and quite fruity. If one were not informed in advance what this brew is, they might very assume that it was a dry cider flavored with apricots, plums and sour cherries.

Appearance: Amber, clear, mild foam retention and good carbonation
Nose: Sweet malts, apricots, reminiscent of dry cider
Taste: Immediate tang, hint of apples, apricot, plum, cherries, slight sourness
Aftertaste: Very clean, hints of fruit and dry-cider
Overall: 8.5/10

Now that I’ve got a bottle of gruit beer safe and secure, and had a chance to sample it thoroughly, I’m really looking forward to that beer class. Call me a dunce for not buying two bottles in advance, but after thirteen other samples, providing others with a comprehensive education of the history of beer can get expensive!