Spirits & Heather Ale

Alcohol Used as Medicine

     The history of distillation (the making of alcoholic spirits) began in ancient Egypt with the production of perfumes.  Arab alchemists in the 10th Century discovered how to distill spirits (alcohol) while making cosmetics and perfume by distilling flowers and brought the technique to Spain. From there, it spread throughout Europe. By the 12th Century Europeans were distilling spirit from grape, grain, fruit, vegetables or whatever they had.  

Barrels & Still

    Whiskey, Scotland’s “water of life” was often used for its medicinal value-not surprising given the feeling of well being derived from the drink.  The drink’s name evolved from Uisge Beata to Usquebaugh, then Uisge and finally Whisky.  The first aqua vitae was distilled from fermented barley by monks in Ireland which then spread to Scotland. By the end of the 16th Century whisky distilling in the Scottish Highlands had become widespread in the farming communities. Using the recently harvested barley, Scots could distill their spirits with  the extra grain that might otherwise have gone bad stored in the damp climate. Then the remains of the grain (the draff) could be used as an animal feed.

Read more about distilled spirits at http://www.lochlomonddistillery.com/history-of-scotch.htm

Heather Ale (Leanne Fraoch) is an ancient ale said to be brewed by the Caledonians/Picts since around  300 AD but may go back centuries beyond that. 

     Legend has it that the last surviving Pictish King who with his son had kept the recipe for heather ale advised his Scottish captors to toss his son off a cliff and he would give them the recipe.  Once his son was dead, he laughed at them and threw himself off the cliff—taking the secret of heather ale with him.      

     Brewer Bruce Williams (http://www.williamsbrosbrew.com/) shares the following recipe: into the boiling bree of malted barley, sweet gale and flowering heather are added, then after cooling slightly the hot ale is poured into a vat of fresh heather flowers where it infuses for an hour before being fermented in copper turns. Williams says the ale has a distinctive floral aroma, full malt character and a dry wine-like finish.

Tomorrow, The Vikings & York   Rita Bay


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2 responses to “Spirits & Heather Ale

  1. I was really surprised when I research alcoholic beverages for a short story, to find the Irish were the first to make the stuff in the British Isles. Just goes to show that facts often get twisted over the years. I was always told whiskey came from Scotland, until I did the research a couple of years ago. But, I love this blog. I’m still learning so much.

    • Thanks so much, Allison. The REALLY old alcohol goes back thousands of years. The history of mead, ale and beer is far older. than whisky. EVERYONE in England drank ale as a regular drink, the dirty water in the towns would have killed them. Rita Bay

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