Ever since I was a kid, I've loved castles, knights, kings, and battles with swords (not guns). When I was creating my fictional character, Roland Axam, I travelled to his home town of North Berwick and went over the moon when I found out that a Medieval castle with a colourful history was only three kilometres away.
In my first story with Roland, the climax was set at Tantallon Castle.
Over the holidays, I went to my local LCBO to see what seasonals were available, and I was pleased to see a box with historic Scottish ales. I had seen this set last Christmas, but I was in search of local craft seasonals, so I let the gift set go.
Not this year.
Sadly, I fell ill over the holidays and for a record nine days, I drank no beer. No reviews, no tastings. I suffered on top of suffering.
Now that I'm better, I wanted to start my reviews for 2013 with this sampler by Williams Brothers Brewing. Because, if any of these gift packs are still hanging around, you should grab one.
I tasted these beers in the order in which they came packed, from left to right. And as a flight is concerned, this seemed to be the best order in which to enjoy them. And that's how I'm going to list them.
Historic Ales from Scotland
Williams Brothers Brewery Company (OA Heather Ale Ltd.)
LCBO: $10.85, 4 x 330ml
Grozet Gooseberry & Wheat Ale (5% ABV)
Made since the 16th century, this brew is made with malted barley bree, wheat, gooseberries, bogmyrtle, and hops. Pale apricot in colour with a fine, white head, this refreshing beer has a fruity nose of pear and peach. On the palate, I caught tones of pineapple and honey that ended in a nice, light finish.
It was delicious, and I give it a rating of 3 out of 5.
Fraoch Heather Ale (5% ABV)
Heather ale is Scotland's native ale and dates as far back as 2000 BC. Deep apricot in colour with a foamy white head that dissipates quickly, I found the nose held a musty pine scent and earthy floral. In the mouth, I tasted a creamed honey and more wood, with a dry and tannic flavour. The finish was clean and light, with a dryness that made me want more. More flavour, that is, and for that, I gave it a 2.
Alba Scots Pine Ale (7.5% ABV)
According to the label, the recipe for this ale was introduced to the Scots by the Vikings. This style of beer was popular in Scotland until the 19th century.
Copper-red in colour, Alba produced a lively effervescence with a pure white head that dissipated almost immediately. I popped the cap, poured it into my glass, and grabbed my camera: by the time I was focused, the head was gone. And because I poured it into a wine goblet, as the label recommended, the bubbles also faded quickly. The beer was flat before I managed to finish it.
But at the start, Alba delivered a fruity nose with hints of ginger and apple. In the mouth, I tasted nice hops with traces of whisky and a sharp flavour of wood. The beer ended in a caramel finish.
This is a hot beer with a high alcohol level that made me pace myself, which probably accounted for the dissipation of the fizz. But it went flat far too soon. Despite my final mouthfuls, I enjoyed this ale. It was interesting, complex, and warranted a score of 3.
Ebulum Elderberry Black Ale (6.5% ABV)
This historic ale was introduced to the Scots by the Welsh in the 9th century. It is cola coloured with a foamy, light brown head that also doesn't stick around; nor did the lively effervescence that came in the glass. This ale gives a spicy nose with roasted malts; in the mouth, I tasted mild hops with a toastiness and an enjoyable, medium finish.
This gruit-styled ale was my favourite of the bunch. I gave it a 4.
We owe so much in the modern world to the Scots. Industry, art, and beer. So we should embrace Scottish history.
This beer is a good start.