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Heather Ale

"Nothing but heather! - How marvellously descriptive! And incomplete!" wrote the greatest Scottish poet of the Twentieth Century, Hugh MacDiarmid. Of course there is much more to Scotland than heather but it is abundant and much associated with Caledonia. Heather is a wide spread plant, occuring right across northern Europe, but heather-dominated heaths and bogs are nowhere more abundant than in the eastern and central Highlands of Scotland. Most of these heathlands are kept in open condition with young vigorously grown heather, by regular burning, as young heather shoots are the preferred food of the red grouse, an important game bird.

Heather flowers are an important source of nectar for bees and make a delicious honey. Among the various traditional uses of heather in by-gone days were roofing thatch, ropes, bedding, brushes, dye and for the flavouring of heather ale. According to an old Galloway legend the secret of brewing heather ale was lost centuries ago but this was not the case. Indeed one commercial brewer, Heather Ale Ltd of Strathven, still brews heather ale - Fraoch (Gaelic for heather) - and have found a ready market for their heather based product. This weeks recipe lets you into the secret of our forebear's brew.
Heather Ale
Ingredients; 1 gallon ( 1 kg ) can of heather tips; 1 lb ( 450 gm ) golden syrup; 2 gallons ( 10 litres ) water; 1 oz ( 25 gm ) ginger; 1/2 oz ( 15 gm ) hops; 1 oz (25 gm ) yeast
Gather the heather tips when in full bloom. Put them into a large pan and cover with the water. Boil for one hour. Strain into a clean bowl or jar. In one quart of the liquid boil the hops, golden syrup and ginger for twenty minutes. Strain into the heather water. Leave until lukewarm and add yeast. Cover with a coarse cloth and stand for twenty-four hours. Skim the liquid carefully and pour the clear ale into a tub, leaving the yeasty sediment at the bottom. Bottle and cork tightly. Leave for two or three days before drinking.


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