~325 BC, Pictland (The lands north of the Forth-Clyde valley) The Greek explorer Phytheas referred to the Picts as the "Priteni", the ancient Irish called them "Cruthni". Both mean "The People of the Designs". Pictish design is a rich and wonderful style of art, and can still be seen in the standing stones and cross-slabs of Scotland to this day. The Picts were a Celtic tribal race who defended their land from Roman, Saxon, Briton and Viking invasions. The Picts were also known to be accomplished brewers, the Scottish Dictionary quotes "The Picts brewed some awful grand drink they ca't heather ale from heather and some unknown kind of fog". One legend recorded by Robert Louis Stevenson tells of a Scots king who, after killing all the Picts in battle, wished for the famous heather ale. He found two survivors by a cliff, a Pictish chief and his son, and began to torture them to gain the secret recipe, the Pict agreed to tell if they would kill his son quickly. After the boy's body was thrown from the cliff, the Pictish chief faced the King and said "But now in vain is the torture, fire shall never avail, here dies in my bosom the secret of the heather ale" he then threw himself at the King and they both fell from the cliff.
...which led to Mr.Williams, in Ireland...
The company history goes back to 1829 when the Tullamore Distillery was founded to produce Irish whiskey. In the mid-1940s Desmond E. Williams began the search for an alternative yet related product. The search ended with the discovery of Irish Mist. Its roots can be traced back to an ancient recipe for heather wine which originated over 1000 years ago.
The chieftains and nobles of Ireland’s ancient clans throughout the centuries had drunk heather wine, a spirit combined with honey, spices and herbs. However, the secret of this legendary drink disappeared with the last great exodus of the Irish Earls in 1691, an event that has passed into Irish History as "The Flight of the Wild Geese". The recipe was thought to have been lost forever until a traveller from Europe arrived, quite fortuitously, with an old manuscript he had found. Desmond Williams recognized it as the ancient recipe for heather wine and transformed it into Irish Mist, setting up the Irish Mist Liqueur Company.
In 1954, the decision was made to cease whiskey distillation at Tullamore and to focus all the company’s effort on the production of Irish Mist. In 1963, the company was running out of whisky from the old distillery for their production of Irish Mist and as the decision was taken that it would be too costly to start up the old distillery again, an agreement was reached with the Powers Distillery . Powers acquired the brand name Tullamore Dew, and started producing the brand from their John's Lane Distillery in Dublin and in exchange, they supplied the D.E. Williams company with whisky for the production of Irish Mist. Powers became part of the Irish Distillers Group and all production was transferred to the new Midleton Distillery in 1975, which is where Tullamore Dew is still distilled today. Tullamore Dew is now owned by C&C International, and it is now once again one of Ireland’s most successful Irish Whiskey brands.
...meanwhile, Mr.Williams in Scotland...
While likely there was many a recipe for that proud beverage, heather ale, the renaissance for this semi-lost and legendary brew began in 1986. A Gaelic-speaking informant passed on an old family recipe to a Glasgow shopkeep. Intrigued, the latter began to experiment, developing a remarkable and contemporary heather ale, and named it in Gaelic, Fraoch Leann, based on the information of old.
The rest, as they say, is history, or not exactly, since today you can find a couple notable distilleries of Heather Ale.
Brewers make this ale using flowers from the ubiquitous heather of Scotland, alongside malt. The finished brew is fully malted, comes with a heather-like floral aroma, and a finish similar to that of a dry wine. The old recipe that has been adapted for current-day production also contains both ginger and myrtle (gale), although the latter has been dropped in commercial preparations due to its somewhat medicinal taste. The old recipe also used ocean water, dropped in the favor of fresh. Inland Picts and Scots no doubt used fresh water anyway. Today's commercial product also contains a small amount of hops, which is not a part of the original.
A lady of Gaelic descent came into the Williams owned homebrew shop in Partick, bearing a translation of a 17th century recipe for 'Leanne Fraoch' (Heather Ale), Inherited from her Gaelic family. It was her goal to try to recreate recipe made famous by the old legend of the Pictish king who supposedly threw himself off a cliff after the 'Scot' king captured & tortured his son in an attempt to coax the recipe from the Pict King. This translated recipe was developed in homebrew size quantities by shop owner Bruce Williams to the recipe that is used today.
The company started life in 1988 with Bruce brewing our flagship beer Heather Ale, in a tiny brewery in Taynult, where we could producing no more 5 barrels per batch, just enough to supply 5 pubs across Scotland; 2 in Edinburgh, 2 in Glasgow & The Clachaig Inn in Glencoe. As demand grew the project expanded & a bigger brewery was needed to brew the larger quantities required. So the recipe was taken to the old Maclay's brewery in the traditional Scottish brew town of Alloa.
Now, I'm betting that over a thousand or two years, with a translation from Pictish to English somewhere in there, "Heather Ale" and "Heather Wine" are really talking about the same thing. I'm betting the beer-type brew is largely what's used as the mash for the liquor-type brew, or something along those lines. Alas, this is a case of someone finding an ancient recipe of historical note, deciding to recreate it, and then fiddling with it since making it taste 'not weird' seems more important than accuracy.
I'm unsure if one would then get the closest recreation of the fairy brew by drinking a boilermaker of Fraoch + Irish Mist (which is made from Tullamore Dew), or to call Fraoch a good start (moreso if it's the purist kind that has myrtle and no hops) and distill it down into something more whiskoid.
In other news, I have a new trenchcoat. No pictures yet, since Katrinka totally forgot to take any, tonight (CAVEAT: this could be because I forgot to ask her to).