Bottled Up: Williams Fraoch 20th Anniversary Ale

Couldn't resist rolling this old feature out of wheezing retirement for a Burns Night special.

Truth be told, I'm ambivalent about celebrating Burns Night. I don't need an excuse to drink Scottish beer. I don't feel the need to eat haggis once a year. I don't wish to spend the evening out with the kind of Englishmen who think it's cool to wear kilts at weddings, even though their closest link to Scotland is that they once ate a deep-fried Mars Bar for a bet.

But I'm sneakily proud of my quarter-Scots heritage. I never met Grandad Tom but have been regaled by tales of how he met my grandmother Kate in Nottingham's Olde Trip To Jerusalem. He bought her a brandy to help her over her cold and the rest was (family) history. My memories of him are from tales told around a table (pub, dining, picnic), from medals in a case, from a tin of souvenirs gleaned from several wars. So tonight, Tom: this one's for you.

Bruce Williams started making heather ale to a seventeenth-century recipe whilst still a homebrewer in the eighties. Twenty years later, the Williams Brothers have taken their flagship ale and produced a startlingly special Anniversary Edition. It's 11% ABV, secondary fermented in ex-sherry casks once home to single malt Speyside whisky.

And it's sublime. An amber marmalade body holds a drumskin-tight white orbit of bubbles. As the beer effervesces into the glass, there's instant vanilla prickling, honey sweetness is followed by lemon juice so tart to be almost gueuze-like; a green-apple funk settles on the nose.

There's stacks of carbonation in here, the first mouthful covered with tangerine, light sherry fruits, some smooth caramel studded with slight spices. The whole mouthfeel has a clean wood feel to it, more sweet fruit etches over the sourness. There's no overwhelming alcohol at all; Fraoch carries its 11% lightly.

And there's so much going on, flavours almost blindside you. There's more gueuzey-ness each time I lift the glass, some mint swims in (perhaps from the myrtle?), even the merest dab of peat before more lovely lemon oozes forward.

It's a superb beer, really not what I was expecting and one that's given me all kinds of ideas about the directions in which beer can be taken. Fraoch 20th Anniversary is available for purchase direct from the brewer at their online shop (UK mainland delivery only, folks).

Many thanks to Williams Brothers for sending me the bottle for review.

Now I can give in and say, "Jings! Crivvens! Help ma Boab! That wis a braw beer!". For I am Oor Wullie; I've had the Christmas annual of Wullie or The Broons every year since I was big enough to climb out of my bucket.

PS - Henry the Gnome may be featuring as a guest reviewer in the near future.

PPS - Now you can go and read an erudite article about heather ale, its history and the whole Ireland versus Scotland shenanigans over at Martyn Cornell's site. Just mention that I sent you.


  1. That sounds totally bloody lovely! I need to get my bottle open soon.

  2. I totally failed to do this for Burns Night - maybe I'll buy a 'reduced to clear' haggis this weekend and get busy.

  3. I thought that was a wee Pict in your picture there …