Driving shotgun this summer on the sleek roads around the Isle of Mann, we took note of the beautiful, deep-purple gobs of what looked like heather that infiltrate that island. From the roads, the mossy underbrush looked like the lovely lavender buds of wild heather that are Scotland’s second most famous grass. (After peet moss, of course, in all its smoky glory.)
Fraoch anniversary ale by Williams Bros Brewing Co. combines these two most sacred weeds to mind-scrambling results: an 11-percent ABV ale brewed with heather tips and matured in sherry casks used to age single-malt Speyside Scotch. This is the 20th anniversary version of their normal Fraoch brew, which reportedly is based on a beer that drove a Gaelic king to throw himself off a cliff after an English lord tortured his son looking for the recipe. Since we didn’t make it north to Scotland, this rare, revered and suicide inducing Gruit-style beer would suffice. It was a gift from a chef friend who took a recent business trip to New York. We’d never heard of it before. Famous last words.
This bottle was curious. For on thing, it’s green glass, which you don’t see in serious beers. And with the recent American fixation with aging our strong ales in bourbon barrels, this seemed so in tune with our modern American desires.
When we slashed its gold-foil cap sleeve with a fish knife we were greeted by a cheap-o plastic cork. As we “uhhhhh’ed” at these incongruent signals of sheer luxury and cost-cutting dereliction, we forgot to let the beer sit to help settle the fairy dust sediment.
We slam-toasted our goblets. “Fraoch (pronounced “frucccccccck” in our slo-mo skulls). Tastes. Gooooood.”
Booze up front and lingering behind, the Scotch peetiness was subdued. The cereal malt flavors were crisp and sticky. Stinging nettle, honey, and malted barley clusters. The heather bobbed in our cereal bowls like museli dust. (Is there heather in my teeth?) We were drinking faster now, with places to go later. The crystalized lemon notes quickly melted into a caramel swirl.
Two hours later, in a well-lit art gallery, our brains were throbbing in slow bursts. Gabbing around warm apple cider before taking part in a free-form jazzercise, we felt sluggish. The pain was muted but distinct. Talking became hard. A squishy, wet mushroom seemed to bloom behind our left eyelobes. Time stood still with a snickerdoodle in our hand. Then the exercises started. Yoga mats and a wood floor felt hard and unfriendly. Motown boogies had the group of dancers leading us in sock-hop style movements that tugged on our floppy heads. The lights were shrieking. We could taste herbal bitterness on our breath.
Finally, in a measure of God’s love, the moving stopped and the dancers let us stoop to a shavasana floor rest. Lights turned off. We closed our eyes and saw a deep deep purple in the back of our brains, spinning like flowers on the side of the road.
Dairy Pairy: Valentina by La Estrella Creamery: An altitude defying faux-Gruyere.
Soundtrack: Sonic Youth, “Bull in the Heather”
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