Review: Fraoch Heather Ale

by Beer reviews

Alabama House Bill 9  (HB9) is the current incarnation of legalizing homebrewing for Alabama home brewers. Since Mississippi passed a law legalizing homebrewing in March of this year (goes into effect July 1st), Alabama is now the only state in the entire union where making beer is illegal. Homebrewing is actually a felony in Alabama! You can’t even legally sell homebrewing equipment in Alabama.

Alabama has a history of getting close, but can’t ever seem to cross the finish line. Last year the homebrewing bill got to about the same point. HB354, as it was called last year, died in the Alabama senate.

As far as homebrewing laws go, this one is very restrictive. This bill only allows you to brew 60 gallons a year, compared to the federal limit of 100 gallons per person and 200 gallons per household. If that wasn’t enough, you can only have 15 gallons in your house at any time. There are times where I’ll brew 20 gallons in one shot, so the 15 gallon limitation seems excessive to me. And if you happen to live in a dry county in Alabama, you’re out of luck no matter what happens to the bill.

This beer would put me over the quarterly limit in Alabama for this year. (10 gal + 10 gal earlier)

This beer would put me over the quarterly limit in Alabama for this year. (10 gal + 10 gal earlier)

Even with these restrictions, you have to wonder why they can’t pass the law. Well you don’t have to wonder too hard. It’s the Baptists.

One big opponent (if not THE opponent) of Alabama homebrewing is Alabama Citizen Action Program (ALCAP). Once you’re on their site, you only have to reach the second sentence before the words “bible” and “moral compass” get tossed around. There’s no surprise there, and it’s nothing new. They do provide other “reasons”, which are more entertaining than the usual bible quotes.

Homebrewers can’t self-regulate

The argument goes like this. The law only allows 15 gallons of homemade beer, wine or cider per quarter (3 months) and only 15 gallons ever in your home at any time. But homebrewers are already making beer in Alabama, so according to ALCAP, they will ignore the new law as well. The only way to enforce it is to have police raid your home, something even ALCAP didn’t feel comfortable with. Still it makes you wonder. If people will ignore laws no matter what, why pass laws at all?

Think of the children

Oh you knew this reason would be here somewhere. Apparently having large amounts of homemade alcohol (15 gallons) would be too much of a temptation for children. ALCAP’s argument is if children try beer because it’s more accessible, they will try other “mind altering” drugs. Since children see their parents drinking, it would be hypocritical for the parents to challenge their child’s new drug habits. For some reason, this effect doesn’t work if it’s a store bought can of Budweiser.  Homebrew has special evil powers to corrupt children that regular alcohol is missing.

Homebrewers will want more

Previous Alabama homebrew bills had a 100 gallon limit to match the federal limits. This bill was slashed down to 15 gallons to appease critics like the ALCAP. Their “fear” is future bills will request higher amounts to brew and store, maybe even as much as 100 gallons (*gasp*). Well I’d have to say they are correct on this one. 15 gallons is unreasonably low, and should be challenged. There are no limits on the amount of beer you can purchase and store in your home. Why is homebrew more “dangerous”?  Oh yeah, special evil powers — I keep forgetting.

Homebrew makes alcoholics

Again for some strange reason, homebrew will take well-educated, chuch-attending citizens down a dark path to alcoholism, but regular store bought canned beer will not. ALCAP states “they [sic- homebrews?] begin by drinking socially and they gradually begin to drink more and more, until they find themselves addicted.” I guess they are assuming new Alabama homebrewers don’t drink beer now, and this new hobby will somehow make them alcoholics? Or again, homebrew has special evil powers which store bought beer does not possess.

These are the main reasons they highlight on their website on why you should oppose HB9. They also provide other laugh inducing reasons like the urban legend vodka tampon and butt chugging, and all the usual bible quotes in other parts of their website.  They state they are [the self appointed] moral compass for Alabama, and they have guide on all the other things you shouldn’t do.

If you’re in Alabama, you need to call your state senators and tell them YES on HB9. I really don’t want to be writing another article about how you’re close to passing it again next year.

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Credits and Links

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DJ Spiess

DJ Spiess

Beer buddy

I live in Denver, Colorado. This blog is everything about beer, wine, cider, mead and other spirits.
I am a avid homebrewer and winemaker. I’ve been making my own beer and wine for many years. I started making beer when I was in college (mostly because the drinking age in the United States is 21). My first few beers were horrible. The beers are much better now, and I often supply my neighborhood with free beer! It is a great hobby!

History of Fraoch Heather Ale

With the hops crisis running full-tilt, you may be looking to alternatives for your brewing.  One alternative is to use heather to bitter your beer.  Historically heather was used to bitter beer long before hops.  Many brewers are considering using something else to bitter their beer, but do you want to chance a 5 gallon brew before seeing what the beer is supposed to taste like?  Well you are in luck!  Fraoch is heather ale made in Scotland, and you might be able to find it at a liquor store near you.

Heather ale (or some alcoholic beverage using heather) was made in Scotland as early as 2000 BC.  The heather ale is a part of Scottish heritage and tradition.  Unfortunately after centuries of war with Britain, the Scots finally lost in 1707.  As a punishment the British passed laws which forbade beer to be made with anything other than hops.  This was punishment because hops cannot grow in Scotland.  The heather ale became history.

fraoch heather ale

Fraoch heather ale uses heather instead of hops (mostly)

In 1986, a Glasgow homebrew shop owner named Bruce Williams had an old Gaelic recipe for heather ale translated.  He perfected the recipe and sold the brew as Fraoch Heather Ale.  In 1993 he contracted a brewery to make larger amounts, and the beer is now sold worldwide.

There is still one question I’m sure you’re dying to know – how does it taste?


Fraoch looks much like normal ale.  The head was a bit shallow and dissipated quickly.  The beer has a slightly cloudy amber color.  All in all it looks like your typical pale ale.


The aroma is the first thing that you notice is different.  Fraoch has a very nice flowery scent.  There are hints of grassiness, but the smell is not hops.  The beer aroma has some maltiness, but it is very light.


The beer flavor was quite a surprise.  The bitter flavor in the beer is very different from hops – it is not nearly as bitter.  The beer is very smooth.  I found the flavor to be very clean.  The ale has a slight maltiness.  You can pick up bits of biscuits and bread in the flavor.  Fraoch is lightly carbonated and the beer is very smooth and drinkable.


I really enjoyed this beer.  It gives me hope for beer after hops.  The beer would be great on a summer day, and would make a good session beer.  I’m not sure that someone trying the beer would know that heather was used instead of hops without reading the label.  The beer should be served in a flute glass, but unfortunately I read that after pouring the beer.  Luckily the beer comes in a really cool four-pack, and I can try it next time.  I give the beer 10 dank castles out of 10.

Thanks to Claire Rachael Pitt , our UK correspondent, for the suggestion!

Brewery: Heather Ale Ltd., Williams Bros. Brewing Company
Country of Origin: Scotland, UK
Style: Heather ale