Adventures in Homebrew: Heather Ale

by Kevin at Beer and Coding

So, I was all set to brew a strong ESB yesterday, finishing out my series of beers using the Timothy Taylor (Wyeast 1469) strain of yeast. But while waiting my turn to use the grain room at the homebrew shop, I got a wild hair. Not sure if I was channeling Mike, who recently brewed a Tart Heather Gruit, or just feeling my Scottish roots a little more than usual. Hell, it could have been that I was standing in front of the spice/herb rack and I just happen to be a notorious impulse shopper. In any case, I arrived at the homebrew store with and ESB recipe and left with all the ingredients for a Heather Ale.

Heather Ale

Batch Size: 5.0 gallons
Boil Volume: 6.5 gallons
7 lb Crisp Maris Otter (70%)
1 lb Simpsons Golden Naked Oats (10%)
1 lb Flaked Barley (10%)
10 oz Simpsons Caramalt 13-17L (6.25%)
6 oz Briess Cherry Wood Smoked Malt (3.75%)
1.0 oz Goldings (4.5 AA%) @ 60
1.0 oz Dried Heather Tips & Flowers @ 15
1.0 oz Dried Heather Tips & Flowers @ Flame Out, steeped for ~1 hour
Yeast cake from English Brown Ale – Wyeast 1469 – West Yorkshire (Timothy Taylor)

Estimated Efficiency: 68%
Estimated Attenuation 75%
Estimated OG: 1.050
Estimated FG: 1.013
Estimated ABV: 4.8%
Estimated IBU: 20
Estimated SRM: 8

Mash @ 155º(F) for 1 hour
Ferment @ 68º(F)

Since this was a spur of the moment brew, I didn’t have time to work out a recipe beforehand. The grainbill was an on-the-fly attempt to emulate the honey sweetness and smooth creamy body of Fraoch, the benchmark Heather Ale. The golden naked oats seemed like a great choice, since they provide both a light sweet flavor and a creamy body. I also mashed a few degrees higher than usual. The residual sugars should also help maintain both sweetness and body.

The Fraoch

The smoked malt is a bit of a rogue (adjective, not brewery) ingredient. To me, the sweet, hay-like aroma of heather is almost savory. My thinking was that a touch of smoked malt would enhance this perception. I chose the Briess cherry wood smoked malt over a traditional German rauchmalt. The Briess malt has an intense, almost hickory flavor and is far sweeter than its European counterpart.

As far as brewing, the only deviation from the recipe above was the inclusion of 7oz of palm sugar. I attempted to track down some heather honey, but after stopping at two specialty markets and coming up empty, I decided to boost the gravity with something I already had on hand. The 2oz of heather soaked up a surprising amount of wort, so I ended up with about 4.75 gallons at 1.053.

The Heather Ale was drained directly onto the cake from my English Brown Ale, which was moved to secondary while the knockout heather was steeping. This is only the second time I’ve transferred directly onto an existing cake. Usually, I retain only a small amount of slurry for repitching, but with my yeast already on its 4th generation, I figured a full cake couldn’t hurt.

The beer was very fragrant going into the fermenter and I’m hoping much of the aroma is retained in the finished product. The 2oz of heather was a complete guess on my part. Most of the recipes I’ve seen for heather ales use fresh tips and measure in volume, not weight. I made sure to purchase enough heather that if need be, I can dry-herb in secondary.

via Adventures in Homebrew: Heather Ale « Beer and Coding in Eugene.