A Year of Beer 2009 #19 - Williams Bros Ceilidh, Birds and Bees, IPA and 80 Shilling
Another part of our (hopefully) year-long video project, A Year of Beer. looking at the idea of beer and seasonality - how different styles of beer are more appropriate to different seasons, weathers, festivals and so on. There will also be a bit of beer and food matching thrown in because, hell, we love to eat as much as we love to drink.
This week: Williams Bros Ceilidh, Birds and Bees, IPA and 80 Shilling
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Williams Bros Ceilidh, Birds and Bees, IPA and 80 Shilling
There's an awful lot I don't say in this video - I think that reviewing four beers at a time is a bit ambitious, so let's try and flesh out those beers a bit. We'll start at the end and work backwards, shall we?
Williams Bros are a microbrewery based in Alloa, Scotland, and they've been at it for a little over two decades. They started out principally brewing heritage-style beers, flavoured with spruce pine tips, heather, elderberries and other traditional but underused ingredients
On the basis of sales through the Beer-Ritz shop in Leeds, Williams Bros. Fraoch is their best selling brand. It might seem unlikely that a beer flavoured with heather flowers and sweet gale would sell particularly well, but it does. I guess that there isn't too much competition in that sector, and Williams Bros have it sewn up. It isn't as outre as it sounds - the heather gives a background perfumed note, and the sweet gale goes some way to bittering, adding a little bit of dryness as well.
The beautifully packaged barrel-aged version that I've ended up with is a limited edition of just 7500, so good luck with tracking some down. As I say in the video, this is a special occasion beer, and one that I feel a little guilty about saving, but I think it will grace the table on Burns' Night, or at Hogmanay. I will wear the kilt and antique beavers-head sporran, give an address to the haggis, and splash some whisky-toned Fraoch on its gushing entrails.
Williams Bros 80/- (4.1%abv, the name eighty shilling, derived from the amount of alcohol duty paid per brewer's barrel) is a very decent example of the style. On the nose, there is a bit of toffee, some dried fruit and hint of smoke. In the mouth, there is a surprising fruitiness mid-palate, reminiscent of chocolate orange, with a hint of strawberry fruit. It's a little unexpected, but adds a lightness of touch that leavens the beers a little. The beer finishes malty and lightly smoky - I say wood smoke in the video, but it's more like wood smoke carried through a brewery at mashing-in time (I'm sure that phrase will come back to haunt me).
Is there any term more confusing in beer at the moment than IPA? We all know the history behind it, but it has been taken and pulled in so many directions that it is nothing more than a thin veneer, a catch-all term for anything from a pale hoppy session ale to a profound, rasping hop-led assault on the senses. Williams Bros.' version (5%abv) lands pretty much in the middle of what we might expect, being pale golden in colour and having a hop-led flavour of moderate intensity. There is plenty of citrussy hop character, well-supported by plenty of sweetish pale malt. The bitterness builds as you work through the bottle, although never dominates. It's pleasantly understated, and like a lot of classic pale golden ales, is deceptively simple, but is very satisfying.
Birds & Bees (5%abv) is a summer seasonal, and you'd be able to tell that just by sniffing it. Sappy pale malt, lemon zest and elderflower are all apparent in the aroma, and bring to mind summer afternoons in grandmother's garden, drinking homemade lemonade. I'm not saying that it tastes like homemade lemonade, but there is something about Birds & Bees that awakens a memory of shady summer gardens and freshly cut grass. It's a good, light quaffer, a summer session ale, although personally I'd like it to be about half the strength (or do I just want to drink twice as much?).
Ceilidh (4.3%abv, noun (1) in Scotland and Ireland: an informal social gathering, with songs, story-telling, music and dancing. (2) Scottish a public or private dance with Scottish traditional dancing only. ETYMOLOGY: 19c: Scottish Gaelic, meaning 'a visit') is a good craft lager, crisp, zesty and dry. The name refers to the gathering of ingredients from Europe and the USA - presumably they get together, have a cracking hoedown at the brewery, and Ceilidh is the result of their wassailing. A very decent lager, with more than enough character to keep the palate interested.