Thursday, August 11th, 2016...10:00 am

Pict Ale

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This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items recently cataloged from the Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection.


As the title suggests this is an entertaining read on the history, legends, and facts regarding beer along with clever illustrations.  The self-proclaimed “beer king” Alan Eames covers everything from the invention of beer, drinking habits of various cultures, advice on the best suds in the world, as well as the representation of beer in poetry, song, and popular culture.

I was fascinated to discover within the text something called Pict ale, which according to the author was the first beer brewed in the British Isles and famous for its strength and hallucinogenic potency.  It has been subsequently discovered that dwelling beneath the leaves of the heather plant is ergot fungus which contains LSD-like properties.  Heather ale was made using the flowers of the heather plant which were placed in the bottom of brew vats and combined with malt.  The specific type of heather was a closely guarded secret kept by the Picts, which was eventually lost when they were exterminated by the Scottish King Niall in the fourth century.  Heather ale has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years and is currently produced by a small number of Scottish breweries.

Fraoch FRAΦCH Heather Ale ~Sláinte | Flickr ...Fraoch is one of those contemporary heather ales that is brewed by the Williams Bros. Brewing Company in Scotland.  They suggest pairing this original craft beer with venison, haggis, or dessert.

Robert Louis Stevenson famously wrote about the heather ale and its connection to the Picts in his publication of Ballads in 1890.  Houghton has a copy that was once owned by Henry James and includes Heather ale: a Galloway legend where he writes:

“Was far sweeter than honey, 

Was stronger far than wine.”

heatherale_2Another section on beer, poetry, and song reveals that the Middles Ages had many songs written both about the joys and evils of beer.  European history shows that the control and taxation of beer resulted in some of the earliest satiric music.  This musical outrage commonly burst forth in response to the increased price of beer revealing the importance of beer with the general populace.  To learn more from this handy little volume you can find the Secret life of beer : legends, lore & little-known facts[compiled by] Alan D. Eames. Pownal, Vt. : Storey Communications, c1995 in Widener’s collection.  

Thanks to Alison Harris, Santo Domingo Project Manager, for contributing this post. 

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