Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace


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Friday, December 4, 2009

A Taste for Ale, by Nancy Lee Badger

Research is a big time-consumer when I write a historical romance novel. I set my adventures in ancient Scotland and the marvelous bits of information, found in books and the internet, get me excited. Researching beer and ale for a story set in 1598 Scottish Highlands, I thought about the area skirting the eastern shore of the North Sea. Did the harsh climate let them grow the necessary ingredients?

In order to answer my questions, I scoured the internet and came across an interesting website. I have asked John DeMasi of www.ProhibitionHomebrew.com to help me understand more about this naturally made beverage.

Nancy: Thanks for joining me John

John: Hi Nancy, I’m glad to be here.

Nancy: Tell us a little bit about your business.

John: Prohibition Homebrew is an online retail store for home brewers and home vintners, as well as those interested in adopting the hobby. We have the ingredients and equipment necessary to brew your own beer and wine, as well as information on how to brew it.

Nancy: My research shows Scotland has produced beer and ale for thousands of years. Is there a difference between beer and ale?

John: Well, yes and no. An ale is a type of beer. In the most rudimentary sense, “beer” is broken down into two broad categories: ales and lagers. An ale is a type of beer which is created using top-fermenting yeasts, while a lager is produced using bottom-fermenting yeast. There are numerous subsets of each, and even hybrids between the two. There are Belgian ales, Brown ales, Pale ales and of course-- Scottish ales! Similarly, Lagers include various Pilsners, American Lagers, and Bocks to name a few.

Nancy: I was amazed to hear Scotland’s method of using bittering herbs is older than Europe’s. I read where organic remains found inside pots gave modern brewers the ability to recreate today’s ale with the same taste. Are any of your products able to recreate something akin to ancient Scottish brews?

John: Yes. Unfortunately, we do not have a specific “ancient Scottish” brew kit (containing all the ingredients for a specific recipe). However, we carry many of the ingredients which were used in ancient Scottish brews. Before the advent of hops in beer a variety of different herbs and spices were used. The heather plant is common to the Scottish countryside. Its tips were, and still can be, used to add a floral and aromatic character to beer. Similarly, sweet gale is a deciduous shrub found abundantly in the Northern Hemisphere, especially on the Scottish moors and bogs. It was historically used for beer flavoring before hops. We also carry herbs used in European brewing before the use of hops.

Nancy: I found one website selling something called Froach Heather Ale. They state leann fraoich means heather ale, made from boiling malted barley, sweet gale, and then adding flowering heather. Anything like this in your catalog?

John: Unfortunately, not at this time. We carry the ingredients necessary however and a simple Google search for “Heather ale” will bring up tons of different recipes which other home brewers have posted on homebrew forums.

Nancy: ‘Drop Your Kilt’ Scottish Ale caught my eye as it is promptly touted on your webpage. You share the recipe with readers. Do you sell all the ingredients? Can anyone make this at home?

John: We sure do. One of the recipe kits we sell is our ‘Drop Your Kilt’ Scottish Ale. Like all our recipe kits, it contains all the ingredients (hops, grains, yeast, etc.) that you need to make a batch of beer as well as detailed instructions on how to brew it. Truly anyone with the ambition can make it at home! However, there is some basic equipment you will need. You can check out the ‘Equipment Kits’ section of our website to get a better idea of some basic kits and general pieces of equipment you will need.

Nancy: Second only to single malt Scotch Whisky, my husband loves a product from a local brewery with a Scottish name. It is not a true Scots product, and he was thinking of trying to brew his own. Do you carry everything he needs?

John: We should. If there is any particular item your husband cannot find already on our website he, or anyone else, can email us at: Customers@prohibitionhomebrew.com and we will do our best to special order it. I am also happy to answer any questions, and can be reached directly at: John@prohibitionhomebrew.com.

Nancy: How long until his homebrew would be ready to taste?

John: Going back to your original question, it will depend on what style of beer your husband is trying to make. The temperature of fermentation and the quality of yeast will determine when a beer will taste its best. However, it takes around four weeks for many types of ale.

Nancy: Any other interesting things you can tell us about your business? And where are you located?

John: We are located in Greensboro, North Carolina. We are working on a recipe-sharing forum, known as the Speakeasy, so that home brewers can trade their own recipes, as well as a custom label making section so that individuals can make customized labels right within our site. Our staff loves home brewing and is very knowledgeable. We are willing to answer any questions people may have and no question is too great or too small. I hope your article sparks some interest in potential future brewers because this is an incredibly enjoyable hobby. The Scottish ale has a deep copper color. The hardy, rich character of this ale is much a reflection of its own people and it is not surprising that after thousands of years these characteristics have endured.

Nancy: Wow! You sure have raised my interest in the possibility of home brewing. I am still in awe that flowers and bits of shrubbery work together with yeast and come up with such a worldwide favorite like ale. My research shows it was a staple of life in the less-than-hospitable Highlands of Scotland, where I base some of my stories. Thanks for helping me understand the language and I hope my readers will visit your website. Make-your-own beer kits sound like a great gift idea!

Nancy Lee Badger lives with her husband in Raleigh, NC. She loves everything Scottish and still volunteers annually, with her family, at the New Hampshire Highland Games. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, Heart of Carolina Romance Writers, Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal Romance Writers, and Celtic Heart Romance writers. Her first novel will be published under her pen name, Nancy Lennea, in early 2010. Visit her websites and blog for updates and excerpts.



Anonymous said...

Will have to share this with my husband and son. We have toyed with the idea of making our own, but have not yet done it. There is a micr brewery in town but I haven't tried his brew yet. Asheville, NC is closest for micro brewed beers. We had one in Johnson City, TN, but it closed. Too bad, the had some good brews.

Anonymous said...

Will have to give this a try, and maybe hop up to Jonesboro next time I go to SC for a family visit. Thanks for the wonderful info, Nancy!

Gwynlyn said...

An excellent gift idea! Our son would love it. His wife . . .? Maybe not so much. Thanks for sharing.

Nicole North said...

Fastinating!! Thanks for sharing the interview!!

Jody Allen said...

Thanks for sharing the information Nancy. As one who has over indulged in Heather Ale in Scotland, I can say it gives one a heck of a hangover if not carefull. I love the fact that they use the plants but as Ale or making of ale was part of the first steps of making whisky, I wonder why we have never had a whisky with a hint of heather. I haver tried whiskies from all over Scotland and the lowlands tend to have a more fruity nose but I have never tried a highland whisky that has had a hint of heather. Be interesting if they could do that.

Julie Robinson said...

Loved this article. Will have to share with my hubby. Besides having a penchant for sampling different teas, wines, and coffees, we like to try out different ales/beers as well.
Must be an oral fetish thing.