After receiving a sample bottle of Fraoch 20th Anniversary Ale from the Williams Bros., I was in a quandary about keeping it for a while, or just lashing into it. It was only bottled last month, and with a best before date of 2019, it might even benefit from a bit of age. Of course, curiosity got the better of me, and it was duly opened last week and shared with some colleagues following a tasting of the other recent beers from Williams Bros.
As the picture shows, this pours a lovely, clear, amber, a little tawny when held to the light. Carbonation is fairly low, but that may change over time as I was told it was not filtered or pasteurised, and that it would currently be sedimenting, so I assume it's bottle conditioned. In fact, there was very little sediment in this bottle, and the beer poured bright, so it was hard to tell.
Fraoch 20th Anniversary Ale has been aged in whisky casks that were previously used for sherry, and this is really evident on the nose. A really sweet, strong, honey-like aroma and masses of sherry, oak and vanilla notes. To my palate, the flavour was strikingly whisky-oriented, with a wash of oaky, vanilla flavours up front, a light alcohol warmth from the 11% ABV, and then the sweet, fruity sherry flavours take over. There's an underlying fruitiness, very like cherries, throughout the whole experience and the finish is long, sweet and spritzy with the trademark heather blossom just about making a show behind the full fruity flavours.
At first I thought the oaky, sherry notes were a bit over-dominant, but actually, once the other flavours come into play, they lend a lovely, comforting character to the beer. It's one of those that would make a nice dessert beer, although my German colleagues all said it would make a great apéritif.
Speaking of which, I'm sure they won't mind me posting some of their comments. I think a beer like this is a real challenge for a beer drinking nation like Germany that doesn't have quite as much tradition (well, they did have interesting ingredients before the gebot was inflicted on the rest of the country) or indeed forward-looking development of beers like this. A doppelbock just can't get to these levels of flavour, in my humble opinion, but I look forward to being proven wrong. So, it's probably not too surprising to ave two colleagues state that this was not a beer. Not in the sense that it was an affront to call such stuff beer, but I think more in the sense that it bears no relation to what is commonly considered beer in Germany. In fairness, the final comments ranged from "maybe I'm too much into conservative tastes" (the first sign of the road to recovery") through describing to as "very interesting, but more like a liqueur than a beer. Too sweet to drink lots of it", all the way through to "a great luxury beer".
From my point of view, I really liked this. It felt more like drinking a fine mead flavoured with with raisins and oaky vanilla. It is sweet, but the fortified feel to it makes it satisfying rather than sickly. I enjoyed the mix of flavours, and I would love to know how it ages, and if it changes at all. So, if you see one of the 7,500 bottles (5,000 of which are destined for the US market), I think it's worth buying a bottle. Buy two maybe, drinking one now and keeping the other for a year or two, just to see. And let me know!