Æther Blæc – the origin of the name.
When I made Æther Blæc I knew I had created something special. A stronger stout, fermented with Belgian style yeast, matured in a 28 year Islay whisky cask along with dry hops sounds good to start with.
The stout only went into the cask at just over 6% ABV and some advisors were dubious about this being strong enough to ward off any unfortunate infections from the wood. I had ensured however, that the cask had remained sealed from the moment the whisky had been removed up until the point I was ready to put the beer into the cask. I was relying on the cask strength spirit to be a good disinfectant, and I am convinced that this helps. As the whisky had been permeating the wood for such a long time; indeed, since the time I was preparing for my “O” levels and around the time John Lennon got shot, bacteria will have long since been driven into a pickle rendering them unable to influence the beer.
A little residual fermentable carbohydrate and a reasonable amount of yeast remaining in the beer helps to combat both infection and oxidization as will the antiseptic effect of the whole cone hops. Never daring to open the cask, despite the compelling urge to taste the beer, ensured minimum chance of contamination.
Despite all these precautions I was somewhat nervous the day I did prepare to bottle the beer. Would I have just made a whisky flavoured malt vinegar? Perhaps a phenol bomb with no balance to offset this challenging, and considered to be an off flavour by the traditional view. Those present that morning got to taste the raw cask version. First me, just to make sure, in the privacy of the cellar taking a pipette full from the shive hole. Once I found that the result suited my tolerant taste I was lucky to have the new, but superbly enthusiastic beer geek Ben (@AKA_Franklin) to give a second opinion. Even Ann decided that the combination of whisky flavour in a stout to be superior to whisky in its normal form. A winner, it was decided, had been born from its oaky womb.
But what do you call such a special beer? A mysterious and complex beer that has taken nearly 3 decades, effectively, to achieve this end result, deserves a name with equal mystique and complexity. A name one might be scared to say incase it got pronounced incorrectly and a name that makes you question how it came to be and what does it all mean. A thinking man's beer and a thinking man's name.
The name of course has no direct meaning and I’d challenge anyone with knowledge of the various languages it is derived from to delve deeper. I started, however, with the premise that as the beer becomes as it does due to the influence of those lovable maverick countries of the British Isles, a nod to their cultures was appropriate. In short I wanted a strong Gaelic influence and an old historic feel to the name.
I started with my understanding of the origin of the meaning of the word whisky. Derived Eau du Vie, water of life or in Gaelic "Uisge Beatha" which became "iskie bae" by 1583 until eventually being called whisky. I like that explanation, but failed to find exactly what I was looking for. I also like the diphthong usage that can be applied in such languages, not sure if it is appropriate and more knowledgeable people will no doubt throw in comment on that, but putting in a couple of æ’s into the name seemed an appropriately poncy thing to do.
Ether is a somewhat nebulous word to find a definition for; Scientifically it refers to a chemical compound which links to ethyl alcohol but it’s origins go back to Greek and refer to spirits, air, heaven or space. A Wikipeadia search finds the spelling Æthere. There, that’s my first word, shortened to Æther, and by my definition meaning spirit, or liquid of life.
Further Wiktionary searches found an old English spelling of blæc, which of course means the complete absence of any visible colour, as you might find in a stout. Perhaps this unnecessary spelling might confuse the customer, as has been pointed out by my new branding team, but I like it that way and hopefully will stay that way.
This explanation of the name might well be flawed and unsatisfactory, but there it is. An honest and truthful explanation of how I arrived at the name. As for how to pronounce it, well, it contains diphthongs, which should be self-explanatory and is certainly subtly different to Ether Black.
Just this morning I received confirmation of the ABV by distillation analysis. It appears to have picked up around 1.3% ABV from the whisky cask. More knowledgeable people than myself have pointed out the grogging law might cause various problems with HMRC. I would like to think that my explanation here of the process used demonstrates that it is for the purpose of making a superb beer, and not for the purpose of "extracting any spirits absorbed in the wood".
My point would be - that to first allow the angels to consume the spirit off the wood would also permit spoilage bacteria to contaminate the wood; the alcohol is essential to ensure sterility of the timber. To dilute the beer back to the original ABV, which is the other "fiddle" used to satisfy HMRC, would also have a detrimental effect on the quality of the finished product.
Therefore, in the spirit of the grogging law, I am not trying to avoid payment of duty.