Heather in Ancient Literature.
The archaeological evidence for ancient heather beers (or other fermented beverages) is minimal compared to that of meadowsweet. Heather has been widely used in gruits and ales in the past several centuries and, in folklore and myth, is often associated with Celtic drinking traditions. Buhner (1998: 25-35), for instance, devotes several pages to the historic (Medieval and more recent) use of heather and its lyric tradition. I have also read that heather ales were common among and perhaps sacred to the Celts and Picts. This tradition and the discovery of Neolithic ceramic sherds in Scotland that possess residues of a fermented beverage and heather (see below) are evidence enough for many to suggest a continuous tradition from prehistory to the modern era. The continuous tradition, however, is not supported (nor, necessarily, refuted) by any archaeological or literary evidence that I have seen. With that said: if any readers have any primary evidence for ancient heather ales/beers/gruits (especially ca. 1000 BCE-1000 CE), please let us know and we will add it to the list (below)!
Evidence for Potential Heather Ales/Gruits/Beers/Meads
Kinloch (Isle of Rhum), Scotland (ca. 2000 BCE) – Residue analysis of Neolithic pottery indicates the presence of a cereal-based fermented beverage with traces of heather, meadowsweet, and royal fern (Wickham-Jones, et al. 1990: 126-127).
From the Meadowsweet Archaeology overview
Ashgrove, Fife, Scotland (ca. 1450-1100 BCE) – A beaker found in the cist burial of a man contained the remains of lime pollen (Tilia cordata) (for honey/mead), with meadowsweet, heather, and ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata) (Dickson 1978).
Buhner, S.H. 1998. Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers. The Secrets of Ancient Fermentation. Boulder, CO: Siris Books.
Dickson, J.H. 1978. “Bronze Age Mead.” Antiquity 52(205): 108-113.
Nelson, M. 2001. “Beer in Greco-Roman Antiquity.” Ph.D. dissertation, U. British Columbia.
Wickham-Jones, C., et al. 1990. Rhum: Mesolithic and Later Sites at Kinloch Excavations 1984-1986. Edinburgh.
WikimediaCommons. “Texel – Hoornderslag – Flowering Heather – View North” TxllxT TxllxT