Black Shuck, That Beer Don’t Give A…

Black Shuck, a ‘black shaggy dog, with fiery eyes and of immense size’, is a phantom hound that’s been reported all over East Anglia and beyond.

“The noise of rattling chains over the desolate fields on moonless nights announced the invisible prescence of these hounds; sometimes their heavy breathing might be heard. The important thing to do was to take shelter immediately, at home if possible, and to lock and bolt doors and windows so that the fearsome animals, foretelling death or other disaster, could not come by” (Enid Porter, Cambridgeshire Customs and Folklore)

Several breweries and beers immortalise shuck and other hellish hounds – here are five of them.

Wagtail Black Shuck

Wagtail Black Shuck

Wagtail Brewery Black Shuck is a stout brewed in Old Buckenham, Norfolk using malt from Wells-next-the-Sea. According to the label

“Since Viking times the inhabitants of Norfolk have told tales of a wild black dog with flaming red eyes, the appearance of which bodes ill to the beholder”

The legend of Black Shuck is said to have been an inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles after hearing the tale while staying in North Norfolk.

Bottle from Real Ale Shop – pours black as shuck, with a faint aroma of coffee and a thin head. Light body with a soft mouthfeel, and roasty, woody, coal ash flavours. Very nice, and a vegan beer too.

Tring Colleys Dog

Tring Colleys Dog

This beer is named after a ghostly black dog that once haunted the site of a gibbet at Gubblecote Cross.

Within the parish of Tring, Hertford, a poor old woman was drowned in 1751 for suspected witchcraft. A chimney-sweeper, who was the principal perpetrator of this deed, was hanged and gibbeted near the place where the murder was committed; and while the gibbet stood, and long after it had disappeared, the spot was haunted by a black dog.

The hanged man’s surname was Colley, thought to derive from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘col’ meaning black (hence Collie Dog and the ‘four colly birds’ of the Twelve Days of Christmas song) so the apparition of a black dog is fitting. An encounter with this particular black dog is described:

When we came near the spot,where a portion of the gibbet had lately stood, he saw on the bank of the roadside a flame of fire as large as a man’s hat. ‘What’s that?’ I exclaimed. ‘Hush!’ said my companion, and suddenly pulling in his horse, made a dead stop. I then saw an immense black dog just in front of our horse, the strangest-looking creature I ever beheld. He was as big as a Newfoundland, but very gaunt, shaggy, with long ears and tail, eyes like balls of fire, and large, long teeth, for he opened his mouth and seemed to grin at us. In a few minutes the dog disappeared, seeming to vanish like a shadow, or to sink into the earth, and we drove on over the spot where he had lain.” (T. F. Thistleton Dyer, The Ghost World)

Strong tasting and full-bodied, ruddy bronze coloured with caramel and red berry flavours, a good premium ale – bottle from Northampton Delicatessen.

Elgood’s Black Dog

Elgoods Black Dog

Elgood’s brewery in Wisbech, out in the Fenlands of Cambridgeshire, has a black dog as its emblem, brews Black Dog Mild and a seasonal ‘Old Black Shuck’ Stout.

Old Black Shuck was apparently based on a story from a book of Fen Tales by local writer Polly Howat. The one-eyed dog was supposed to roam areas around Parson Drove and meant death to anyone coming into contact with it. Although the same beer now goes by the name of Snake Slayer, Elgoods say they may use Black Shuck again in future.

A particular shuck was said to have haunted the area near Littleport and Brandon Creek, on the border of Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, about 20 miles from the brewery, in search of its drowned master.

“On pitch black nights wayfarers could hear him padding along the road whining and howling for his dead master. Some even declared they had felt the dog’s hot breath against their legs, while people living in houses alongside the road dreaded the dark nights when shuck’s howls kept them awake as he roamed the river bank”

But things aren’t always as they seem; the black dog of the brewery logo is heraldic, a black greyhound from the Elgood family crest. The label for Black Dog Mild closely resembles a description of the crest:

In front of a mount vert, thereon a greyhound courant sable, holding in the mouth a key… a pile of six pellets, one, two, and three.

The pile of pellets may actually represent mill stones as there were millers in the Elgood family.

The key may have been added to represent a family member’s love of watercolour painting – there are no heraldic paintbrushes so a key was chosen. Alternatively, an apocryphal tale suggests it relates to a former brewer who would give the brewery keys to his dog to look after should the brewer, in an inebriated state, lock himself out! This story was first mooted during the after dinner speeches following a Licensed Victuallers Association dinner in the seventies.

Black Dog is an enjoyable mild with soft chocolate and a lick of liquorice, flavoursome enough to want to follow it with another one, always a good sign.

Fox Cerberus

Fox Cerberus
A 4.5% stout from Fox brewery in Heacham, Norfolk featuring Cerberus, the hellhound guarding the gates of the underworld. More fittingly, in Dante’s Inferno Cerberus is in the third circle of hell, gluttony, depicted with a swollen belly.

This bottle was past its ‘best before’ date and past its best when I came to drink it. The dark berry flavours seemed muted compared to how I remember it being on cask – I’ll try this again when I find it fresh on.

Of course, tales of fearsome beasts roaming the shorelines and rivers might also have served the purpose of scaring people away while smuggling took place.

Hellhound Black Shuck

Hellhound Black Shuck

Hellhound, a Suffolk brewery that started three years ago, has Cerberus on its logo. They also brew Black Shuck, a 3.9% porter. On cask at the Hopbine, Cambridge it was a really enjoyable and quaffable beer with good coffee and chocolate flavours – apparently made with ‘proper posh coffee’ from Deepmills of Woodbridge.

The Darkness song refers to the shuck that appeared at Blytheburgh in Suffolk. One day in 1577 it “appeared in the parish church preceded by a thunderstorm. This black dog struck three people dead and left scorch marks on the North church door, which can still be seen today.”

As he takes another fatal swipe
At the Blytheburgh Church Door

Black Shuck,
That dog don’t give a fuck

– – – – –

Thanks to Mr Elgood and Kate Pateman at Elgood & Sons Ltd for their information.

Katharine Briggs, British Folk-Tales and Legends, 1970
Daniel Codd, Mysterious Cambridgeshire, 2010
James Fairbairn Crests of the Families of Great Britain and Ireland, 1905
Enid Porter, Cambridgeshire Customs and Folklore, 1969
T. F. Thistleton Dyer, The Ghost World, 1898
Hertfordshire’s last witch hunt
Smugglers on the Suffolk shore
The Osbornes of Tring
Literary Norfolk


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