#FF Pint – Rhatas, by Black Dog Brewery, Whitby…

black-dogThe mythical Black Dog holds a prominent place in old English folklore. There are regional – but similar – variations of this muscular, spectral lupine beast with long, sharp fangs and glowing red eyes, which preys on weary travellers.

Arguably, the most famous of all is the Barghest of Whitby, which, it is said, roams the North Yorkshire moors surrounding the once-thriving whaling port. Legend has it that any poor soul who should hear the beast’s blood-curdling cries in the night will certainly be dead by dawn.

Whilst literature is scattered with references to the black dog in everything from Sherlock Holmes to Harry Potter, the legend of the Barghest was perhaps made most famous in the pages of Dracula, which Bram Stoker found inspiration for while staying in the fishing resort in 1890.

Stoker, it is said, was quite smitten with the atmosphere of the town – the red roofs, the network of dark alleyways and ginnells, the eerie abbey, the church with its tombstones and even the bats flying around many of its darker corners.

The author is believed to have stayed in the town’s Royal Hotel, which sits imposingly atop the West Cliff. From there, he would have had a prime view across the town and the harbour to the older East side, in the shadow of the ruins of Whitby Abbey, which sits at the top of 199 stone steps which wind up into the cliffs from the cobbled streets below.

It’s the vantage point from which Stoker described how Dracula first arrived on our shores.

In the form of a black dog, the mythical vampire was stowed on a Russian schooner heading for London, which berthed on the coast off Whitby. He descended the vessel in darkness and climbed the 199 stones steps to the Abbey, where he came upon his first victim in the graveyard.

I mention this, because I was in Whitby with my ladies yesterday for a family day out and whenever we visit this amazing seaside resort, my thoughts often turn to the supernatural tales which are linked with it.

I’ve loved a good ghost story ever since I was a child, when my Grandad, a true ranconteur, would sit in his armchair on a Saturday afternoon and, in a fug of cigarette smoke, regale my sister and I with the spooky stories he had picked up from his travels with the Royal Navy during the war and the Merchant Navy after it.

Most involved a drink or two, but then they are kind of the best stories anyway, aren’t they?

But I digress…

We eventually left for home yesterday at around 9.30pm, after an action-packed day of crabbing, arcades, shopping and walking, all rounded-off by a famous Whitby Ghost Walk – which sated my need for all things supernatural – before heading out of the town and into the moors on our way home.

It was that strange time of day when dusk was turning to night. The sky was an amazing dark amber and the hot and humid conditions had conspired with the brisk sea breeze to create a mist which descended over the barren expanses of scrubland on either side of the winding road on which we were travelling.

The car was full of chat and laughter as we recounted the day and the experiences we’d had when I saw, in the distance and almost imperceptible at first, two bright red beacons on the road ahead, which seemed to be getting closer as we continued on our way.

Was it a car? Must have been, although we’d not seen a single other vehicle since leaving Whitby. The mist had by now turned into a fog as thick as felt and all I could see up ahead were the two, burning red lights getting closer and closer. I’m normally a rational person, but I slowed the car, wound up the window and turned up the radio to drown out the noises outside, just in case.

All the time, the lights were getting closer… it couldn’t have been, could it?

Paranormal goings-on are not the only thing Whitby is famous for, which brings me to the main point of this post. It also does great fish and chips – the UK’s best, in fact.

There aren’t many more culinary pleasures which can top this seaside staple – a foodie experience which is never better than when you’re sat by the harbour, the water gently lapping the walls, seagulls circling noisily over your head, spooning vinegar-soaked chips and freshly caught fish into your mouth with a little wooden fork. It’s perfection.

Black DogUnfortunately, with the prospect of a two-and-a-half hour drive home around the corner, I had to settle for a diet coke to wash down my meal.

Had I not been driving, I would have partaken in a pint of this.

Dark Ruby in colour and steeped in some of the spookier elements of Whitby’s history, this is one Black Dog whose howls I wouldn’t mind heeding.

The brewery had been operating in the town for many years, but ceased trading in 2001.However, in 2006, a local farmer acquired its equipment and recipes and relaunched it in a bid to keep the tradition going.

I’ve raised a couple of queries about my own brewing methods this week and once again, the homebrew community has been very generous with its insight, guidance and support.

So, here is a virtual pint of Black Dog Rhatas to the following fellow homebrewers who have helped me along the way this week…

Cheers guys. Just don’t look into its eyes…


#FF Pint: Gladness, by Growler Brewery

Last Friday was so hectic that I didn’t even have the time to squeeze a real pint in, let alone a virtual one, so I have a doozy for you this week to make amends. Image

Following the theme of my last #FF pint, that is bands which create beer, I bring you Gladness, a rather curious little brew from the Essex-based Growler Brewery, in honour of one of my fave bands of all time – UK ska legends Madness.

I say curious, because they bill it as “a lager, that’s an ale…that’s totally mad.” Brewed as an ale, it uses only lager ingredients and the result is a golden amber beer, with the distinctive floral and malty notes of a lager, but a dry and bitter finish at the end.

At 4.2% ABV, it has an acceptable alcohol content and is, if I dare to describe it in this way, a distinctly British beer.

It’s a bizarre drinking experience, given that it looks like an ale, but it tastes like a lager, albeit with much more taste and body than the common cooking variety. It’s by no means unpleasant, though, and definitely one for the patio, in the sunshine, with a slow-cooked rack of ribs and some chargrilled corn on the cob.

While it’s not readily available in the major chains (certainly in my neck of the woods), a quick search of some of the speciality beer parlours near my place of work unearthed a modest supply and I’m sure the more determined real ale shops around the country can also get hold of some.

So, cheers to all the people who’ve engaged with me on this blog and via Twitter this week and if it’s your first time at the @JonnoBrews bar, don’t be a stranger.

Have a good weekend folks. I’ll leave you with this…



#FF Pint – Build A Rocket Boys

20140427_180836Manic week at work this week, so blogging activity has been a bit sparse around these parts.

However, just enough time to squeeze in a quick #FF pint for all those who have been good enough to engage with me on this blog and on Twitter this week.

It’s Build a Rocket Boys!, a beer brewed exclusively by the band Elbow in support of their album of album of the same moniker.

I’m not a fan of the band – far from it, in fact – but I kind of like the idea of a band-endorsed beer, which reflects their roots, homeland and heritage.

Hailing from Bury, Elbow are very much a product of the home in the heartland of the industrial north.

Brewed by Robinson’s in Stockport, near Manchester, this golden, malty amber beer is a very smooth pint. Not at all unpleasant, but by no means remarkable.

If I was being harsh, I’d say it was a reflection of the band themselves – bland and inoffensive, but lifted by the occasional high note – but it’s the Friday of a Bank Holiday weekend, so I’m not going to be so churlish and instead say that this made a good accompaniment to the roast lamb and mint sauce dinner I drank it with. Not perfect, but a good companion nonetheless.

So, bottoms up guys and thanks for checking out the blog this week. Hope to see you back here soon.


#FF Pint – Castle Rock Harvest Pale

CC BY 2.0 Smabs SputzerThis will be the first in a series of posts to tip a nod to the good advice of my friends and followers, both here and on Twitter.

The plan is to send a virtual pint, using the #FF hashtag, each week to all those in the homebrew community I have swapped messages, tips, advice and comments with during the week.

As I said the other day, I’ve been blown away by how friendly and welcoming the community has been so far and am looking forward to meeting and tweeting more budding amateur craft brewers along the way.

So, I’m kicking things off with my favourite tipple from my local brewery, Castle Rock.

Harvest Pale is its flagship brew, a delightfully hoppy pale ale with a long, crisp finish. Multi-award winning, it was named Camra’s Champion Bitter of Britain in 2007 and Champion Beer of Britain in 2010.

Although brewed in my home city of Nottingham, using mostly British ingredients, it is the blend of citrussy American hops which give it such a unique flavour. It’s quite a bitter brew compared with some of the other pale ales I’ve tasted, which, in my view, sets it apart and whilst not a winter warmer, there’s no better accompaniment to a sunlit early evening in the beer garden or family barbecue.

If you’ve arrived here via the #FF hashtag, cheers! If not, thanks for checking this blog out and I hope to see you again soon.