English folklore is made up of countless stories of monsters, beasts and fantastical creatures who roam the land, with one of the most infamous being Black Shuck. Tales of sinister, black dogs have been recorded throughout various places, yet the legend of Black Shuck has a particularly strong connection to East Anglia.
Read on to learn more about this devil hound and which distillery has reimagined the story through the lens of rum.
A bringer of death
The image of Black Shuck as an omen of death is perhaps the most well-known portrayal. One story tells of the creature being a war dog of Odin, who came to the British Isles with the Vikings and never left. The writer W.A Dutt gave a vivid description of Shuck in his 1901 Highways & Byways in East Anglia.
“He takes the form of a huge black dog, and prowls along dark lanes and lonesome field footpaths, where, although his howling makes the hearer’s blood run cold, his footfalls make no sound.
You may know him at once, should you see him, by his fiery eye; he has but one, and that, like the Cyclops, is in the middle of his head. But such an encounter might bring you the worst of luck: it is even said that to meet him is to be warned that your death will occur before the end of the year.
So, you will do well to shut your eyes if you hear him howling; shut them even if you are uncertain whether it is the dog fiend or the voice of the wind you hear. Should you never set eyes on our Norfolk Snarleyow you may perhaps doubt his existence, and, like other learned folks, tell us that his story is nothing but the old Scandinavian myth of the black hound of Odin, brought to us by the Vikings who long ago settled down on the Norfolk coast.”
A notable sighting of the beast was said to have happened at the churches of Bungay and Blythburgh in Suffolk in 1577. On a stormy night, Shuck broke through the doors of Holy Trinity Church, killing a boy and a man and causing the church steeple to collapse through the roof. When the dog escaped, scorch marks on the north door were left behind that can still be seen today.
A companion and protector
Other stories present Black Shuck as a benevolent companion and melancholy protector.
One such tale involves a Danish and Saxon fisherman who were accompanied by a black dog when they were fishing. They ran into trouble and the body of the Danish fisherman washed up at Beeston, while the Saxon washed up at Overstrand. The body of Shuck was never recovered, but his ghost wanders the coastline, forever searching for his masters.
Shuck has also been seen as a guardian of lost women, who’ve found themselves stranded on roads at night. The creature has acted as a guide and helped them get back to civilisation.
Every dog has his rum day
The spirit of Black Shuck has been brought to life by the Black Shuck Distillery in Fakenham, Norfolk. Run by Patrick and Sarah Saunders and set up in 2011, the distillery started out producing gin and has since expanded to include rum too.
The two main expressions are Black Shuck White and Black Shuck spiced. The white variant is bottled at 40% ABV and carries nutty, savoury notes and clean finish. The spiced product is also bottled at 40% ABV and is blended from a range of Caribbean rums. The distillery also offers a honey rum liqueur that is an infusion of the white rum and blended with Norfolk honey.
Black Shuck is one of many creatures to be revitalised through rum. Check out this overview of four rums that have been inspired by folklore and learn about different cultures!