Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Black Dog Jaggery Ale


Throughout his life, Winston Churchill would lie in bed for days, crippled by deep depression.  He described these periods as his “Black Dog” days.  What an incredible man who could still manage to work fiendishly during these bouts, commanding naval maneuvers or orchestrating The Battle of Britain while the “Black Dog came to visit, and lay on my chest”, as Churchill would say.  I guess naming his angst was his way of controlling and isolating it – it wasn’t who he was -- he wouldn’t let it define him.  It was this “other thing” that came to visit periodically, but could be tricked into eventually leaving, like a stray dog.

This English ale is exactly the kind of drink you might offer a man during those dark days, and our current ones – dark, strong, with a peppery mix of ginger, anise, cardamom and allspice – a tonic to warm the soul.  This one is for the strong of heart, as strong as the Lion of Winter himself.  My homage:

Fo’ when the black dog crush your vest,                                                Take a nip,                                                            Mister,                                                                                                                       You’ll earn the rest                                                                                           Fo’ kith, ‘n kin, and hearth, and valor                                               Blood, sweat, tears, toil, guts and pallor                                              Take a nip, and tuck it in                                                                                   and face the belt, like Gunga Din                                                                So’s brace yourself,                                                                                          with all your might                                                                                           With one good drink,                                                                                            For ONE more fight.

Bully for you Mr. Churchill.  Here’s the recipe:

  • 3 lbs dark dry malt extract
  • 3.3 lbs liquid dark malt extract
  • ½ lb. chocolate malt
  • ¾ lb. crystal 40L
  • 2 oz. Cascade (bittering)
  • 1 oz. Willamette (aroma)
  • 6 gals. spring water
  • 3 lbs. ginger (40 oz. after skin is peeled) – 30 oz. at 45 mins., 10 oz. at 5 mins.
  • 1 lb. Piloncillo sugar (Jaggery)
  • 1 lb. lactose
  • Wyeast 1968 (English So., because it ferments-out with residual sweetness)
  • Dry-hopped with black Indian cardammom, sasparilla, star anise, and allspice
  • ¾ cup corn sugar (priming)

Brewed May 2008.  With the 3 pounds of ginger I was aiming for a huge peppery-heat flavor, but didn’t realize how astringent ginger can be – waited 8 months for the ginger to drop out, then dosed it with the other spices to develop more complexity and balance in the spice profile.  It worked.  Bottled April 2009.


Brewfus said...

Hey Hunington,

I'm new to brewing and blogging, but I found your blog (and your Apricot Wheat recipe) the other day at

Great post, and sounds like a fantastic brew! I had the chance to visit Chartwell in 2003 during a semester in England - a wonderful experience.

It was particularly neat to see his art studio, where a number of his unfinished paintings were displayed. Amazing that he continued to paint even during the darkest days of the war.


--Brewfus (Steve)

Kane Consulting said...

You mentioned that the ginger was too astringent. What amount of ginger would you recommend less than 3#? Also, did you grate it or just peel it?

Lastly, how much of each spice did you dry-hop with (cardamom, anise, etc.)

Brewing this for a buddy of mine who is Indian...

Hunington said...

I would start with 3 ounces in the boil, then taste from there. If you didn't get enough, you can always dry-hop it with additional ginger in the secondary. The ginger was peeled and grated.

For amounts of the other spices, I would say about a tablespoon of each, with 3 star anise, all ground in a food processor or coffee grinder. Put the mixture in a muslin bag and place in the secondary fermenter -- taste it every 2-3 days and pull it out once you get to your desired spice level.

Your results may vary. I could never duplicate this exactly again, as I had let this one sit for about 9 months to let most of the ginger drop out, then I fiddled with the spices mentioned above. Completely experimental, as I hate to pour anything out.

Kane Consulting said...

Thanks for the reply. I'm a little confused though. The recipe calls for 3 POUNDS of ginger, but your reply says OUNCES. Pretty big difference so just wanted to check.

Hunington said...

Yes, I mean ounces. Remember that I had to wait MONTHS for the ginger astringency to dissipate. Yes you want a ginger flavor with this beer, but with 3 pounds it was completely unbalanced -- time and the other spices helped create that balance. My lesson learned here is that you can always add spice, but overdoing any one component leads to a one-dimensional experience. Food, like life, needs dimension to be enjoyable.

Kane Consulting said...

Sounds like it must have been a ginger explosion. Thanks again for your replies.