City brewery serves up modern version of Bell’s historic ale

Robert Knops, whose beer, Black Cork, is on tap at the Cloisters on Brougham Street, Edinburgh
Robert Knops, whose beer, Black Cork, is on tap at the Cloisters on Brougham Street, Edinburgh
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IT WAS the drink said to have been supped by the notorious Deacon Brodie before the fateful raid that led to his capture and subsequent hanging.

And Edinburgh pub-goers can now sample a modern-day version of the famous tipple, which once flowed freely through the city’s taverns in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Black Cork beer is once again on sale in the Capital – though no-one knows for sure just how close the 21st-century version is to the original as it hasn’t been brewed since 1837.

Robert Knops, of Knops Beer Company, said he was so intrigued by the Deacon Brodie story that he took it as “inspiration” to create his own Black Cork.

He said: “I started developing it about six months ago. There is no surviving recipe so it’s very difficult to say whether I got close to the original or not. However, it was my inspiration and I have created a more contemporary beer.

“I’m sure it won’t be as strong as it used to be. I suspect it was probably ten to 12 per cent in those days.”

Black Cork was originally brewed by Bell’s Brewery, which was located at the Pleasance.

The recipe and secret of brewing the beer died with its last brewer, Robert Keir, in 1837.

It is believed the drink was enjoyed by Deacon Brodie and his accomplices – Smith, Ainslie and Brown – before their unsuccessful raid on His Majesty’s Excise Office in the Canongate in 1786.

According to reports from the subsequent trial, the four “met in an upper room in Smith’s house, and had some herrings, chickens, gin, and Black Cork, which last he explained to be Bell’s beer”.

The bungled raid led to Deacon Brodie being hanged at the Tolbooth on October 1, 1788.

Mr Knops, 40, added: “It has a great Edinburgh connection and it’s a great story as the beer was even mentioned in Deacon Brodie’s trial. All my beers tend to have a historical story behind them as I find it quite interesting.

“I would have loved to have tasted the original.”

Black Cork is being sold in several Edinburgh pubs, including the Guildford Arms, Stockbridge Tap and Cloisters, and is also on sale in off-licences.

The dark beer was brewed using pale malt, crystal malt, chocolate malt, oats and malted wheat, with hops added in three stages to create a prominent bitterness and hop aroma.

Mr Knops, who lives in Bruntsfield, said: “I’ve had very good feedback so far.

“The Guildford Arms said their customers really enjoyed it.

“There is a rising interest in craft beer producers.”

Knops Beer Compnay also produces Musselburgh Broke, California Common and India Pale Ale.