For centuries, Bristol was home to one of the most vital ports in Europe. Born on the banks of the Rivers Avon and Frome, Bristol’s shipping industry began in earnest in the 13th century. Indeed, as early as 1420, ships were sailing from Bristol as far as Iceland. Everything from salt to sandstone was shipped in and out of the UK via Bristol, but that’s not all our historic ports gave rise to.
With ships on the water filled with valuables, pirates began patrolling the waves, and few more famous than Blackbeard.
Born Edward Teach in circa 1680, Blackbeard – as he came to be known – is one of Bristol’s most famous sons.
Known for drinking heavily in the Hatchet, an iconic Bristol inn which is today managed by our brewery, we decided that this year, 300 since his death, that it would only be right to pay tribute. We’re doing just that with the launch of Butcombe’s Blackbeard Stout.
Brewed with Fuggle and Golding hops, our Blackbeard Stout offers a gentle bitterness and an earthy spiciness that’s complemented with chocolate, coffee and toast undertones for a dark, delicious treat that’s exceptionally drinkable.
As black as the legendary pirate’s iconic beard but nowhere near as fearsome at just 4.1% ABV keg, we think it’s the ideal tribute.
But who was Blackbeard?
Blackbeard, born Edward Teach (sometimes spelt Thatch, Thach, Thache, Thack, Tack, Thatche or Theach) has something of a mysterious early life.
Little is known of it, not even his birthday, though given he was aged roughly 35-40 at the time of his death, the 1680s make for a viable candidate for his birth-decade. Indeed, it’s likely that he was born in Bristol to a family of at least some wealth, owing to the fact that he could both read and write – no small accomplishment for somebody born in poverty at the time.
As he grew up, he would have witnessed the rise of Britain’s American colonies and the tragedy of the international slave trade transforming his city – then the second largest in Britain – into a thriving port city.
It was in this environment that he began his early career as a sailor. It’s believed that he sailed out of Bristol towards the Carribean in the last years of the 17th century, later becoming a sailor on privateer ships from Jamaica during the Spanish War of Succession.
Following the war, Teach moved to New Providence, an island with a transient population of pirates and traders, and quickly fell into piracy. Around 1716 he joined the crew of legendary pirate Captain Benjamin Hornigold, beginning a career of piracy which would see his name echoed throughout history.
By 1717 the two had parted company after Hornigold refused to attack English ships, with the Captain quitting piracy shortly after. It left Teach with his ships.
Teach was a fearsome pirate, capturing ships many times the size of his own with crews far more proficient than his own.
His reputation – and appearance – preceded him. Described in one account as a “tall spare man with a very black beard which he wore very long” and another as “such a figure that imagination cannot form an idea of a fury from hell to look more frightful”, he inspired dread wherever he was spotted.
As a matter of fact though, that was his plan. Blackbeard was a smart and cunning leader, rarely using force to get what he wanted. Instead, he let stoked the fires of his reputation and grew his image to terrify his foes. In fact, there exists no report that he ever harmed anyone he held captive.
On the 22nd of November, 1718, around two years since he began life as a pirate, Edward Teach would die in battle at the hands of Robert Maynard, a Captain of the Royal Navy. He had lived for only a short time and been an active pirate for only two years, and yet he remains the most famous pirate in history.
Here in Bristol, we make legends.