I first came across this week’s beer at an industry ‘do’. Every December, the Guild of British Beer Writers holds a dinner and awards ceremony to celebrate the best in beer writing and journalism. It’s one of my favourite events of the year, all my ‘beer heroes’ attend, and it heralds the start of Christmas for me.
At the reception, before dinner, a number of brewers from around the country, sponsor the bars, so it’s like beer ‘pick ‘n’ mix’. You get to try new brews and old favourites and have a good natter with everyone you’ve not seen throughout the year. I know, it’s a hard life, but someone’s gotta do it.
It was at this event several years ago that I came across a lovely chap called Ian Bearpark who was at the time, the Production and Distribution Director at Thwaites brewery in Blackburn. Ian is beer old school in the best possible way. He’s a gent through and through, and it’s these kind of guys who give beer a good name. He beckoned me over, and said “I want you to try this new beer. It’s called 13 Guns, and I think you might like it”.
This is always a bit of a political situation for me, because how do you react if you taste it and think “Oh. Well. It’s alright, but it’s not going to set the world alight”? Do you rave about it to please the producer? Do you give your honest opinion and risk hurting their feelings? He gave me a glass of the amber coloured ale and peered beadily at me as I tasted it.
I’ve got to say, at first I was a bit shocked at the aroma. It was pumped up with mango, pineapple, lychee and as juicy as an Um Bongo. Not sure about this one, I thought to myself, whilst smiling manically at Ian. Then I tasted it. It was an explosion of fruit, malt, sweetness and bitterness, intense hop hit and utterly divine.
I anchored myself at the bar and said with absolute honesty: “Flip. That’s brilliant”. Two hours later I was steered gently away from the area. Well, I clung on for a while, Joanne Lumley style, in a most undignified way, but nothing at that Awards Dinner could have outshone 13 Guns.
Little did I know that Ian would shortly leave Thwaites, but he gave me a hint when he said 13 Guns was his legacy. That legacy was taken up by another brilliant brewer, Brian Yorston, who joined Thwaites from Wadworth.
So it was with quiet satisfaction, delight (and a certain amount of smugness) that one of my top 10 Desert Island beers, 13 Guns, picked up a gold award a couple of weeks ago at the ‘Oscars’ of the Brewing Industry. The International Brewing Awards, held in Burton upon Trent, were started in 1888, and an Award is a recognition by fellow professional brewers that a beer is an outstanding commercial example of its style. All the judges are practising brewers, this is serious stuff and an accolade that all brewers aspire to.
If you can’t find 13 Guns on cask, I exhort you to buy the canned or bottled version from a retailer (listen, I’m a cask girl through and through, but my fridge ALWAYS has some 13 Guns in there).
What’s more, it’s massively versatile with food. On cask, try it with a fiery curry. In can, have it with your Friday night Chinese takeaway, it’s amazing with aromatic crispy duck pancakes and Dim Sum. Or best of all, just drink this one on its own for the sheer pleasure of a beer that needs no props. 13 Guns – I salute your brilliance.