Gude Ale: Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2013

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt 2013Given that the second round of Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2013 finishes today, it might have made sense to write about it sooner. But it’s been a funny – and busy – few weeks round our way, and I’ve just not quite found the time to do so. What you gonna do?

For the uninitiated, the GBBH is a national competition, organised by Sainsbury’s, to find the best new beers the country has to offer. Starting with regional heats, now fewer than 156 beers are whittled down to just two – a winner and runner-up – whose prize is to go on sale for a minimum period in Sainsbury’s stores across the country. Now in its third year, the competition has unearthed a few gems such as Caesar Augustus by Williams Bros. and last year’s winner, Bateman’s Mocha (although the last couple of bottles I’ve had of that have been oddly diaappointing).

Each year that the competition has been running, my brother-in-law and I have joined in at the second stage of the competition, where the shortlisted beers go on sale for a limited period, and the best-sellers make it through to the final, by buying and sampling at least one bottle of each beer. This year, we were joined by our friend Andrew, who happened to be visiting for the weekend, meaning that we were able to sample all 20 beers in a single evening, rather than 2 or 3 as in years past.

If you happened to be reading my twitter stream last Saturday night, you’ll already know how we got on. If not, well I’m not going to repeat the beer-by-beer account here, but it’s out there if you really want it. Instead I’m going to summarise my thoughts on this year’s selection, which, unfortunately, I found a bit disappointing.

Don’t get me wrong, for the most part the beers on offer were tasty enough, and with a couple of exceptions (Barney’s Brew by Hilden and Serendipity by Bird’s Brewery) I’d happily drink any of them again. My problem, though, was that they were all too similar. In previous years there have been a wide range of beer styles on offer, but this year seemed to be mostly golden ale after golden ale after golden ale, and it all got a bit monotonous very quickly.

Porter No.6 and India Pale Ale by Harbour, Gonny No Brew That by Williams Bros.

My top 3 – in no particular order

No surprise then, that my top 3 were ones that broke the mould. Williams Bros‘ Gonny No Brew That was the tastiest of the golden ales, and definitely the pick of the Scottish beers. My other top beers were both from Harbour Brewing Co., a relatively new brewery in Cornwall, but one I’ll be keeping an eye on. Porter No.6 was sweet with a lot of coffee and dark chocolate flavour to it, while I found their IPA to well balanced and definitely more flavoursome than most of the beers on offer.

I’m not sure I could pick a winner out of those three – that’s for the judges to decide on Friday, assuming they all make the final in London – but any one of them would be a worthy winner.

Sainsbury’s seem to tweak the format of the competition each year, and while I doubt there’s much they can do to increase the variety of styles (the beers making it to the second round are selected by the public at a series of tastings) one thing I would like to see them do is limit the number of entries each brewery can have. This year, 5 breweries were responsible for 11 of the 20 beers on offer, which doesn’t exactly promote diversity.

But other than a few minor quibbles, I think Sainsbury’s are once again to be applauded for this annual celebration of Great British Beer. I look forward to hearing who the overall winners are in Friday’s final. And who knows, maybe next year I’ll make it to the regional heats and be able to shape what makes it through to the second round. Of course, despite my earlier moans, I reserve the right to vote for golden ales. :)

This autumn I'm running/cycling in a 30km duathlon and a half marathon, to raise money for Breast Cancer Campaign. You can read more about my challenge here or support me here. All donations, however big or small, gratefully received!