Published on July 11, 2017 | by Alastair Gilmour


Crime pays

A good thriller and a classic beer are as good a reason as any to settle down for a handful of chapters and several glasses, writes Alastair Gilmour

Beer, books and crime have long proved perfect partners – a well-deserved break with a cops-and-criminal novel in one hand and a glass of beer or whisky (or both) in the other is the perfect drill for relaxation.

The Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival taking place from July 20 to 23 is ranked as one of the top three literary festivals in the UK by The Guardian, and has featured in The Independent’s 50 Best Festivals. Behind the its twitching curtains, the event is one of the most important in the literary calendar, with publishers, agents, publicists and authors flocking to Harrogate, North Yorkshire.

T&R Theakston chairman Simon Theakston is particularly proud that his company and flagship beer support the arts in the community in which they live and work.

“The arts are hugely important as it is the foundation of our culture and something from which everyone derives pleasure, inspiration and a sense of belonging,” he says. “The association between the arts, beer and public houses is well established. For many years we have supported arts in various forms and for the last 14 years have been proud sponsors of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival.

“Starting from a small acorn, the festival has grown into biggest of its kind attracting the world’s leading crime authors to North Yorkshire every year. Commercially, our sponsorship has exposed the name of Old Peculier to a huge and growing audience of consumers throughout the country and overseas.”

The Crime Writing Festival began in 2003, co-founded by crime author Val McDermid, her agent Jane Gregory, and the arts charity, Harrogate International Festivals with Theakstons becoming title sponsor a year later.

The 15th Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival takes place at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate – appropriately where Agatha Christie spent 12 undiscovered and unexplained days after disappearing from her London home. This year’s special guests are Lee Child, Arne Dahl, Dennis Lehane, Ian Rankin, Stuart MacBride, Peter May and Kathy Reichs with special sessions featuring Val McDermid, Ian Rankin and Ann Cleaves.

Val McDermid, who had a spell living in Alnmouth, Northumberland, is in the New Blood hotseat again this year to present her four hand-picked brightest new talents – Fiona Cummins, Jane Harper, Joseph Knox and Kristen Lepionka – ready for a new crime wave.

“Like a good crime novel, you don’t get the ‘whodunnit’ on the first page,” says Simon Theakston. “The plot unfolds, the characters are developed and then mixed together in a crescendo reaching the climax when all is revealed.

“Old Peculier works in the same way, the full glory of which is only realised after the initial aroma and taste of the wonderful blend of malts and Fuggle hops combine to give a deeply satisfying finish. The parallels were obvious!

“The clincher was the history of the name of Old Peculier which stems back to medieval times when the application of civil law was granted by the church in York to the vicar and four and twenty men of Masham to avoid the occasional disappearance of taxes and tythes at the hand of vagabonds and thieves who accosted the churchmen in the woods on their return from Masham to York, hence the formation of The Court of the Peculier of Masham.”

This year also marks the 30th anniversary of one of crime fiction’s greatest characters, John Rebus, created by Ian Rankin. Rebus returned from retirement in 2012 to star in Standing In Another Man’s Grave and is heading for immortality, even though he appears to be drinking himself into a grave of his own.

A Rebus 30-year-old whisky has been produced by Highland Park in honour of the testy detective, while a recent RebusFest proved hugely popular in Edinburgh.

“It’s a thrill to be spending 2017 celebrating the man, his legacy and his taste in music,” says Ian Rankin.

Now pet, not since Lieutenant Frank Columbo has the trench coat been so much in vogue, topped with a floppy fishing hat and seen regularly stomping around the North East. The unglamorous, shambolic but highly effective DCI Vera Stanhope has attracted a legion of fans through the TV series Vera, starring Brenda Blethyn – and Ann Cleaves, the character’s creator will join her along with Kenny Doughty who plays Vera’s right-hand man DS Aiden Healy in a special TV Panel event.

Ann Cleaves celebrates 30 books in 30 years with her latest, Cold Earth part of her Shetland series – also a major television series.

The Theakstons name has also been so entwined with the crime genre that the beer has featured in an episode of NCIS Los Angeles. But Harrogate tops that by hosting a very Peculier festival indeed.

Details: harrogateinternationalfestivals.com (01423 562303).


Around 200 years ago, British brewers produced a dark, strong “stock” ale in the winter months to provide a base amount of fermented beer to add to those brewed in the summer months when variations in temperature with no refrigeration played havoc with fermentation. The name pays tribute to the unique ecclesiastical status of its home town of Masham in North Yorkshire as a Court of the Peculier. For many years, Old Peculier (5.6% abv) was affectionately referred to as Yorkshire’s Lunatic’s Broth.

Old Peculier is a beautiful, yet very simple beer, brewed with a generous blend of pale, crystal and roasted barley with two bittering hops combined with the majestic and noble Fuggles to produce a beer of full-bodied flavour with subtle cherry and rich fruit overtones. Terrific on its own, it tastes delightful when accompanied by rich stews, strong cheeses and sweet puddings.

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Alastair Gilmour

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