ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. Likewise, I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended.

Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Monday, January 27, 2020

Lost Breweries: K is for Kitchen

I was all set to write about King & Barnes of Horsham.

After all, this was one of the biggish names to disappear from the brewing map when, in 2000, it was taken over by Hall & Woodhouse and closed, bringing an end to almost 200 years of brewing there.

Until the 1990s K&B Sussex really was considered one of The classic English bitters, though I could never really see the appeal, having only caught the back end of it, and I've been distinctly underwhelmed by the revived 'WJ King' brewery.

But that's about all I'd ever really have to say on the subject of King & Barnes, and that being the case - and I appreciate that this may be heretical to the ears of traditionalists - it's probably better all round if I use my letter 'K' to honour, instead, the Kitchen brewery.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Platinum Pints: BV's best beers of the 2010s

This year hasn't started well. I've consumed more pints of Lemsip than of beer, and wallowed in so much self pity and so little alcohol that I might as well be doing Dry Fucking January.

But it's not just a new year, it's a whole new decade... or is it?!?

There's a compelling mathematical case that 2020 is actually the last year of the 2010s and the new decade won't start until 2021. The problem is that if you accept that logic then you also have to believe that the Millennium didn't begin until 2001.

And that is an argument I had a problem with at the time, because going from 1999 to 2000 felt like an absolutely massive psychological shift, whereas 2000 to 2001 was a teensy little incremental feather that you'd barely notice. And given that time is ultimately an abstract concept, measured against fairly arbitrary starting points, the psychological effect - the way we feel about it - is arguably the only thing that matters.

So, there's my working out in the margins of the page. 2000 was the start of the new millennium, and therefore 2020 is indeed the start of the new decade, like it or not.

Which all means I can now pick my 10 favourite beers of the 2010s. Or, more specifically, of the 6850 new-to-me cask beers, because that's how I do these things. That's a lot of beer records to trawl through. But let's Lemsip up, open the spreadsheet and get the fuck on with it...

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Golden Pints: BV's best beers of 2019

Another year has ended and a new one just begun. Forgive me if I'm unenthusiastic - 2019 was a generalised pigfuck of a year for reasons I shan't bore you with. (And, yes, I know I haven't blogged anywhere near as much, anywhere near as eloquently or anywhere near as entertainingly as I should. Sorry about that.)

Will 2020 be any better? Is there any Hope left in Pandora's old box? Well there's The Hope - my current Pub of the Year, of course, and there will always be beer. I wasn't even particularly positive about beer last year, such was the depths of my mood, but looking at it objectively, it was a good year for beer.

I ticked 736 new cask beers during the year, which has put me within a couple of hundred of reaching the mystical 10,000 figure. This was the most I'd managed in a year since 2014, and 23 of them managed to score 8/9 on the BV Beer scale.

2019 was notably cask-centric. I drank so little kegged, bottled or canned beer during the year to dish out any awards for that this time around, but here, in no particularly order, are my favourite six cask beers of 2019:

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Election 2019: Maybe go for a pint instead of voting?

Tomorrow's General Election is the first in over 32 years that I won't be personally involved in.

Yep, I'll probably go out to vote, but I haven't been doing any campaigning, apart from possibly the occasional Like or Retweet, and I mean very occasional.

I did attend the Conservatives East Surrey candidate selection meeting a few weeks ago and wish Claire Coutinho all the best tomorrow. But I just can't bring myself to do any more than that.

Many readers will be aware that I'm normally quite politically active, but this campaign has been depressingly, disappointingly, dispiritingly, despairingly dreadful and, while I'm still a party member, the way that politics in this country has shifted as a whole towards Authoritarian and cheap, lazy populism has left me pretty much alienated.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Lost Breweries: J is for Jarrow

One of the biggest changes to the beer industry in recent years - and it's probably part perception, part reality and part aggressive promotion forcing reality into perception - is the defining nature of the new breweries that are springing up.

Think for a moment about what it means to set up a brand new brewery these days. What do you imagine that means? In meeting-speak, what would a new brewery about to launch in early 2020 'look like'?

Would it be run by self-confident young hipsters? Based under a railway arch or on an industrial estate? Maybe crowd-funded to some extent? Bold marketing campaigns with some edgy but slick artwork that their mate did? American IPAs and plenty of pale hoppy beers? High strength experimental dessert Stouts? Lots of beer going into keg and can? Tap room open on Saturday lunchtimes? A relationship with CAMRA that's love-hate at best?

Sounds about par for the course, yes? That's certainly how I see it. And, yeah, I know that not all new brewery start-ups are exactly like this, and those that are probably achieve more prominence than those that aren't, due to that whole 'forcing reality into perception' thing I mentioned, but, overall, this is how it feels to me.

And it represents a marked shift from the 90s and 00s when new microbreweries typically took a somewhat different form. E.g.

Often run by older chaps (and it was almost always chaps) who had already enjoyed a lengthy career and perhaps taken a redundancy or early retirement; Sometimes spin-off projects from long-serving pub landlords or former brewery workers; Focused mainly or entirely on producing cask beers, usually ordinary strength, not particularly hoppy bitter; Beer names invoking historical curios, bad puns, railways or, in the worst cases, crassly sexist jokes; Inconsistent pumpclip design featuring poor typography and rubbish illustrations? Firmly in bed with the local CAMRA branch (and not above designing a 'hilarious' pumpclip playing on that phrase)...

Sound familiar, if slightly nostalgic?

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Wetherspoons: A life just beginning?

JD Wetherspoon is turning 40.

In pub industry years, where change now tends to happen at breakneck pace, that makes it something of an elder statesman. In 'real' time, the chain is only a couple of years younger than I am, and consequently Spoons has been around for my entire life; a constant presence since I started drinking, albeit one that has changed substantially over time. Not necessarily for the better.

Marked by their latest beerfest featuring 40 beers - most of them new and/or exclusive - this birthday is a milestone occasion for a staple of the British High Street that is as controversial as it is popular.

Having visited over 600 of their pubs (exactly 612 at the last count), I consider myself one of the chains biggest fans, but also one of its more vocal critics. There is a lot that Tim Martin has done right, and few would argue that, on balance, Wetherspoons haven't been an overall force for good. but there are a number of worrying issues and a hell of a lot of ways in which things could improve.

Monday, September 2, 2019

BV London Pub of the Year 2018-19 - the results

Everybody enjoys a really close contest - there's nothing better than a thrilling nailbiter that goes right down to the wire. So much more enjoyable than watching a procession where the end result was never in doubt. No prizes for being in front, only for winning as they say.

(I've got loads more cliches left in the locker from my days as a BBC Sports writer, but that'll probably do.)

Anyway, this year's Pub of the Year competition has turned out to be pretty exciting. With five - count 'em, five! - pubs all level on points going into the final reckoning. Nothing like this has ever happened before and the margins involved in picking the winner will be finer than a fine old ale (see what happens when you stop using sporting cliches, you end up with beery analogies that are weaker than a table saison...)