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!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

value for money for old rope to hang yourself

I went to an FSA whisky tasting on the Wharf last night - one of the more civilized after-work activities I've attended over the years, it has to be said - and it got me thinking. Not just about whisky either.

Unfortunately there wasn't anything at the really extremely peaty end of the spectrum that I'd normally go for, but one of the drams we sampled was at the 'bloody lovely' end of a different scale altogether - the cask strength 37 year old bourbon cask Caperdonich. which was fruity, toffeeish and ever so smooth.

Very, very good stuff.
I can count the number of times I've drunk liquids older than me on my fingers and toes, and the older I get the less likely it is to happen, so I savoured every bourbon-casked moment.

To my palette, it made every other malt we sampled taste a bit ordinary, though the 12 year old Springtown with three years in claret casks deserves a mention for it's medicinal berry vapours.

Oh go on then, I'll even plug the shop that hosted the tasting. The Dufftown whisky shop. OK, run along now.

Anyway, the Caperdonich was by far the nicest, and it was, predictably, also by far the most expensive. But is it bad value for money?
If you enjoy a £150/bottle whisky more than three times as much as you enjoy a £50/bottle whisky, doesn't that actually make it better value?

Outlay divided by pleasure equals value

The answer of course is 'Yes. Yes it does'.

There is good-value stuff and poor-value stuff out there, and it doesn't always correlate with the price.
If you read the little blogpipe where I posited the Satiety Index you'll know that I likes me little systems, and statistics and indices'n'shit. I also think there aren't enough ways of easily quantifying complicated stuff in this world.

Yeah, I know, I probably should do more to repress my autistic tendencies, but my creative side doesn't do repression.

Relative to the subjectivity of our individual compasses, food and drink, like most other things, covers a scale from the execrable to the divine. Generally the price range for food and drink is as vast, ranging normally from 'free' to 'literally unaffordable'.

The real question of value is most poignant when something isn't literally unaffordable, but is so expensive as to impact on what else one can do with ones money, and consequently affects your lifestyle accordingly - e.g. you might technically be able to afford a bottle of 37 year old Caperdonich every day, but you'd be drinking it on the streets because you wouldn't be able to pay your mortgage; that kind of thing.

Cheap/Expensive does not equal Bad/Good

I said some disparaging things about cheap sandwich outlet Bene Bene the other day, and indeed some positive things about places where sandwiches cost three times as much - but there's a danger of reading an overly simplistic message into that.

One of the tasters yesterday mentioned Johnnie Walker Blue label, which is more expensive than the 37 year old Caperdonich, and was informed rather sneeringly (and rightly so, in my view) that all Johnnie Walker products are just mass-market blended whiskeys of dubious quality, and the high price of their 'premium' brands has little to do with quality and everything to do with marketing.

There are single malts that cost a quarter of the price that will always be superior. 

Likewise in a pub, the most expensive draft beer available will probably be something like Stella Artois. Does that mean it's the highest-quality beer on tap? Of course not. Any decent pub will have real ales that are a damn sight tastier, and they'll typically be 20-30% cheaper too.

Two kinds of snobbery

The problem is that some people are so lacking in confidence in their own tastebuds that they let the pricetag do the talking. They drink the Stella and the Johnnie Walker blue not really because they particularly enjoy it (though they might) but because they think the price positioning makes it good, and they want to be seen to be appreciating good stuff. Yes, they're the same people that bought the Mercedes A-class and the new Mini. And Mac computers.

I guess as a free market Libertarian I shouldn't be that comfortable with the triumphs of marketing ploys and in a free world, people are free to sell not very much for an inflated price and equally free to buy it. Mugs.

Personally I like to feel I've got good value for me pennies. Fish and chip shops are incredibly good value. Where else can you buy such a filling takeaway for a few quid? The huge bags of bombay mix that sell for 99p in some newsagents. They're good value too.
Some cunts call me a snob from time to time. I'm OK with that, so long as they mean the kind of snob that is fussy about quality and authenticity, rather than the kind that just only buys expensive or 'branded' things.

The person next to me at last nights tasting failed to turn up but a place had been set for them and their glasses filled. 

I craftily drank their measure of Caperdonich before leaving! Anything is value for money when it's free!

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