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!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Beer of the Year

So, it's New Years Eve, and given that we're going to be staying in tonight - cooking Boston Baked Beans, drinking champagne and polishing off the last of the Christmas cheese - it would appear that I've supped my last ales of 2013.

Which is possibly for the best, mind. It's certainly been quite a beery year for me, as I managed to tick over 1000 new real ales for the first time ever.

Many of them were passable, many were bland, some were downright unpleasant, and a few were fucking shit. Like liquidised sweaty scrotums and marmoset turds in a glass. Or 'crystal malt', as it's known in the brewing trade.

But what you want to know, I'm sure, is which beers were actually any bloody good. Because, some of them really were rather excellent.

So, these are the cask beers I ticked in 2013, to which I gave my highest possible score of 8/9. (OK, so 9/9 is theoretically achievable but I've only awarded it to two beers in my entire life, so fuck off!)

Ilkley 'The Mayan'

I first tried this back in February at the Cask Pub and Kitchen in Pimlico, with some trepidation, but my scepticism more or less instantly gave way to deep, deep satisfaction.

It's a 5.3% Chocolate and chilli stout, and chilli beers have never impressed me much, but this combination just seemed to work perfectly.

The aroma is very chocolatey, without being too bitter, the weight and strength are bang on, and the chipotle burn doesn't come through until the finish. I've no idea how Ilkley succeeded where other brewers have fallen on their hot, chocolatey arses, but I'm guessing they used top quality ingredients and got the proportions exactly right.

Siren 'Big Inflatable Cowboy Hat - Mango and Lime edition'

A new arrival on the craft brewing scene this year, Berkshire-based Siren produced BICH - a 10.5% American-style IPA, for the Craft Beer Co chain.

It's perfectly super in its ordinary form (if indeed anything at 10.5% can be ordinary) but this one-off with the added refreshment of mango and lime to compliment the piney, citrusy hops took it to another level.

It takes the 'dangerously drinkable' cliche and drinks it dangerously. What a way to announce your arrival!

Siren 'Soundwave - Lychee and Gin edition'

Another Siren special that went down an absolute treat, again improving on an already very nice beer by adding a couple of unusual ingredients.

It's 5.6%, again with plenty of pine hop flavour, but balanced with the sweetness of the lychee and the juniper berry hit from the Gin.

I had this and the BICH, and several other Siren beers on the same June evening at the Islington Craft - which probably played a big part in that pub achieving the runner-up spot in my Pub of the Year reckoning.

People talked a lot when Thornbridge and Brewdog (and, for some reason, Sambrooks) first showed up, but for my money Siren have made a far more impressive debut to score not one but two beers on this list.

Triple FFF 'Ramble Tamble'

Enjoyed this American style IPA at the Southampton Arms back in June.

I'd actually had this beer a couple of years earlier in a Wetherspoons at a lower strength and it wasn't anywhere near as good, but at 5.0 % it sang long songs of hoppy goodness. The cellar skills of the Southampton team probably have a lot to do with this too.

I like my pale beers with big, fruity flavours and this ticked a lot of those boxes. A really fine quencher on a hot Summer's day. Bodil Joensen would probably have enjoyed it.

Wild Beer 'Fresh'

Had this hoppy bad boy on the final night at the Catford Bridge Tavern before the 2012-13 Pub of the Year sadly closed its doors.

A gorgeous pintful of glorious refreshment, bursting with citrus fruit. 5.5%, which is about the perfect strength to achieve the necessary body but still allow you to down it mercilessly and allow the hoppiness to flow down your throat.

The last great beer of 2013...
I know, I know, I'm such a sucker for this style. I do like some darker and weaker beers too. Honest.

Pitfield 'CV Mild'

I tried this at the Pig's Ear Beer festival earlier this month and it's definitely the best Winter beer I've had so far.

The additions of (subtle) cinnamon and (fairly pronounced) vanilla make it an absolute delight for the tastebuds, but, unusually, the canvas for this display of showboating is a dark mild at just 3.4% ABV.

It comes together unexpectedly well, with bags more flavour than you'd normally find at this strength, and it's vanillary without being too sweet. You could drink this all day, all year round.

And there we have it, the BV beers of the year. I'm not going to attempt to pick a winner out of that little lot, so I'll just let you go about your duties and wish you a Happy and Beery 2014! 

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