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 3, 2013

Let's drink to the Wintersmith

I've never been a particularly big fan of Terry Pratchett.

Sorry, Terry. It was just never really my sort of thing. I've never read Harry Potter either.

(And, embarrassingly, I actually assumed the Harry Potter series was written by Pratchett until around about the time that JK Rowling started outselling him...)

Truth be told, I don't read a whole lot of fiction at all, much less elves'n'goblins fantasy-type fiction, and while I've idly skimmed the first few pages of a couple of his novels, I've never actually finished one, and knew almost nothing about Discworld until a couple of months ago.

(And there's about 40 booksworth to know about, so I really am coming from a place of near-total ignorance here!)

Commonality and Immortality

One thing I do have in common with Sir Terry, however, is Steeleye Span, who are his favourite band and mine.

If you buy only one album this Winter...
I always get excited about the prospect of a new Steeleye album, and their latest offering will have been of particular interest to fans who also like Discworld, being the wintery fruits of a long-awaited collaboration between Terry and the band.

As a Pratchett-sceptic, I was initially a bit more reserving in my judgment, but having heard a few of the songs on their tour earlier this year, I was more than willing to give it a go. And I do actually quite like elves and goblins when they're set to music. And, as it turns out, immortal Hivers, Tiffany Aching and the Nac Mac Feegles!

In short, Wintersmith is fucking brilliant. Easily the finest new album I've heard this year, and the best Steeleye record in a long time. It's just great. It really is.

Maddy Prior is such a natural and evocative storyteller in this genre, the playing is extremely tight throughout, the songwriting is excellent, and it gets better and better with every listen.

The current line-up is bursting with creativity and the album effortlessly weaves contrasting styles together into a cohesive and enchanting vision of eternal Winter.

My idol, Rick Kemp contributes several songs as well as virtuosic basslines, including the challenging, rifftastic title track and the rocking Fire and Ice. Guitarist Julian Litman - a relatively recent recruit to the band -  wrote the catchy Dark Morris song and the stark, mesmeric You.

The closing We shall wear midnight from fiddler Peter Knight is a moment of tender beauty, and there aren't really any bad songs at all, which is unusual, even for a concept album from your favourite band.

It's so good that I will actually try to read some of the books now!

My only criticism - and I hesitate to say this because it may be due to his illness - is that Pratchett's own spoken-word contribution to the album, on one of the weaker tracks (though such things are relative), sounds a little strange with some uncomfortable inflections that cause the ends of sentences to sound like they should be in the middle. But in the big scheme of things it's a trifling complaint, really.

I can't wait to see them live next week (I'm going to the Hornchurch and Barbican gigs) and if you can get a ticket I'd recommend it, particularly as the future of the band beyond the end of the year is far from certain.

Peter has announced his departure from the band and Rick is now in his 70s and known to be considering retirement, so it might turn out to be the last chance to see and hear them live.

But if Wintersmith does turn out to be their last album, it's about as profound a swansong as we could possibly have hoped for.

And so, to honour the Wintersmith - whether to you that means the album, the books or the Snow Lord himself - I've invented a new drink. A sort of alcoholic slush puppie, bursting with botanicals and frozen berries.

"These are the days of mystery and myth. And these are the ways of the Wintersmith..."

The Wintersmith

Ingredients - per glass:

Gin, three measures (the more botanicals in the gin the better!)
Dandelion & Burdock, three measures (use the proper, botanically brewed stuff e.g. Fentimans)

Raspberries, 2, frozen, plus another to garnish the glass
A large blackberry, frozen
A squeeze of fresh lime juice

Everything I drink turns into you...
Ice, crushed, about 6 cubes worth


People usually associate Winter with warm drinks, but this is one that's designed to be absolutely freezing cold, and you might need to do a bit of preparation to ensure that this is the case - freezing your berries and putting the Gin and D&B in the fridge will stop these components from melting the ice whilst you're making the drink.

Despite the coldness and snowy texture, the botanicals (and alcohol) add a warming note.

You will need a blender, ideally one with a 'crush ice' setting, to get the best results (though there's no reason you couldn't serve it on the rocks instead).

Whack your ice cubes in the blender and blitz for a couple of seconds, then quickly pour in the Gin and the Dandelion & Burdock, adding a squeeze of lime and the berries.

Blitz again for a few more seconds, until you've got ice-cold snow-slush with a deep crimson colour, and then serve immediately in a tumbler, garnished with a frosty berry.

It's Fire and Ice in a glass...

The Wintersmith album is widely available in record shops and online. Steeleye Span's Wintersmith tour runs until December 19

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