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!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Best beers of 2014

OK, it's New Year's Day Boxing Day (if New Year's Day Boxing Day is a thing now, and if it isn't, I'm making it a thing), and the first post of 2015, so Happy New Year, prosperous tidings'n'shit, and indeed any other seasonal platitude you'd care to hear.

Now let's get down to the important stuff. You know, the stuff with hops in it that we all love to drink in vast quantities.

Brutal fucking honesty: Last year was a great one for beer, possibly the best beer-year ever indeed, and I was lucky enough to drink a lot of it.

To put this into perspective, in 2013 only half a dozen beers scored 8/9 on the BV scale. In 2014 I gave that score to a massive 13, despite drinking fewer new beers overall. (888 if anyone gives a toss!)

And now I'm going to tell you which beers they were.

Disclaimery bit: Many of these beers were one-offs that will probably never be brewed again, so please don't complain to me that you can't find the bastards anywhere. If anything you should be angry with the brewers for failing to repeat their delicious experiments. (But don't get so angry that you kill or otherwise incapacitate them so that they can't brew any more, obviously.)

Another disclaimery bit: This list only includes cask beers, and it's only beers I drank for the first time in 2014. I could throw around a few honourable mentions in the 'other' category though - the best keg beer I had was almost certainly the pomegranate sour I enjoyed at the Football Pub in Rome, while Thornbridge Halycon would probably win an award for domestic keg. (Yes, guys, you should do it on cask!)

Talking of Thornbridge, I found bottled Jaipur to be surprisingly good too, having not had it for a couple of years, while old favourite Dark Star Hophead continues to impress on cask.

But this is all something of a sideshow. So...

13 of the best

The year got off to a very slow start and I had to wait until early March for my first 8-pointer. (Not sure about the first 8-pinter, probably sometime around January 1!)

Craft 100 saw some of 2014's finest drinking...
Now, If I could only drink one style of beer for the rest of my days, it would be a hoppy, pale, American-style ale, ideally at a reasonably sessionable strength. I love beer of almost every kind, but for pure beer for beers sake, I choose fruity quenchers (or 'juicy bangers') every time.

5% ABV just about counts as 'sessionable' these days, and the Twickenham/Kissingate collaboration 'Nooksack', first enjoyed at the Hope in Carshalton, is a textboox example of this style, bursting with tropical fruitiness and delivering maximum refreshment.

In April, the Craft Beer Company held their first 'Craft 100' beer festival at the Clapham Branch, and a real highlight for me was Siren 'Carribean Chocolate Cake - Jerk Spices edition', at 7.4 it did exactly what you'd expect from the name. Equally unexpected is Siren making this list as two of their beers were in my top six of 2013.

Everything I said about Nooksack can be applied to East London 'Cowcatcher APA' (4.8%) For some reason I never got around to trying this beer until my birthday, but it was in excellent condition at the Gunmakers Arms, Clerkenwell, and I've had it a couple of times since. The Citra and Simcoe hops sing out like a choir of fruity gorgeousness. Happy birthday me.

Late April also saw the debut of Tap East 'Saxon Invasion Sour', probably the first really successful attempt by a British brewer to do a properly sour beer on cask and one that utterly disproved any theories that this style in unsuited to the handpump. It may be too mouth-puckeringly sour for some, but for those who enjoy this sort of thing it's quite magnificent and at 4.6% you can drink quite a lot of it very easily indeed.

Skip forward to June and the BV 2013-14 London Pub of the Year, the Cask Beer Co, Clerkenwell held their third birthday party. It's another one of those hoppy, sessiony, Americany pale ales winning the plaudits - this time Burning Sky 'Arise', 4.4% of moreish, quenching fruitiness.

Hello? Siren? Another win for you guys now. The Berkshire geniuses did a tap-takeover at the Covent Garden CBC in August, and their 'Calypso: White Peach and Pineapple' (4%) combined the best elements of sour and fruit beer to deliver a payload of Summary delight.

August also saw the GBBF, and on the second night, a surprisingly delicious Blakemere 'Cherry Baby' - a 4% dark mild with black cherries. Unlike a mild, unlike a kriek, it was more of a delicious beery cherry milkshake. I didn't expect to enjoy it anywhere near as much as I did.

One of the greatest

You'll have undoubtedly noticed some trends emerging amongst this year's winners - fruitness, sourness, the Craft Beer Company - and there's more of the same next. Beavertown 'Phantom Passion Fruit Sour' at the second 'Craft 100' festival. This one was definitely more fruit than Berliner Weisse, but another classic in this uber-fashionable style.

Far more traditional, but no less enjoyable, was Firebrand 'Running Stout' (4.5%) at the Tap East in mid-September. Sometimes it's all about the conditioning and while I've criticised the Tap East in the past for not serving guest ales in as fine a condition as their own, this was the best stout I'd had in years.

And then I had to wait until December before another beer scored 8/9 - Thornbridge 'Cocoa Wonderland', a richly chocolatey porter, eminently drinkable despite the 6.8% price-tag.

Decembers beers continued to impress massively, and I first encountered Dark Star 'Crème Brulee' (5.9%) at the Islington CBC. 'A dessert in a glass' says the pumpclip, and it certainly is - sweet, vanillary, dessertastic, and yet well-balanced and, like the Cocoa Wonderland, oh so easy to drink.

If sours were all the rage early in the year, the Winter saw a distinct trend towards 'after dinner' beers, but there was still time for another hop monster to make the list, the juicy Hopcraft 'Exercise One', bursting with Citra hops and packing a lot of punch for 5%.

The last word went to Thornbridge with 'Baize', a 5.5% chocolate mint stout and another after-dinner treat. Drinkable, chocolatey with an almost spooky minty finish, yet very much a proper, solid beer underneath and not too sweet or sickly. It's annoying that we were in a rush to go and see the appalling Urinetown at the Apollo, as I'd really like to have stuck around the Covent Garden CBC to savour this one and have another couple of pints of it. Which isn't something that you can normally say about chocolate beers. Or mint beers come to that.

If 2015 is anywhere near as good for new beers as 2014 was, I shall be a happy man indeed.


  1. You are being do damn selfish and not thinking of your life partner by drinking too much alcohol plus if you are diabetic then you need to stop drinking alcohol altogether

    Think about the damage you could be doing to your health and to your relationship with your life partner

  2. The sour/Berlinner trend will continue into 2015 nad possibly go mainstream. Saison may be on the way out, think we will see barley wine and old ale revival but with a twist, maybe more hops.


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