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, March 18, 2015

Who else would find something to moan about in 99p pints?

It's Spoons Bingo time again, and if you're quick, get down to the Wibbas Down Inn in Wimbledon, where you can pick up Wetherspoons festival ales for a mere 99p a pint!

Such a bargain is nothing to be sniffed at, of course, but the reason behind it is going to fuel a bit of a BV rant-a-thon, so feel free to tune out now.

Still there? Good.

It's a bit strong to say I have a love-hate relationship with Wetherspoons. It's really more of a like-dislike thing, and that applies particularly during their beer festivals. Especially this current one.

For those who don't know the Wibbas, it's one of Spoons biggest pubs with two bars and three banks of handpumps, which makes it one of my favourite branches, and a go-to destination when seeking out hard-to-find festival beers.

This time they've arguably gone a step further and rather ambitiously elected to kick off the Wetherfest by putting on all 50 beers at once, with about half of them on stillage in a makeshift festival bar.

And now, evidently, they're having difficulty shifting them.

Now I like having all the beers on stillage at once - it harks back to the Spoonsfests of the mid-1990s when they were still pretty much just a London Pub company and everything happened on a more modest scale - but, crucially, the time to do this is not at the very beginning of the festival fortnight.

The deal has been the same for years now: 50 beers to grab. Easy at the start, harder towards the end, and a frantic and frustrating final dash around pubs to try and track down the last few you need.

But when it commences, you simply don't know which ones will be hard to find at the end, so you can't possibly know which ones to choose. Nobody can drink 50 beers in a weekend (unless they go for stupidly small quantities) and having all of them on at the start is only likely to result in an irritating situation whereby drinkers spend time and money travelling around trying to find a beer that they could've had at the Wibbas Down two weeks earlier. Given the prescience of Doris Stokes.

Surely the time for making all the beers available would be towards the end of the festival, not the beginning?

And that's not all...

I also think that the Wibbas may have struggled to sell all 50 over a weekend because the beer range this time is really very disappointing overall and the Spoons buyers/order team are going to have to take a long hard look at themselves.

If you're putting on 50 different beers, there is plenty of scope for variety. Or, at least, their should be.

One look at the actual least reveals a rather more disappointing reality: No fruit beers, no sour beers (at least not deliberately!), no saisons. I don't think there are any cask lagers or wheat beers amongst the 50 either.

I know the theme this time around is English hops, and to their credit, several newer varieties are being showcased. But can't we do something more interesting with Jester and Sovereign than simply shoehorning very modest quantities of the fuckers into the same old bland, malty 4.5% best bitters from the same old breweries?

Which brings me to the other elephant in the brewhouse. There are many Premier League breweries, with the requisite capacity, who simply don't feature in the festive Wetherlists, presumably because they refuse to be knocked down on price by JDW head office.

Why isn't the 50 including an exclusive from Thornbridge or Dark Star? How about Magic Rock? Siren? Mallinsons? Maybe Tim Martin could even use his considerable clout to persuade Kernel or Brewdog to put something into casks for a change?

There are breweries in this country doing very exciting things with malt and hops (and other ingredients). Why ship over 10 international brewers just to produce fairly unexciting beers at British breweries?

That said, my favourite beers of the 30 or so I've tried so far have both been international collaborations:

Firstly the Adnams/Golden Road California Breakfast Ale (4.8% ABV) which packs a fresh coffee punch into a refreshing, lager-like pale ale. And then the Wadworth's/Dungarvan O'Dwyer's Irish Stout (4.5%), which is a proper, big roasty stout.

Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised by some of the beers I haven't tried yet. As I say, I'm in a like-dislike relationship with Wetherspoons and a long-term loyal customer, but they do occasionally wind me up something rotten.

And we're not even into the final frustrating dash yet...

1 comment:

Comments are always welcomed and encouraged, especially interesting, thought-provoking contributions and outrageous suggestions.