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, April 28, 2015

Tying myself in Windsor (& Eton) knots

If you haven't done so already, I suggest you pick yourself up a copy of the April/May edition of London Drinker magazine.

There's lots of good stuff in there with the latest news on the London (and wider) pub scene, and I've written a piece about cask Altbier in Dusseldorf and an emotional farewell to the gone-but-not-forgotten Brew Wharf.

Oh, and there's an advert that really fucking wound me up something rotten.

I know. I know I should probably be thinking about the victims of the earthquake in Nepal or the grieving relatives of Keith Harris, but it's always the little annoyances that get to me. Partly because I know most people aren't going to be bothered about it.

Beer Rant Alert

So, this is the offending ad:

The Windsor & Eton brewery have a beer out called Magna Carta. Actually two beers called Magna Carta. Possibly even three.

At 4.0% ABV it's a sessionable cask ale for easy drinking. Unless you have the bottled version which is a rich, strong Barley Wine-style beer at 7.2%. Same name. Same branding. WTF?

How on the remotest quarters of King John's Earth can 7.2% and 4.0% beer possibly be the same thing? It's ridiculous. It makes fuck-all sense and in a world where even indistinguishably similar beers have different names, it's almost certainly terrible marketing.

(Oh and to confuse things further, a cask version at 7.2% also exists - I had it at an Egham Beer Festival a few months ago.)

It's the sort of cardinal sin normally committed by the big, bad bastards of the brewing industry. Change the recipe. Keep the name. Hope nobody notices. But you don't expect it from a respected micro.

Fairly obviously, all they needed to do was to either call the strong version something like 'Magna Carta XL' or the weak version 'Modicum Carta'.

In the past W&E have got it right: Conquerer 1075 is brewed to an original gravity of 1075 degrees, and thus got a different name to distinguish it from the regular Conquerer (5.0%) which is only right and proper.

You just can't go around fundamentally changing recipes like this. What if Diet Pepsi were renamed 'Pepsi' and was branded identically to regular Pepsi apart from a tiny sticker that said either 1 or 200 calories, depending on what was inside the bottle? Would consumer groups - and indeed the consumers they represent - stand for that senseless confusion for a single second?

Generally I like the Windsor & Eton brewery and their beers. Conquerer was one of the first Black IPAs available around here, and it's a pretty decent example. Parklife is a hoppy boys bitter that packs a lot of flavour into just 3.2% ABV, and some of their seasonal beers like the vanillary Treetops stout and Windsor Knot Lychee Special have been inventive and delicious.

But they've got it wrong on this one. Badly wrong. I wonder if anybody else even cares?

Probably not.


  1. I concur!

    A turd is still a turd, even when it is polished. You wouldn't go around with a brass coloured poo and say, 'Hey everyone! Look at this brown shit', even though it had been rubbed with gold tinted paint. It would be much better to make the difference between your common or garden shite, and the much improved brass shite.

  2. Ben,
    We certainly care. Firstly I'd like to apologise for confusing you. We certainly have not set out to deceive anyone and felt that our advert which emphasises two Magna Carta's was clear, though your response shows that we were wrong.
    So how did this come about and what can we do about it? Magna Carta's unique ingredients have been developed following a competition we held with London Amateur Brewers and the winner was Manhohan Birdi. I'm sure you know that the beer is very special in that it uses some 'medieval' beer ingredients including Liquorice and wild handpicked herbs from beside the river Thames close to Runneymede. These include for example Yarrow.We produced the beer as a 7.2% Barley wine and reaction from samplers has been very positive.
    However , both out Trade customers (pubs) and our drinkers all fed-back that whilst this was an interesting and special beer, that they wanted to experience it at a strength that they could enjoy having as pints in their local. They were keen that the beer was to the same set of ingredients as they wanted the same very special and unusual character. As a result we developed the 4% version which uses exactly the same ingredients in exactly the same proportions. This has been met with a very positive reaction both from pubs who are ordering large amounts and from our drinkers who feed-back to us. In both cases, they have been pleased that we reacted to what they said they wanted.
    However, whilst we have been very clear in the supporting briefing notes to the Trade I have to accept - from your confusion- that we still haven't been clear enough. To this end I'm seeing if we can source some special Pump-clip toppers that can emphasise that this is a 4% version and also to differentiate it from the barley wine. I will get back to you when I have got something in place.
    In the meantime, genuine thanks for raising this issue. We wouldn't have known there was an issue if people don't tell us. Give me a couple of days and I'll update you, Regards, Paddy - Head Brewer- Windsor and Eton Brewery

  3. Ben,
    We've placed an order for Pump-clip 'toppers' that differentiate the product clearly. Thanks again for you pointing out that it was possible to be confused. Paddy

  4. Thank you for replying so swiftly Paddy - much appreciated.

    Differentiating the products in this way sounds like a good idea, thanks.

    As I say, I do enjoy your beers, including Magna Carta 7.2% (haven't tried the 4.0% yet) and frequently recommend them to others, especially when writing festival programme notes.

    The name/ABV thing is a personal bugbear of mine that I probably obsess about way too much when I should be drinking instead... so keep up the good work!

  5. See also: Adams Broadside bottle vs cask... I'm less fussed about this sort of thing but reckon I'd much prefer the full strength Broadside in cask than the weaker version :)


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