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!
ʼʼ

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Golden Pints: BV's best beers of 2018

So, another year over and we're all a bit closer to the merciful release of death...

2018 was a moderately eventful period for beer. Brewdog and Cloudwater grabbed the headlines by returning to cask production; Brut IPA became the next big thing; sales of real ale slumped somewhat alarmingly and the CAMRA Revitalization Project, two years in the making, turned out to be something of a non-event.

Meanwhile ordinary people like me continued to drink beer every day and obsessively keep a record of it.

I managed pints of 623 new cask beers in 2018, bringing my overall total to just short of 9100 and every tickers' big target is now neatly in sight if I can up my game a little in 2019.



Dishonourable mentions

In all honesty, I didn't really drink enough non-cask beer last year to go dishing out awards with any degree of fairness, but some of the highlights included Thornbridge Pineapple Halcyon on keg, with the extra fruity sweetness of the pineapple definitely adding something to the already-good underlying DIPA. Like a pineapple ring atop a thick slice of 'Gammon'. (I know all the 2018 buzzwords, me!)

Drinking my way through another year
I've also - shock, horror! - been drinking a fair amount of Guinness Hop House Lager. Don't get me wrong, it's not exactly a great beer, but it has become my go-to draught option in ordinary boozers that don't have anything tasty or interesting on offer. Better than the alternatives and widely available when one wants to watch a football match on TV.

Damning-with-faint-praise be damned. With faint praise.

The best bottled beer I had this year was a Kernel London Sour - maybe if they brewed some cask, they wouldn't have fallen so far off the crafterati radar?

As for cider, I don't drink a whole lot of it, but I'm a sucker for tropical fruit, and Ascension Cider Co. Can I play with Mangoes was probably my fave, as well as having a great name, obviously.


The real winners

So, the best new cask beers I had in 2018 then. As usual, no beer scored the mythical 9/9 rating, but there were 18 good enough to score an 8, including several from Thornbridge who are bang back in form when it comes to creating delicious new beers.

Indeed the Thornbridge bar at this years excellent GBBF saw perhaps the greatest concentration of truly brilliant beer in a single place ever.

Picking out my top five for the year, I'll start there. Thornbridge Strawberry Lucaria Ice cream porter (4.5%) which just edges out the almost-as-good Salted Caramel edition of the Lucaria series. Lush and creamy and delicious, and I don't even like Strawberry ice cream particularly. A proper dessert beer, and at a modest ABV so you can down the stuff, rather than sipping it with imperial trepidation.

In fourth place, Tiny Rebel Espress Yourself (4.6%), first enjoyed at my local the Radius Arms. Pale coffee beers are still something of a novelty, but for me it's a combination that always seems to work. I came up with a really accurate description of the flavour profile of this beer at the time, which I've since forgotten. Beer does that to you. But it was kinda like a coffee ice cream. (Thornbridge brewers, if you're reading...)

Third place goes to Arbor for Piccolina, a tiny 3.2% Table Beer that packed so much hoppy flavour into a tiny package, you wonder why more brewers aren't doing it. (Actually, they are - Northern Monk Striding Edge was very similar and came close to making the top five too.)

Second place sees a return to the after-dinner style, with Electric Bear Mochchocolata Ya Ya! (5.1%) which does exactly what you'd expect with chocolate and coffee in more or less equal measure. Thoroughly enjoyed at the 2017-18 BV Pub London of the Year, the Antelope in Surbiton.

It would probably be a valid criticism if you pointed out that I'm favouring beers which are adjunct-based, non-traditional, or gimmicky. In my defence, just outside the top five are Big Smoke The Judge, a huge 8.5% DIPA with no sign of quince juice or Ethiopian coffee beans. Likewise Rooster's 24/7, basically a standard pale ale but a very good one.

But my favourite beer of 2018, very much continuing the non-traditional theme, was Thornbridge Planet Rock - Honeydew Melon. I know, that's not a proper name for a beer. There was apparently supposed to be a competition during GBBF week to provide the name, which I almost certainly should've won with my suggestion of 'Bunsen' which is both clever and Thornbridgey.

I'm not sure they ever announced a competition winner, or indeed brewed the beer again, which is a shame because it was fucking fantastic. 4.5%, pale and refreshing with proper juicy Melon running all the way through it. Gorgeous stuff, and right now if I could only have one beer on a desert island, it would be this one. Well suited to desert island conditions too, I should imagine.

And that, my friends, was my golden pints for 2018. I've already had an '8' in 2019 - Thornbridge Tapit with chocolate and orange - so we're off to a good start!

Happy New Beer!

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