Bensoir! It's me, Benjamin. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You may have read stuff I've written elsewhere, but here on my own blog as Ben Viveur I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others, so pretty much anything goes.

BV is about enjoying real food and drink in the real world. I showcase 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. And as a critic 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!

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Pull the other one!

In recent weeks there has been considerable debate about Carlsberg-Marston's launch of 'Fresh Beer', a controversial product that has garnered mostly negative coverage before it has even found its way onto the bar.

And I have to admit, I find myself feeling not unduly concerned about this. Yes, it's misleading and arguably the latest in a very long line of wrongs committed by wrong-un brewing conglomerates. But I don't think it's going to be a fundamental threat to the (cask) beers I like to drink.

It's controversial because it's essentially a keg beer, dispensed via a handpump - presumably a full-size one that looks more authentic than the miniature faux handpumps already used for keg dispense, and maybe even one that actually gets pulled rather than simply 'flicked' into the 'on' position. I get all that. But it's just not causing my hackles to rise in a visceral surge of physical disgust.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

3.4 Children

It's now been a fair few months since changes to UK Duty legislation made it advantageous for breweries to produce beers at a strength of 3.4% or weaker, and we should be starting to see the effects of this at the bar counter as breweries seek to offer beers meeting this criteria.

Speculation at the time suggested that this could be the death knell for cask ales in the 3.5 to 3.7% range, with a host of new beer launches and reformulations of existing recipes hitting the market in order to comply. But to what extent has this actually happened?

Taste the difference?

Of course, it should be remembered that brewers do get some leeway with regards to deviation from the advertised strength. Cask ale, in particular, is a living, evolving, maturing product that can easily get stronger as it sits in a pub cellar. However, if breweries were to leave, say, a 3.8% beer unchanged and just write 3.4% on the pumpclip, they'd be cutting it very fine indeed, so by and large I'd expect them to be playing with a straight bat and brewing their revised beers 'down the middle' rather than trying taking unnecessary risks trying to get away with something that lurks in the margins. And, theoretically, a weaker beer should be cheaper for them to produce too, though this isn't always the case.

3.4% is something of an iconic ABV in certain quarters, mainly because of Brakspear's Bitter. Back when I was a youngster, before the brewery closed, this was considered an absolute classic session beer, and proof that great things can be done at this sort of strength.

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Golden Pints: BV's best beers of 2023

Compliments of the festive season, everyone!

(Yes, whatever anybody tells you, it's still Christmas. My decorations are staying up at least until Twelfth Night, and quite possibly until Candlemas.)

It is, however, a 'new year' which means people like me can definitively announce our favourite beverages from the previous one. Which is exactly what I'm about to do, so strap yourselves in

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

The Heart and Soul of England

Some time ago my father posited the concept of the relationship between pub and church as embodying 'the Heart and Soul of England' (I forget exactly how long ago, but given the rate at which time now passes it might be as long as 30 years!) with the pub being the 'heart' of this country, and the church its 'soul'.

We would occasionally revisit the topic and sometimes even consider the 'expanded universe', so a butchers shop would perhaps be 'the Loin of England' and the great universities the Brain, but the core of the idea - and indeed the core of any traditional English village - was very much Heart and Soul; Pub and Church. Perhaps located tangentally across the road from one another, inextricably linked through generations of the worshipful and the thirsty.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

BV London Pub of the Year 2022-23 - the results

What combines the anticipatory excitement of a gender-reveal party with the hoppy aroma of a cool, fresh pint, and the excited anticipation of a different gender-reveal party?

That's right - the BV London Pub of the Year contest. And the hour is hand for the winner to be revealed, so let's crack on with our top five for 2022-23.

So, here we go...

(Oh yeah, read the actual content of parts one and two first, otherwise none of this will make any sense.)

So, here we go. For real this time...

Friday, August 11, 2023

GBBF 2023: A Call to (Volunteer) Arms

I've been attending the Great British Beer Festival for 29 years now, and have long been a staunch supporter of the event. 

Typically I'd get a Season Ticket, attend most or even all of the sessions, and drink lots of beers during the week, which would be one of the highlights of my year. I've seen it grow in size from the mid-90s onwards; the evolution as it moved from Olympia to Earl's Court and then back again. And I sorely missed it in 2020 and 2021, when it didn't take place. Its return in 2022 brought a sense of purpose back to my life. Well, back to my first week in August, at any rate.

But despite being a GBBF Superfan, I'd never volunteered - until this year - and it's only right that I now give you my honest assessment of how I got on last week.

Monday, July 31, 2023

BV London Pub of the Year 2022-23 - part two

Whenever there's a part one, there's always a part two. The second course. The revenge of the killer sequel, if you will.

And this is it - the second half of the 2022-23 London Pub of the Year contest, where five new contenders join the competition and go up against last year's Top Five.

This year sees a mix of complete newcomers and pubs that have been absent from the contest for a few years, so let's crack on...