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!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Czech this out

The Tweetosphere can be a great thing

OK, so 99.9% of it consists of boring people telling the world stuff that they either know already or don't want to know, but occasionally it throws up nuggets of usefulness.

Earlier today the White Horse in Parson's Green (aka the Sloaney Pony) tweeted that this evening they would be featuring something very rare indeed, and a few hours later I was there, drinking the stuff.

It interested me as a beer ticker looking for rare scoops, but this wasn't just any old one-off, special beer. It was an unfiltered, unpasteurised cask version of Pilsner Urquell

While the vast majority of output from the Czech brewery for decades has been fizzy keg beer, at which I'd turn up my nose, I applaud them for at least making gentle movements in this direction. Let's not forget that they are a part of the International SABMiller group, which has hitherto done fuck-all for real beer. It's a bold step.

A bitter Pils to swallow...
About eight people in 'Pilsner Urquell' shirts turned up to set up the promotional stand and tap the cask with considerable fanfare. Perhaps overkill for what was essentially just a pint of lager, but it's a significant pint of lager nonetheless. Indeed a pint of lager capable of winning arguments and potentially turning the beer scene on it's head.

Nicely but not brain-freezingly chilled, naturally carbonated, and with that slightly spicy, bready character that Czech lagers often have, it was undoubtedly superior to the same beer from bottle, can or keg, which begs the question: why isn't real Continental lager more widely produced, either here or anywhere else on the planet? It's bloody good stuff.

Get Real!

I actually purchased a half of keg Pilsner Urquell just so I could compare the two side by side, and there was no contest. The cask version was fresher, hoppier, and just, well, infinitely superior in every way. I'm not known for being a huge fan of Czech lager, but I'd happily drink this all night. With a curry it would be quite magnificent.

Indeed, the experience assured me that I'm right in my point of view, and that the arrogant approach of 'craft' brewers like Brewdog and Camden Town who dropped cask beer altogether in favour of keg is so absolutely wrong-headed and misguided that there can be no excuses. No defence. No justification.

Surely they have to admit that they're not doing it because keg beer tastes better, but because it's easier to produce and manage and more profitable - the exact same reasons all the big breweries tried to eradicate real ale in the 1970s. The same big breweries that Brewdog love to criticise.

I've always argued that any beer of any style will taste better in cask form, and that all beer was 'real' before they started pasteurising and artifically carbonating in the middle of the last century.

Some folks - like beer writer Tim Webb in his rebuttal to a piece I wrote for London Drinker - take an opposing view, but I'd desperately urge anyone who thinks that cask isn't always best to try the beer I had tonight. Sample it side by side with the keg version as I did. I challenge you.

Here in Britain we were lucky enough to have CAMRA to stand up for, and preserve traditional conditioning and dispense. Just because other countries weren't so fortunate doesn't mean they shouldn't revive the old ways though, and people who claim otherwise are missing a trick.

It would also allow marketing departments to stop misleading the public so brazenly. Kronenbourg might actually resemble the way it really was back in 1664 if they did it in cask to an original recipe, rather than the result of a reboot 300 years later when keg dispense came along.

I'm a long-time CAMRA member, but one of my biggest criticisms of the organisation is the hypocrisy at our beer festivals where foreign keg beers are regularly featured. 

There are some who would like us to move further in that direction and who would have CAMRA condone or even promote British keg beers. 

And to these people I say: Fuck Off.

Fuck Off and start a new organisation if that's how you feel.

The whole purpose of CAMRA was to save cask beer from an encroaching tide of inferior keg. Without that focus, it's a subjective beast at best.

I've long acknowledged that, yes, a good beer in keg form is better than a bad beer in real form, and it doesn't matter one jot for the purposes of this argument. The point is that the same beer is always at it's best when in good condition from the cask.

I've tried Pilsner Urquell the way it would have been decades ago and it's better than the way it's usually served now. The fact that it's lager from the Czech Republic is irrelevant. The great truth is no less true than if we were talking about mild from Manchester or IPA from Aberdeenshire or anything else.

Meanwhile, I got the impression that quite a few casks have come over from Pilsen and the promotions team will be going around several pubs, so take the opportunity to try it if you possibly can.

It might be the best pint of lager you ever drink.


  1. I used to go to a pub called the Piss and Fiddle. It was a decent boozer frequented by tramps and arseholes.

    I remember Henry.

    He was a lazy fucker who spent most of his time playing chess on his own.

    But Henry died. And the Piss and Fiddle died with him. Simples.

  2. If you go on the Pilsner Urquell tour in Pilsen, they serve you a couple samples of the beer that has been open fermented in barrels in their cellars like they used to do it. I would assume this is similar to the beer you drank in a cask and agree with you that it was amazing. It is nothing like any pilsners or lagers that I have had in today's form. Pasteurization and forced carbonation have ruined it.

  3. Replies
    1. In what respect - ie,why? What's wrong with what he's written? - are you suggesting he should be fucked?


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