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!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Non-alcoholics Anonymous

When they first went mainstream back in the late 1980s, non-alcoholic and low alcohol beers swiftly became the butt of jokes. They were right up there with Eastern Bloc cars and straight-to-video horror films on the International Crapness Scale.
Apparently you can still buy this stuff

Barbican. Kaliber. Possibly a bottle of Clausthaler if you were in an upmarket wine bar and wanted your non-alcohol imported. It was all woeful.

Maybe you're lucky enough to be too young to remember. Unfortunately I'm not. And because they were non-alcoholic I recall them with greater clarity than any other beers I drank as a teenager.

Even then, it wasn't just about the not-getting-drunk either. They tasted so extraordinarily bland that they didn't even qualify as a good soft drink. An afternoon drinking Kaliber and skipping school left one yearning for a can of Quatro. Remember that? Quatro?

Times they are a-changing

A quarter of a century later - Quatro is long-gone - the world has an alcohol-free beer that actually tastes of something. Better yet, the something that it tastes of is beer!

I've been a vocal critic of Brewdog for some years now, since they stopped brewing cask beer and started picking petty strawman arguments, but to give due credit, they've absolutely nailed this market like nobody else.

I first tried a pint of Nanny State back in 2009, on cask as it happens, and it was one of the more challenging drinking experiences of my life.

At 1.1% ABV and - get this - 225 International Bitterness Units, it remains both the weakest and bitterest cask ale I've ever drunk. (There is a theory that beyond about 150 any further increase in IBUs is imperceptible to the human palate, but that's more or less irrelevant; it was mouth-puckeringly bitter and astringent to the point where I could feel the enamel being stripped relentlessly from my poor teeth.)

By all accounts, that version of Nanny State was a publicity stunt. A two-fingered salute to the Portman Group who had been fairly vocal about the potency of Brewdog's stronger beers. But the current version - just 0.5% ABV and a more respectable 45 IBUs - is really rather good.

Technically that half percent of alcohol allows it to be marketed as alcohol-free. You might think that 10 pints would have the same effect as a single pint of a 5% beer, but apparently not, because the water % is so high that the body will process the tiny quantities of alcohol and flush it all out faster than you can drink it. You'd effectively be drowned long before you achieved any noticable level of intoxication. (Yes, you can try this experiment at home if you're stupid enough. It might be kind to your liver, but your lungs won't thank you.)

Not that a-changing things is always good, obviously

When I'm not being a vocal critic of Brewdog, I'm an equally vocal critic of radically changing beer recipes and keeping the existing names, so it's very hard for me to admit that I like this beer, but I really do. It's hoppy, refreshing and full-flavoured with no apparent downside at all.

Brewdog Nanny State
Alcohol 0 Hops 5
The nose is piney and herbal, with absolutely no indication that this is anything other than a full strength ale in the American Amber style.

It's oh-so-drinkably dry with the Amarillo hops in particular making their presence known on the palate, and the other hop varieties (five in total) contributing to a spicy, moreish finish that lasts absolutely for ever.

As you'd expect, with no residual sugars and most of the malt removed late in the brewing process, there is no sweetness present at all. If you like your sickly, malty ales then this isn't the non-alcoholic miracle you've been waiting for.

Yes, I'd probably like it to be a little paler with a bit more fruit and floral, and less herbiness, but that's nit-picking really. This is a beer with no alcohol and - it gets better - virtually no calories either!

I've been doing the 5:2 (Intermittent Fasting) diet for about three years now and haven't been able to have a beer on my fast days. But Nanny State is only 15 calories a bottle. 15! You can have two or three while restricting calories without extensive re-jigging of menus. On hot summer days I've mixed it with diet lemonade for an insanely low calorie shandy.

It's not like me to praise Brewdog, and it's not like me to be positive about a recipe reformulation, but it's seriously good stuff.

You can pick it up in the big supermarkets. Now can we have it widely available on draught please. Or possibly even cask?!?


  1. Might as well have a weak mild or bitter at 3% I think

  2. Agree, Brewdog Nanny State is closer than anything else to real beer, and tastes better than many a real beer on the market. You just have to decide... Are you drinking beer for taste or effects? If it's for taste, give this a go.


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