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, December 9, 2015

Montezuma's Chocolate Lager - a rare review

OK, so it's fairly uncommon for me to post reviews of a single beer.

Like most beer writers, I sometimes receive samples from breweries for my earnest consideration, but the reality is that I prefer to do most of my drinking at the pub, and these bottles (and more recently cans) can be left lying around for months to the point where they may not be in optimal condition, and any assessment would be coloured by that.

I also feel that if I review one of them, I should probably review them all, which creates a lot of work for me, and ultimately a series of fairly samey reviews about fairly samey beers. I'm not a bottled beer expert and there are plenty of other writers keen to work in this fashion, so I'll leave it to them.

And while I'm grateful for the freebies, if a beer is good enough for me to write about, I'll probably be buying it myself.

(Occasionally, I do make exceptions if a beer is particularly good, bad or just noteworthy - like Brewmeister 'Snake Venom' and Brewdog 'Nanny State', neither of which, incidentally, were free!)

Montezuma's Chocolate Lager is a collaboration between the Hogs Back brewery in Surrey and Montezuma's, a fairly small time chocolatier based in West Sussex. In all honesty, I don't think I've ever tried one of their chocolate bars, and while Hogs Back beers have been around for as long as I've been drinking, they're not a brewer that has made much of an impression, at least until now. The beer was developed last year, but I've only discovered it in the last couple of months.

This is a very good beer, a very different beer, and at 4.5% a very accessible, drinkable beer. And the good news is that it's widely available in supermarkets, at least around here.

Let's review us some beer!

Photo from
Upon cracking open the bottle the chocolate aroma hits you right away and it's wonderfully unsubtle. This isn't like some strong porter where one has to really search for the cocoa amongst all the alcohol, molasses and dried fruit - it's just chocolate, pure and simple.

Psychologically I expect chocolate beers to be dark brown, but this has the deep straw colour of a Golden Ale or Dortmunder lager, and, crucially, the refreshing character you'd expect from a beer of that hue. I quaff it straight from the fridge - for me this is one to drink cold and the chocolate character doesn't need any sort of warm-up to make its presence felt.

There is a bitter edge, likely a combination of the dark chocolate and subtle bittering hops, but it's incredibly smooth and without the cloying sugariness you often find in chocolate beers. The whole effect is of dusting ones senses with a very fine cocoa powder while quaffing a solidly-fashioned lager. You almost breathe the chocolate.

It manages at once to be both chocolatey and refreshing, and if that isn't a holy grail, it fucking well ought to be.

The underlying beer is probably based on their Hogstar lager, also 4.5%, and starting to appear on keg in Wetherspoon pubs, particularly in the South, though this is altogether far superior. I'd love to try it on cask, but that's probably too much to hope for, and I've yet to be really wowed by a Hogs Back cask beer.

I don't think there's a single drink that goes better with my chilli, but it also works well as an after-dinner beer when you crave a chocolate hit but can't eat anything more. If you are still hungry, it can pass for a dessert beer too - though you'll find it surprisingly dry compared to just about any other chocolate beer.

If I had to recommend one bottled beer to get in for Christmas that I think most people in the household will enjoy, it would be this.

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