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, January 4, 2016

BV's best beers of 2015

Well, it looks like 2015 is finally over - I don't know about you, but after suffering the seemingly inescapable march of time and life going faster and faster, the year actually went pretty slowly. Maybe time is slowing down? Maybe God slammed on the celestial handbrakes?

Or maybe it's just because it was a year with lots crammed into it, like a bulging Temporal Christmas Stocking. Perhaps with crudely-wrapped action figures all poking out the sides and distorting the very fabric of time?

I got to visit 12 new countries during the 12 months. That was pretty cool. And I finally ate in the House of Commons' Members Dining Room, and invented the Pimms Lagerita.

So, yes, it's been quite a year, but the backdrop to any sort of existence is, of course, beer, and this is the time when I traditionally tell you all what the best ones were. Well, the best new beers I sampled during the year, obviously. I seldom retread.

As you'll probably know, I mostly likes to drink me beer in a pub, from a cask. And that's mostly what I shall be banging on about today, but before I do, there are one or two honourable mentions in the other categories.

The range of craft keg beers available in London has never been wider, and Brew by Numbers have been serving up some particularly enjoyable session pales this year. The IPA at Bryggeri Helsinki was also one of my favourite keg pints of 2015.

There may be some gems amongst the backlog of bottled beers that breweries keep sending me (Thank you!) but the bottled stars of 2015 were leftfield oddballs to say the least.

I've enjoyed Brewdog's alcohol-free Nanny State enough to blog about it, while recently Montezuma's Chocolate Lager from Hogs Back has been a staple in our fridge.

I drank the entire cask
But, onto the all-important cask beers, and these are all those that scored 8/9 this year:

Cantillon - Kriek Lambic

Like most people who appreciate fruit beers, I enjoy Cantillon Lambics in its bottled form from time to time, and I've had the Kriek on keg on a couple of occasions.

It's brilliant stuff, obviously, but on a trip to Belgium earlier this year I finally got to try it on cask at Moeder Lambic, and it's properly awesome. Fresh, zingy, sour-sweet and bursting with cherry goodness. Don't get me wrong, I love the Framboise, the Peche and all the other fruitsome variants, but sour cherry just works so well in this style. Plus I got to go to the brewery too! Cantillon rocks!

Three blind mice - Table beer

It wasn't just Nanny State that impressed me at the lower end of the ABV spectrum. Back in April, this little 2.8% wonder blew me away at the CASK Pub & Kitchen, Pimlico.

Sometimes when weak beers are hopped to the nuts they can come across as unbalanced, thin and one-dimensional. But not this baby. Hoping for more in 2016 from this little Cambridgeshire brewery.

Adnams / Magic Rock - The Herbalist

OK, now for me to give a Saison eight stars is a pretty big deal. I suspect it's never happened before as I just particularly care for the style. For me to highly rate a beer with Mosaic hops in is equally improbable.

But this collaboration just gets everything right. The Mosaic is largely disguised by the lemon and thyme, but my favourite Citra hops come exploding through. Served cool and refreshing at Wetherspoons in Tooting - where the beer isn't always good (trust me, I've consumed an awful lot of beer there over the past 20 years) - it was an unexpected birthday treat.

Hopcraft / Steel City - Midnight in Antarctica

Gazza at Hopcraft does some crazy shit. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't. This time it did.

A 'white porter', with coffee, vanilla and coconut. Just let that sink in for a second. They've had lots of Hopcraft beers at the Craft, Clerkenwell, but none as stunningly bonkers as this one, and basically sessionable too, at just 5% ABV.

This beer was like that freaky hot girl in your class, who you knew was a bit fucked-up, but you still totally would!

Summer Wine - Stateside

Sometimes one beer can clinch a pub's place on the Pub of the Year shortlist. This is pretty much what happened with the Crown & Anchor in Stockwell when they served this back in June.

Yeah, it's basically just a 4.3% easy drinking pale ale full of American hops. But that's the sort of shit I love to drink. This is what your everyday drinking beer should be.

Rooster's - Birdman

Talking of 4.3% pale ales full of American hops...

We all know the deal with Rooster's. It's usually going to be pale, hoppy and refreshing and you'll enjoy drinking it. They've been doing this for a couple of decades now.

This one just happened to be a cut above their usual standard and perfect after a long hot day at Wimbledon Tennis.

Evil Twin - Even More Jesus: Hazelnut

I'm mostly a session beer sort of bloke. I like to quaff stuff in big quantities and feel it washing over my tonsils, hence all the session APAs on this list. Conversely, most of the ales that top the global 'best beer' lists tend to be a lot stronger.

You, sir, are about to get drunk
Don't get me wrong, 12% beers can be very tasty, but they're seldom my personal favourites because they just don't have that quenching quality that I crave.

But my tastes are broad and there are always exceptions. Like this. A rich and deep imperial stout, with the hazelnuts coming through like some sort of intense beery praline. When a beer tastes this good, it's still drinkable, even with the ABV in double figures, which is a dangerous thing.

It might be just as well that I had about the last pint and a third from the cask at the Craft, Clerkenwell before it disappeared, possibly forever.

Hop Stuff - Single Hop: Simcoe

Back to the more common territory of sessionable pale ales, this local treat from Woolwich took one of my favourite hops and crammed substantial quantities of it into a very easy drinking quencher. Delightful at the Ravensbourne Arms, Ladywell, and only 4.2.

Black Jack - Dragon's Tears

Saisons must have really grown on me during 2015 as there's another one on the list, this time brewed with Jasmine Tea!

It's another feather in the cap of the CASK Pub & Kitchen who have showcased a lot of interesting beers and challenged my tastebuds most successfully.

Elgood's - Coolship Fruit

And so, we come to the last new beer of the year that earned the coveted 8/9 rating, and this really was something very special.

A one-off cask, on sale at the Pig's Ear Beer Festival in early December, it divided opinion amongst those who sampled it. I thought it was superb. I have to admit to some skepticism when first I learned of Elgood's 'Coolship' product - aging sour beers in the much the same way that the great Lambic brewers in Belgium do (and which hasn't really been done successfully on these shores).

But this is superb. I could've been back in Brussels. It's sour and fruity with no artificial flavours in sight. I feared it would taste like Elgood's Bitter with added fruit essence. I could not have been more wrong.

It's a shame that it was only one cask, because I could drink this all day long every day.

So... if I had to choose just one of these beers as my favourite of the entire year, I'd give it to the Midnight in Antarctica, just because it's so off the wall and I like to reward creativity.

That doesn't make any of the other nine beers any less awesome though. Let's hope that time continues to go slowly, and we get to enjoy another crop of top new beers in 2016!

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