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, September 29, 2016

Drink up and move on

Six years ago, when I first started this blog - yes, it really has been that long - I worked in Canary Wharf and lived a few stops down the DLR. Ben Viveur was largely a food blog aimed at the lunchtime crowd 'On the Wharf'.

Things change. I moved offices a few times and the BV remit expanded to include the whole of London, and, occasionally places further afield. Which is probably a good thing. Christ knows how bored I'd be if I was still searching for the best sandwich in Canada Square now.

Well now, I'm leaving London. Moving house. Becoming a responsible homeowner for the first time. Woo. Scary. Things changing bigly.

So is this the end of BV as we know it? The end of the London Pub of the Year contest? The end of London restaurant reviews? (Not that I've done as many of them as I could lately)

No, of course it fucking isn't. I'll only be technically just outside London - Caterham, to be specific - and in all likelihood I won't spend any less time eating and drinking around the capital than I do now.

But with the move coming up, I've had to knuckle down and start drinking up the various samples that I get sent. And a couple of them were rather interesting and a little different to the standard pale ales that usually arrive on the doorstep.

(I know, I'm really very bad at reviewing the stuff I get sent to review. Hopefully this will make up for it a bit.)

St Peter's Without

First up a new alcohol-free beer, and one with big ambitions for nationwide distribution.

Without hops?
Now, St Peters and I go back a long way - it was one of the wave of microbreweries that sprung up in the mid-1990s just as I was seriously getting into beer. Back then their range of fruit beers were exciting and innovative and their London tied house, the Jerusalem Tavern in Clerkenwell was a must-visit pub.  I've also spent several years of my drinking life living in Suffolk close to their home, so it's a brewery I know pretty well.

They're making some bold claims about how this beer is going to revolutionise the alcohol-free sector and have bold plans to launch nationally on keg as well as in bottle, if they haven't already.

It's a satisfying clever name, given that St Peters have been using ecclesiastical imagery in their branding for years. Unfortunately, the beer itself tastes pretty awful.

I'm not against non-alcoholic beers - in fact I positively rave about Brewdog Nanny State in its current incarnation. But this stuff is just unpleasant, unless you are partial to the flavour and aroma of unfermented wort. It tastes like breweries smell, if that makes sense.

It's everything I dislike about bland, sweet malty beers, without any redeeming features. God, just a few hops would've been nice.

Back in the mid 1990s I tried a strange Guinness malt drink that didn't claim to be a beer. This reminded me of that rather unpleasant drink, and I'd imagine that 'Supermalt' stuff would be pretty similar. Obviously some people must like these kinds of flavours or there wouldn't be a market for them, or indeed for extremely malty beers, but it really isn't for me.

Probably because of all that malt, the calorie count is only a bit lower than standard beers, making their claims in this department rather underwhelming. There are other low-alcohol beers out there that are really lo-cal and which taste far nicer.

I can see a future for low- and non-alcoholic beers, but it won't be stuff like this. It will be dry and bursting with hops like Nanny State, or going down the Sour route (Berlinnerweisses below 3% ABV are already fairly standard and they could probably be made weaker without losing their refreshing character.)

So it's a 'no' from me I'm afraid.

Purity / Westons 'Pure Hopped Cider'

Another interesting sample that I didn't wait long to drink is this collaboration between the admired-but-a-bit-safe-and-samey Warwickshire brewery and the probably-too-big-and-corporate Herefordshire cider maker.

And it has to be said, it's probably the best product I've seen from either in several years.

I'm not averse to trying a Westons cider during the Wetherspoons Cider Fest and I might occasionally get in some bottles of their Extra Dry for a Summer barbecue, but on the whole I tend to think of them as a sort of Marstons of the cider world.

I don't drink a whole lot of Purity beers, largely because they seldom release new ones. When I go to home games at the Ricoh Arena where are the beer supplier, I'll usually have a half-time UBU.

But this was altogether more intriguing stuff: It could be mistaken for a cloudy, slightly sweet, fairly fizzy cider - were it not for the big aroma of Target hops, singularly unsubtle in its boastful presence.

There is a soft appley sweetness upfront, before the spicy bitterness from those cuts through with a big machete and lingers for a long time.

What is unexpected is how fresh and 'raw' the hops taste. I've drunk numerous 'green hop' beers but this is something else - it's the kind of hop aroma you get when you stick your head in a sack of dried hops, not the pleasant floral notes off the top of a typical pint.

That's not to say the cider is outrageously hoppy in the conventional sense, just that the hoppiness is of a very different nature.

The combination confused my tastebuds initially, but it really works in a 'rustic' sort of way. Yeah, it's a bit over-carbonated for my liking, but then I can see why they've done that as it's what people expect from a canned cider.

Unlike the St Peter's Without, I can see myself drinking this of my own volition. Westons have  substantial distribution, so this should go big and mainstream pretty quickly, perhaps defining a whole new category.

Maybe I need to make it my resolution in the new place to review more of the stuff I get sent?

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