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!

Friday, January 6, 2017

BV's best beers of 2016

Well, it's Twelfth Night and so 2016 is now well and truly gone; Banished to the hinterland of the past, and some might say rightly so.

Let me guess: Your favourite celebrities all died and some votes didn't go the way you wanted, right?

I won't shy meekly away from the fact that 2016 was a bit of an epic fail for me. You may recall I was planning to visit every brewery in London and then put it all into a hugely entertaining and informative book that would top the bestseller list across the globe for years to come.

I did spend a lot of the year visiting breweries
And I did visit a lot of breweries, drank a lot of awesome beer and talked to loads of interesting people. However, real life, real work and moving house kinda got in the way and by the end of the year I'd only done maybe two thirds of the capital's breweries. But I'll try to resurrect the project in 2017 as I still think it's worth doing, even if my proposed timescales were too much for me.

Anyway, as is traditional at this time of year, I'll be looking back upon my favourite beers of 2016 or, more specifically, my five favourite new cask beers of 2016. And here they are:

Redemption: Passion with the Chief

Redemption were one of the breweries I managed to visit during 2016, both their old and new sites, but this rare blend of Big Chief and Passion fruit was a special for the Craft Beer Co. Clapham's first #Craft100 festival, back in March.

I like fruity beers and I like actual fruit beers, so putting the twain together is a no brainer to elicit high scores from me. Only 4.3% and rather delightful.

I had a Mango version of Big Chief later in the year which was almost as good too.

Siren / Jackie O's: Quadrophenia

I really, really admire breweries that can make me enjoy a beer in a style that I don't particularly care for, and that's exactly what happened with this collaboration between Siren of Finchampstead and Ohio's Jackie O.

Quadrophenia was a 9.3% Belgian style Quadruppel. I know these sorts of beers routinely win 'best in the whole world ever fuck yeah' ratings from beer geeks, but generally they're not my cup of tea. Or even my glass of beer.

But this was proper delicious. Like a warm bath of caramelised fruit and sex.

What's more, I had it on the same day as the Passion with the Chief.

Cloudwater: Spring + Summer Session IPA - Mosaic/Amarillo

Cloudwater have been in the news this week after announcing that they are to cease production of real ale. Obviously this is bad news - if they have a beer in my top five for the year, then they must be pretty good at it. And it's revived the usual debates, which makes you wonder if they've made the pronouncement purely to cause a stir and garner a bit of publicity, after which, they'll carry on doing cask...

Maybe they should instead focus on streamlining the naming conventions for their beers. Spring + Summer Session IPA - Mosaic/Amarillo is a quite ridiculous mouthful, albeit a very pleasant one with plenty of luscious hops packed into a 4.5% package. And my tolerance for Mosaic certainly appears to have increased over the years from a standing start.

I drank this back in June in the excellent Radius Arms in Whyteleafe, which sort of pre-empted my move to nearby Caterham later in the year.

Tiny Rebel: Juicy

One of the defining err, definitions of a truly great beer is that you still long for it, no matter how much you've already drunk.

It was a Saturday, the final day of the GBBF. I'd had several pints that day and many, many more over the course of the week. By rights I shouldn't be in the mood for any more ale. And then Tiny Rebel turn up at the Craft Beer Co, Covent Garden with this fruity, juicy beauty.

An almost unbelievable hop recipe gives this 4.8% pale ale a flavour sensation that I haven't encountered before or since. Whether I'd had 7, 8, 9 pints in me already didn't matter, I just wanted to drink more and more of it. I felt like the boy who'd broken into the tuck shop and was guzzling all the Um Bongo.

Tiny Rebel: Random Name Generator

And so we finish with another one from the Newport geniuses. This time at the Clapham Craft Beer Co, during their #Craft100 festival in October, it presented itself nonchalantly as a 'white black IPA with coffee'. Don't ask me to explain how that works.

The beer itself was superb though. A shouldn't-work-but-does combination of roasty coffee notes, biting hops and zesty wheat or something like that. Beyond description really. And at only 4.8% highly sessionable too.

Honourable mentions

I managed to scoop 615 new cask beers last year, and 15 of them scored 8/9 (I don't do 9/9, obviously) so whittling them down to a final five was tricky. Tiny Rebel: Frambuzi almost gave them another fruity spot in the countdown, while Thornbridge: Crackendale was a very good beer in what was probably a below-par year for them.

Best beers of the year served here!
The GBBF is unlucky not to get a mention, with LBC: pHuschia, Ashover: Light Rale and the revised-recipe St Austell: Big Job all going down a treat.

Then there's the Saltaire: Long Day IPA I enjoyed with a Wetherbreakfast in Chorley, which was a stunning session ale to start a long day's drinking, and the splendid APA 'A New England' from the new Crafty Devil brewery, who's name has a familiar cadence and who are based in Cardiff - imitation being the sincerest form of flattery...

The fact that four out of the top five beers were enjoyed at Craft Beer Co. pubs show just why they utterly dominate my London Pub of the Year competition and will probably do so for a long time to come. But only one new beer can be my absolute favourite.

And so, the best beer of the year? Um Bongo! I mean, Tiny Rebel's awesome Juicy!

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