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, January 8, 2020

Golden Pints: BV's best beers of 2019

Another year has ended and a new one just begun. Forgive me if I'm unenthusiastic - 2019 was a generalised pigfuck of a year for reasons I shan't bore you with. (And, yes, I know I haven't blogged anywhere near as much, anywhere near as eloquently or anywhere near as entertainingly as I should. Sorry about that.)

Will 2020 be any better? Is there any Hope left in Pandora's old box? Well there's The Hope - my current Pub of the Year, of course, and there will always be beer. I wasn't even particularly positive about beer last year, such was the depths of my mood, but looking at it objectively, it was a good year for beer.

I ticked 736 new cask beers during the year, which has put me within a couple of hundred of reaching the mystical 10,000 figure. This was the most I'd managed in a year since 2014, and 23 of them managed to score 8/9 on the BV Beer scale.

2019 was notably cask-centric. I drank so little kegged, bottled or canned beer during the year to dish out any awards for that this time around, but here, in no particularly order, are my favourite six cask beers of 2019:

Thornbridge 'Tapit'

This actually dates back to New Years Day (in 2019, not the one just gone) and I was excited to find it at the Covent Garden Craft Beer Co, towards the end of its limited Christmas run. A 6% Chocolate Orange Stout, with huge sweetshop aromas and after-dinnery flavours, I absolutely loved it and was amazed how they managed to get an almost liqueur character into a relatively weak beer (yeah, I know 6% isn't weak to some of you, but a lot of dessert stouts are way North of 10%.)

Honourable mentions are needed for Tiny Rebel's Salted Caramel Stay Puft and Kissingate Chocolate and Vanilla Stout, both of which were almost as good in the sessionable dessert department. But thinking about Tapit and its delicious chocolately orangeness serves to remind me that I haven't had a Thornbridge beer that scored 8 since. Which is disappointing.

Like drinking a Black Cherry Porter...

Purple Moose 'Black Cherry Porter'

It's another dark beer with fruit, but completely different in character to the Tapit. At just 4.8% this porter uses some sort of Welsh wizardry to pack in Imperial quantities of deep cherry flavour that left one thirsty for more. But, it's not sweet at all, it still carries plenty of traditional porter character on its broad shoulders and the sheer balance achieved is a thing of beauty.

The closest thing I can compare it to is a really nice high quality cherry-topped Cavendish tobacco. If I could put this beer in my pipe and smoke it, I quite possibly would!

Even more surprisingly, this was supped at the Caterham Beer Festival which is only a five minute walk from where I live, but with which I often don't bother having previously been fairly unenamoured with the beer choice and quality. But I'm not ashamed to admit that this beer was brilliant and I look forward to our local festival later this year.

Arbor 'Faked Alaska'

One of the new entries in the 2018-19 Pub of the Year was the Albion in Kingston, and this beer - a rare casking apparently - went some way towards sealing their place in the top five. Arbor put out some weird shit at times, and this creamy Vanilla IPA (6%) can be chalked up as a huge success for the experimental range.

Who doesn't love vanilla ice cream, right? But to have that flavour running squarely through the middle of a big, full-bodied, American-style IPA was a stroke of genius. There's citrussy hops there too, but they don't get in the way - it's more like a slice of orange on top of your sundae. All in all, very very good indeed.

Interestingly, no 'regular' IPAs have made my list this time - the closest is perhaps Kent Elysium, which is big and hoppy but, well, just a bit lacking in Vanilla.

Kissingate 'Blackeyed Susan'

Kissingate beers feature regularly at the BV Pub of the Year and I'm usually pretty impressed with them. But this was my favourite of the year, a 6.8% Imperial Mild with Chocolate.

Rich and lovely and comforting and chocolatey, and I know that I'm upsetting the purists in picking out beer after winning beer with adjuncts that compromise the 'traditional' ingredients, but, you know, fuck you. I don't care. This tasted great and that's what mattered to me at the time!

The primary reason the Hope is the London PotY is beers like this that you just don't get anywhere else!

Marble 'Lagonda at 2.8%'

Oh go on then. A beer with no fruit or chocolate or vanilla or anything. You can have one. There are still probably traditionalists who wouldn't count this because of its low strength, but Lagonda at 2.8% is a properly stunning table beer.

Regulation-strength Lagonda is a fine drop with a pleasingly fruity hoppiness in every sip, and also scores 8/9, but the weaker version is just as refreshing, just as drinkable and just as balanced. I'm a huge advocate for low-strength beers and would love to see more brewers doing stuff like this.

In the pale ale category I should honourably mention Sheffield Get Thi'Sen Outdooerz and Wild Beer The Big Sticklebract, both enjoyed at my local the Radius Arms in Whyteleafe and both very close to making the list.

Brewheadz 'Crumble in the Jungle'

And so, rounding of the list we have one of several fabulous beers enjoyed at Cask 2019. The festival venue was a bit of a disaster, in a gloomy subterranean space with slippery, muddy floors and water dripping in from every nook and cranny. But the beers were superb. Signature Brew Jam Sour,  North Brewing's Triple Fruited Gose and Weird Beard Kill Pils were all solid 8s that could've made the list if I wasn't restricting it to just six choices.

Cask 2019

But I'm picking out this Rhubarb and Custard Crumble Sour (4.5%) as the pick of the bunch on the day because it was, well, absolutely fucking superb. Tart rhubarb, hint of vanillary sweetness to balance it our, sourness running through to ensure drinkability... this is an absolute deity of a beer.

It's a shame that - like many beers at the Cask festival - this was a rare casking and that most folk will never get to sample this beer in this form. Because it's too good to go undrunk.

Sooooo... that's my favourite beers of 2019 done and dusted and drunk. But there'll be more. In a few days time, once I've given the matter some thought, I'll present my favourite beers of the decade!

You won't want to miss that.

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