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!

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Every ABV: 6.5 to 8.4%

So, what are we all going to do now that the footie is over and before the Olympics begins? 

We shall do what every good English patriot does: We shall go to the pub and drink beer. 

And from Monday we'll even be able to walk up to the bar to order, and visit the toilet facilities without wearing a mask - in some places at least. I'm looking forward to doing both of these things.

(If you only watched Euro 2020 because you wanted to see what my 'Final Meal' would be and were disappointed when I didn't post one, the truth is that I forsaw the England-Italy final ten years before it happened and came up with Full English Breakfast Linguine in anticipation of the match!)

Anyway, here's the latest part of my 'Every ABV' series, where I move onto the stronger stuff...

Get out there and drink the stuff that comes out of these!

6.5% - Wild Weather Pirate Captain

I drank this at the famous Wellington in Birmingham a couple of weeks before Christmas 2017 and described it as 'one of the finest beers I've ever had; a lush pillow of tropical fruit atop a bed of blissful hoppiness'. I've been a fan of American IPA since first visiting the country in late 1990s, and as we journey through the 6.x and 7.x beers I suspect we'll find a lot more of this sort of thing...

6.6% - Smuttynose IPA

...oh look, there we go! Smuttynose actually brew a lot of different IPAs and, being from New Hampshire, it's probably not unreasonable to describe most of them as 'American'. This particular example was one they put into cask especially for GBBF 2009. (And talking of GBBF, this is the second year that it won't be taking place and I'm having severe withdrawal symptoms, in particular from the American bar...)

6.7% - Thornbridge / Dark Star Puja

Still on the subject of big IPAs, a couple of people have asked why I didn't make Jaipur my choice for a 5.9% beer, and if I'd been compiling the list a few years ago it might well have been so. However, widespread availability of Jaipur has resulted in inconsistent quality and there are now beers that are even better examples of the style - and this is one of them. Puja is arguably the bigger sister of Jaipur; a strong and hoppy IPA with the addition of Jasmine to bring out the 'I'.

6.8% - Kissingate Blackeyed Susan

Taking a break from IPA is occasionally necessary and if you wanted to do so you could do a lot worse than with a glass of this - a Mild that just happens to be 6.8% and brewed with chocolate and vanilla. My God it's good. And so very drinkable.

6.9% - Revolutions Sid 'n' Nancy

But before long we're back on the American IPA, albeit one brewed with the Australian Ella hop. I believe this was a one off. Fuck you, Grandma.

7.0% - Shepheard Neame / Stone Double IPA

The best beer JD Wetherspoon has ever sold. This was one of their earliest 'International' collaborations where brewers from Stone came over from California to brew a DIPA in Kent. God knows what Sheps would've made of it in 2008 - this was monumentally bigger and hoppier than anything they'd brewed. I'll make a bold claim here: If they had made this a permanent fixture and given it a marketing push, this beer would've done what Punk IPA did for Brewdog. Only better.

7.1% - Flying Dog Snake Dog

West Coast IPA, heavy on the citrus character. I feel like I'm repeating myself but, well, my great love of this sort of beer...

7.2% - St Austell Big Job

This is a fairly rare example of a beer being reduced in strength and improving in the process. The original 8.5% version of Big Job was excellent, but taking it down to 7.2% was a masterstroke by St Austell as it retained all the big IPA character but became just that bit more drinkable. A 7.2% pint isn't intimidating in the way that an 8.5% pint is - it's only a little difference and I've no idea why, but that's the way things are.

7.3% - Front Row Obolensky

No, it's not Moor Old Freddy Walker, which is impossibly sweet and cloying to my palate and one of my least favourite beers at any strength, but it is a 7.3% dark beer. This Imperial-strength Baltic Porter is mellow and balanced with rich, spicy notes from a fairly obscure Rugby-themed brewery in Cheshire.

7.4% - Northern Monk / Old Chimneys / Wander Beyond Dark and Wild City 2019

A very high proportion of 'strong beer' is brewed to this strength, simply because 7.5 is a cut-off point at which a higher rate of duty applies. With plenty to choose from, I've gone for something stupidly obscure. A triple collaboration that resulted in a Chocolate Brownie Sundae Stout. A hugely indulgent dessert trolley of a beer.

7.5% - Dogfish Head 75 Minute IPA

Yeah, yeah, we're back on the American IPAs. It's big, it's hoppy, it's a bit of a classic. Is it still as good since Dogfish Head got taken over by Sam Adams? Quite possibly not, but this sampling in 2009 on cask was superb.

7.6% - Hop Kettle Flapjack Black

I've only ever had two cask beers at 7.6%, mainly because for some years most British brewers would just go 'fuck it, we'll say it's 7.4'. One was the famous Marston's Owd Roger, the other was this. A fairly close call, but I went for the Breakfast stout, with oatmeal, coffee and chocolate. Subsequently Hop Kettle did indeed say 'Fuck it', and reduced the strength of the beer.

7.7% - Fort George Vortex IPA

Another ABV that eluded me for many years. To this day I've still only had two. This was a decent American IPA, the other was a Grapefruit beer that evidently picked up a yeast infection and tasted like a Saison by accident. Which made picking a winner fairly wasy.

7.8% - Redwillow Remorseless

My records showed that there were a surprising amount of 7.8 beers to choose from. Well, five of them. Redwillow of Macclesfield are a very solid craft brewery and this was, yes, another big and aggressive American-style IPA.

7.9% - Liverpool Organic Imperial Russian Stout

It's not a DIPA. It wasn't particularly good. It is, however, the only cask beer I've ever had at 7.9% so there we go. This phenomenon might occur again as we head towards the final part of the series as ABVs become increasingly rare.

8.0% - Mad Squirrel Bust le Nut

If I'm honest, I don't generally rate Mad Squirrel particularly highly, but this Imperial Milk Stout with the addition of hazelnuts was a praliney triumph. A beer that went down far, far too easily for 8%, I drank a pint in about five minutes and ordered another.

8.1% - Harvey's Christmas Ale

Another 'unique' ABV for me, and even then, this is a beer that emerges at different ABVs depending on the year. Harvey's seasonal Barley Wine is a good example of what strong English beer was probably like a few generations ago, but even if it was absolutely fucking shit, it would make this list by default!

8.2% - Sambrook's No. 5 Barley Wine

All three of the 8.2 beers I've encountered in my drinking career have been Barley Wines, including Elizabethan from Harveys, which would perhaps explain why they would change the strength of their Christmas Ale - who would want to have Barley Wines of both 8.1 and 8.2% in their portfolio?!? Sambrook's are, for me, one of the less exciting of the new crop of London-based breweries, though I can't argue with their success. While their standard beers don't really interest me, they have done some good limited-release stuff including this rich, fruity, warming drop.

8.3% - Thornbridge General Sherman

One style that I believe works fantastically well in cask form, but which is still quite underdone, is the American Red/Amber where spicy, piney hop character is typically balanced by chewy malts. Even rarer is the Imperial version of that style, but that's what we got with General Sherman. And it was almost sessionable, despite the strength. A senior officer of a beer, brewed to Thornbridge's typically impeccable standards with military precision. Bring it back!


8.4% - Arbor Bristol Porter

This section concludes with Arbor's take on a strong porter - which in some circles would start arguments as to at what point, if any, does a porter become a stout. It was fine. Robust, good quality as always from Arbor, not outstanding, but then it was one of only two beers at this strength, so it didn't have to win much of a battle compared to beers half its strength. And there we go!

Only one more section to go now - and it's the biggies, going up to 10.5% - so stay tuned!

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