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!

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Every ABV: 8.5 to 10.5%

And so we reach the fourth (and, for now, final) part of the 'Every ABV' series. I know you're all eager to find out my favourite cask beers at higher strengths, so let's crack right on with it.

8.5% -  Big Smoke The Judge

So many breweries have appeared in Greater London over the past decade that some are often overlooked. The Antelope in Surbiton - former home of Big Smoke brewery - won my 2017-2018 London Pub of the Year award which hopefully went some small way to putting them on the map, even if the name 'Big Smoke' is possibly a tad misleading. Surbiton is a long way from the square mile; Esher even further! And as for the beer, well it's a big, juicy DIPA with plenty of Citra and Simcoe hops, just the way I like 'em.


8.6% -  Siren Bones of a Sailor: Pedro Ximinez BA

An Imperial Porter, Barrel-aged in sherry casks. Rare. So rare, in fact, that it's the only cask beer at 8.6 that I've ever had. Did I particularly enjoy it? Actually, no.

8.7% -  Weird Beard Single Hop No. 5: Centennial

This on the other hand, was properly outstanding. Another massive DIPA, and the best of the four different 8.7% beers I had to select from. Centennial hops aren't really fashionable now, but use enough of the fuckers and you can't go wrong...

8.8% -  Siren Primal Cut

You'd be forgiven for thinking that American-style Double or Triple IPA-type hopmonsters would always win out, but that's not always the case. At 8.8% I had to make a choice between Ninkasi Tricerahops from Oregon, or this stuff from Berkshire. And I picked the Siren - a blackcurrant and coffee porter that's also been smoked to fuck. Ironically a far weirder - and perhaps indeed beardier - beer than the one above.

8.9% -  Jester King Mad Meg

Finding beers at 8.9% is pretty difficult, OK? This time I had two to pick from and went for a sort of Abbey-Saison hybrid type thing from Texas. It isn't what I'd normally choose. Next.


9.0% -  Moncada / Haand Big Ole Beer

Because brewers prefer round numbers, there are many more 9% beers out there, which makes for a tougher decision. This collab between West London and Norway is an Imperial stout with Vanilla and Cinnamon - the same flavour combination that won my pick for best 3.4% beer. Obviously this is a different beast at almost three times the strength but nonetheless delicious stuff, even if one can't drink quite as much of it.


9.1% -  Victory Storm King

From Pennsylvania cometh the Imperial Espresso Stout. I actually drank this in Atlanta over a decade ago and remember being impressed, surprised and not a little aroused to find such a beer on cask. Given the strength and style, it's unexpectedly hoppy and even more unexpectedly sessionable.


9.2% -  Siren Gordon's Strong

By brewing beer at unusual ABVs, Siren have booked a number of spots in this countdown. Indeed two of the three 9.2s I had to choose between were Siren beers. This was a Scottish Wee Heavy, which isn't a style I usually get excited about but, you know, 9.2.

9.3% -  Siren Quadrophenia

It's the Boys from Berkshire once again, this time with a Belgian-style dark ale that was surprisingly good and not as sweet as I feared. 


9.4% -  Thornbridge Alchemy XVI

DIPA by the pint. Always.
You know, I really miss the Thornbridge Alchemy series. Time was, there would be a new one showing up on cask every few weeks, and they'd always be interesting and usually pretty good. This particular experiment took the form of a dry-hopped Barley Wine, which is one worth repeating in my view. I know Barley Wines are meant to be aged and mellowed and rounded, but adding a new sharp edge with dry-hopping is a stroke of genius. At their best Thornbridge are capable of quite amazing work.

9.5% -  Bronckhorster Hoptimist

We're back in more conventional territory of super-hopped American-style DIPA. The only unusual thing about this one is that it came from the Netherlands, and has done well to beat off half a dozen nine-and-a-half-per-cent rivals.


9.6% -  Old Chimneys Good King Henry

The strength of this Imperial Stout was later upped to 10% and it's a good thing I had it when I did, as it's the only 9.6% entry. In fact I'd have described the earlier recipe as more like an Old Ale than a Stout. I remember really struggling to drink it. But hey.


9.7% -  Santa Fe 1680 Po' Pays Rebellion

We're into silly strengths and silly names now. DIPA from New Mexico. That's it.

9.8% -  De Molen Spanning & Sensatie

Chocolate and Chilli Salted Dutch Imperial Stout. The only 9.8% beer I've ever had. We must soon be getting to the point where there's an ABV I haven't had, mustn't we?!?...

9.9% -  Pizza Port The Hop 15

...but not just yet. Our 9.9% winner is an absolutelyfuckingmassive West Coast DIPA. Apparently it's now 10%, which makes it feel less special somehow. 

10.0% -  Downton Endeavour

Looking back over the last few entries, it's clear that British brewers need to raise their game. We're supposed to be the last bastion of cask beer, so why is it that so many higher-strength beers seem to have made their way down my throat via the US and Holland? Could do better. Anyway, Downton evidently did, as their Australian-hopped DIPA (borderline TIPA, maybe?) beats off some serious competition from the relatively large number of 10% ales out there.


10.1% -  Kernel Imperial Brown Stout - Cacao Nibs

This is big news because Kernel - famous and respected as they are - hardly ever brew any cask beer. This one dates back to their earlier days and was deliciously rich and flavoursome. Come on Kernel, put a bit more beer into cask. You know it makes sense!


10.2% -  Pizza Port Infamous Imperial Chocolate Stout

It's a second entry from the Californian Pizza specialists who make the list by default as brewers of the only 10.2%er I've ever sampled.


10.3% -

10.3%? 10.3%? Where are you? Nope? 

That's right folks. I've never had a cask beer at 10.3%. Somebody please go and brew me one!


10.4% -  Sierra Nevada Hoptimum

I have, however, had a couple of 10.4s, and unsurprisingly this is an American Triple IPA, originally intended to be the hoppiest beer Sierra Nevada ever brewed.


10.5% -  Siren Big Inflatable Cowboy Hat: Mango and Lime

BICH was one of Siren's earliest efforts, and it was pretty damn good. But this special fruited edition took it to another level, and that concludes the series.

Beyond 10.5% there are more and more gaps, and more and more instances of beers 'winning' by default because they are unique at that strength. But maybe in time this will change? If we're on the verge of a golden age of super-strength cask, I might one day be able to choose my favourite beers at 10.6 and above. 

And maybe even 10.3!

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