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!

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Golden Pints: BV's best beers of 2021

Well, it's now 2022, which means it's time to look back on my favourite beers of the past year.  

It's been another year disrupted by lockdowns, restrictions and - in my view - unnecessarily draconian - legislation, but, hey, we're all still here. Apart from the Duke of Edinburgh, obviously. And Alan Bradley. Well, the actor who once played him.

Now as you'll almost certainly know, my drinking preference - the default position if you like - is to drink cask beer in a pub, and, putting it politely, that habit isn't altogether compatible with the COVID situation. I didn't even get to drink a pint at a pub until April 11, when the grand midnight re-opening at PotY The Kentish Belle marked perhaps the most memorable quenching of thirst in history!  

But let's not let such happy occasions distract us from the sad fact that the hospitality industry is still suffering, and the biggest threat of all is to places that rely on selling cask beer!


A beer a day - almost

I only managed to tick 354 new cask beers last year, less than one per day, but still something of a step up from 2020 when I didn't even bother to pick out my highlights

Rest In Peace, Sweet Prince
Five of these beers got an 8/9 rating from me, which is about as close to full marks as I ever give, and all five of these were pale, hoppy, and ultimately pretty mainstream type beers which is a bit unusual, but, I strongly suspect, an indicator of breweries being very conservative with their cask output in an era of uncertainty. 

My favourite new cask beer in 2021 was the Thornbridge/Bundobust collaboration Impromptu Ladder Convention, sampled at the Kentish Belle in December. Only 4%, but beautifully dry and refreshing with a bit of New England haze. One of the finest session pales I've ever had.

Others that made the top five were Oakham Cryptic (5.0%) - a new classic from a brewery that has been right up there with the best of them for as long as I've been drinking. Australian hops dominate here, which is rarely a bad thing!

Completing a hat-trick of very fine beers first sampled 'at the Belle' is Brew York Minstermen Pride which packed a lot of hoppy flavour into a 3.9% package.

The other two beers to make the top five are Siren Suspended in Centennial (4%) - the greatest installment yet in this excellent series of single-hop NEPAs, and Cwrw Lâl Crank Knucklebuster (4.5%) which was very good, but, it has to be said, very much in the same style as the other winners of the year.

Honourable mentions

While I absolutely love hoppy, sessionable pale ales, I really do hope that 2022 sees breweries start to re-diversify their cask output a bit. 

Looking beyond the cask, there were some belting dessert beers during the year. One particular highlight on keg was Tiny Rebel's Imperial Stay Puft: Waffle and Candied bacon edition (9%), enjoyed while watching England beating Germany in the Euros - another great session at a certain Pub of the Year in Bexleyheath...

History in the making
Phantom Reaper, a sticky toffee pudding Impy Stout at 10% was my favourite canned beer of the year - delightfully dark and roasty with the burnt-caramel notes allowed to shine without the overly-sweet lactose that so often makes these beers barely drinkable.

And in a year when new and exciting cask beers were relatively thin on the ground there were ample opportunities to revisit old favourites. Otters Tears and Cocoa Wonderland, both from Thornbridge, were as reliably tasty as ever, albeit very different from one another.

If we're looking to draw conclusions it's that - even in very difficult times for the industry - breweries like Thornbridge, Siren, Oakham and Tiny Rebel are still doing sterling work, and we should be grateful to all the pubs that keep and serve their fabulous beers.

Happy New Year, everybody - now get out there and support pubs!

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