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!

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Golden Pints: BV's best beers of 2023

Compliments of the festive season, everyone!

(Yes, whatever anybody tells you, it's still Christmas. My decorations are staying up at least until Twelfth Night, and quite possibly until Candlemas.)

It is, however, a 'new year' which means people like me can definitively announce our favourite beverages from the previous one. Which is exactly what I'm about to do, so strap yourselves in

Happy new beer

I ticked 612 new cask beers during the year, taking my overall total to 11,598 since recrds began. Four of these scored the effective maximum score of 8/9, making them the 'Golden Pints' of 2023 and I'll come to them in a bit. But firstly, a couple of honourable mentions that were 'high 7s': 

Twickenham's Small Batch Stout: Cherry and Tonka Bean was undoubtly the best beer I had in a Wetherspoons in 2023, with both the cherry and tonka flavours shining in a dry, drinkable and unexpectedly moreish pint at just 4.7%. Probably the best beer yet from that brewery too, and they've been going a fair while now.

Mr. Winter's Peach Tea Pale (4.0%) likewise deserves a mention as my favourite beer from my time volunteering at the GBBF and it's sad that the event won't be taking place this year.

Me and my beloved pints!
My favourite cask beer that wasn't new was Drop Project Lip Smack which I will keep going back to every time they do it in cask form because it's so damn tasty. Properly sour with generous amounts of real raspberry and blackberry, it's a 5% slab of fruity genius.

And while we're on the subject of fruity sours, my favourite keg beers of the year were MANA - Wild Berry from Azvex which, although apparently 6% was more of a smoothie than a beer, along with the remarkable Holy Mountain from Holy Goat brewing which somehow tastes like a Belgian Kriek that has been aged for years, thanks to some clever blending hacks.

If we extend the remit to non-cask, non-British beer, Mortalis brewing company's Hydra / Slushmallow was arguably even better. This was a 7% mixed berry sour from Upstate New York, with marshmallow and banana that absolutely blew my mind and my tastebuds with its sweetshoppy goodness. Oh, man.

But there's an argument that this isn't really 'proper beer', so here's the important stuff...

The Big Four

The first new cask beer of the year to score a big 8 was Hammerton Crunch (5.4%) enjoyed at my local the Radius Arms back in March. I'd enjoyed this several times before, but only ever from a keg or a can. It's a lovely beer with plenty of peanut butter and chocolate biscuit notes and - crucially for a milk stout - never becomes cloyingly sweet. In 2023 I finally got to try a cask version which afforded it a creamier mouthfeel and brought out the nuttiness. And that took an already superb drop to the next level.

Thornbridge marked 'International Women's Day' by giving us Vivienne, named after designer Westwood. A hazy 5% pale with the addition of ginger, this was hugely refreshing and delicious. At the time I described it thusly 'Massive hit of ginger. Like shotgunning a tin of Idris but without all the sugar. Nice.' Enjoyed at the Kentish Belle in Bexleyheath in April, and I hope it makes a comeback at some point.

Fast-forward the Betamax to November, and the Radius is serving White Horse Luna Space Hopper. This time you can forget the adjuncts. No ginger, no peanut butter, just hops and plenty of them. A beer-drinker's beer, despite the sllightly convoluted name. Deliciously juicy and pale at 4.5%, it's the sort of beer you could drink nine pints of without even realising. Excellent stuff.

And the final 8/9 beer of 2023 showed up just a few weeks ago, at the Dog House micropub in Beddington right after I'd been singing for an Advent Carol Service and needed refreshement rather urgently. Once I'd downed a couple of pints of something pale and hoppy to take the edge off my thirst, it was an absolute delight to get stuck into Door of the Cosmos (4%) from Castle Rock - one of those breweries it's easy to forget still exist these days. Salted Caramel session stout. A proper dessert in a glass and next-level awesome. 

I couldn't pick a favourite out of these four, and on some days I might just pick one of the fruited keg sours over any of them, but overall it was, as Tori Amos might've said 30 years ago, a pretty good year for beer. 

Happy drinking in 2024, everyone!

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