ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create 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. Likewise, 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, March 15, 2017

Lost Breweries: F is for Freeminer

One of the plus points of writing this series is that for every letter of the alphabet I get to indulge in a big bath of beery nostalgia.

I had to think fairly deeply to come up with my 'F', not because breweries whose names begin with the letter have proven immune from closure by quirk of fate, but because the obvious names that sprang to mind haven't really played a significant role in my drinking career, at least when I started thinking about it.

For example, when I was a small child, Fremlin's bitter seemed to be held in extremely high regard by my parents and everyone else who drank beer. It might well have been the first brewery name I ever learned. Possibly even the first beer I ever tasted.

But Fremlin's had been owned by Whitbread since the 1960s, the original Maidstone brewery site had closed in the early 70s and the Faversham brewery that had made the beer the adults raved about also went in 1990. So by the time I started drinking, Fremlin's had become a niche, hard-to-find brand from a ghost brewery that in all honesty never meant anything to me, even if it was beloved of the previous generation.

Then there is Flowers of Cheltenham, another bolted horse from the erstwhile Whitbread stable. In the mid-90s Flowers Original was the staple cask beer in my student union bar, but I hardly ever drank it because it was fucking awful. Warm, soupy goop that largely ensured everyone drank Stella or Guinness instead.

Even in good condition it was an entirely unspectacular beer. That brewery closed in 1998, probably wasn't missed by too many people, and while Flowers beers are still contract-brewed for Whitbread's successor AB-Inbev, it's not really something you'd actively seek out; Again, a brewery that ultimately means very little to me.

And that's why I've gone with Freeminer, whose beers I did at least drink and occasionally even enjoy!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Lost Breweries: E is for Eldridge Pope

I've no idea what I drank on my 18th birthday (other than 'too much') but I can still remember with considerable clarity what I drank the following day.

Way back in the Distant When, Thomas Hardy's Ale, brewed by Eldridge Pope of Dorchester, was one of the most famous bottled beers in the world. A Barley Wine, generally assumed to be around 12% ABV though with considerable flexibility, it came in little individually numbered bottles - tightly sealed as if to prevent inadvertent broachment.

It was a beer you'd hear folks talking about, but never see anybody drinking. People would buy cases and lay it down for years, sometimes decades. That was the point.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Possibly the best £30 you'll ever spend

Whatever you think of my views, I'd hope that one thing nobody can accuse me of is being a sell-out. I call stuff the way I see it, whether that means a glowing review, scathing criticism or something in the middle.

And I'm not a huge fan of food and drink blogs (or any other blogs for that matter) which are thinly-veiled affiliate sites; where the 'reviews' merely serve as effusive clickbait for syndicated advertising.

It's not really because such blogs cannot offer impartiality - it's that they stifle partiality! Robust, honest opinion is always sacrificed in favour of meek, uncontroversial positivity that usually needs to be pre-approved by their marketing twats. (I've refused to put my name to enough things like this to know just how much control these people want in exchange for a few pence per click-thru or booking!)

I also hold a fairly low view of 'deals' websites. Sometimes it's a no-brainer, like getting cashback from Quidco on stuff you're planning to buy anyway. But very often 'exclusive' deals are available in multiple places, cannot be combined with other offers, and result in almost everyone paying more or less the same price, with only the most stupid and lazy ever paying 'full fare'.

No raw deals here
What was that totally fucktarded site that was heavily advertised a couple of years ago? Something like 'the exclusive members-only club that anyone can join'?!? Christ, that really put the 'moronic' into 'oxymoronic'.

Thing is, the nonsense is actually true, which makes it more nonsensical. I used to have a very bad bank account, for which I paid a monthly fee, which offered 'online deals' for its customers. Only anybody could go to that deals page, click the links and get the deals. There was nothing to check that you were a customer of this shitty bank with its shitty packaged account. So what was the fucking point?

So, yeah, I hate all that kind of shit. But one thing I do like, and like a lot, is The Hawksmoor chain. And that's why, over the next few paragraphs, I'm going to sound like everything I hate.

Because I'm going to recommend an online offer, with no small degree of enthusiasm.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Chucking my two cents on the 'cask in crisis' bandwagon

For a relatively small and not long established brewer, Cloudwater have certainly got peoples attention. Since announcing at the start of the year that they are to cease all cask ale production, everyone and their maiden aunt has had something to say on the matter.

Cloudwater are somewhat highly regarded, particularly around their Manchester base and among 'craftier' drinkers and while I haven't had the opportunity to try all that many of their offerings, those that I have tried have always been consistently drinkable - one of them sneaked into my top five beers of 2016.

Rightly or wrongly, the debate has expanded to encompass the broader questions around the future of cask beer:

Friday, January 6, 2017

BV's best beers of 2016

Well, it's Twelfth Night and so 2016 is now well and truly gone; Banished to the hinterland of the past, and some might say rightly so.

Let me guess: Your favourite celebrities all died and some votes didn't go the way you wanted, right?

I won't shy meekly away from the fact that 2016 was a bit of an epic fail for me. You may recall I was planning to visit every brewery in London and then put it all into a hugely entertaining and informative book that would top the bestseller list across the globe for years to come.

I did spend a lot of the year visiting breweries
And I did visit a lot of breweries, drank a lot of awesome beer and talked to loads of interesting people. However, real life, real work and moving house kinda got in the way and by the end of the year I'd only done maybe two thirds of the capital's breweries. But I'll try to resurrect the project in 2017 as I still think it's worth doing, even if my proposed timescales were too much for me.

Anyway, as is traditional at this time of year, I'll be looking back upon my favourite beers of 2016 or, more specifically, my five favourite new cask beers of 2016. And here they are:

Friday, December 23, 2016

What can I give him? Christmas biscuits!

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a healthy contingent of miserly old scrotes banging on about how it's all too commercialised these days and the true meaning of Christmas has long been lost in a big pile of presents, wrapping and sellotape.

I've had some sympathy with this view since I ceased to be a wide-eyed, innocent infant eagerly opening his Rebel Transporter on Christmas morn. But of all the phenomena that are an affront to what the season should be, presents really aren't top of the list.

I mean, tinsel. What the festive fuck is that all about? At least the star on top of the tree (a custom that itself only goes back to the Victorian era) has some sort of significance. Nobody has ever explained to me what bloody tinsel is supposed to represent. And then there's the Coca-Colary bastardisation of Saint Nikolaos of Myra. And that fucking Darkness song about the bell ends. And The Snowman.

So gift-giving, which was always very much a part of the nativity story, is one of the more authentic traditions, even if the legend has expanded over the years from the original trio of gold, frankincense and myrrh to include drum solos and crutches.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Drinking Dodgy Bastards

Three years ago I came up with the Wintersmith cocktail, inspired by the Steeleye Span album of the same name (which, furthering the circularity, was itself inspired by the Terry Pratchett books).

Well, Sir Terry is sadly no longer with us, inventing cocktails is still a lot of fun, and Steeleye have a new album out called Dodgy Bastards, so I thought it was high time I came up with a new drink to go with it, and maybe even do a little reviewette of the album.

Album of the Year?
In recent years the band have developed a fairly heavy, proggy sound, though Maddy Prior's arrestingly clear voice remains very much at the heart of it all. It's a striking combination and right from the opening track, the multi-sectioned Cruel Brother, you know what you're in for: Elaborate tales, exquisite vocal harmonies and top-notch playing throughout.

That's just one of four songs on the album that exceed seven minutes in length, but before you start rolling your eyes, none of them get boring or repetitive for even a second. Case in point, Cromwell's Skull, an epic masterpiece from long-serving bassist Rick Kemp proves that the old boy can still turn out thoughtful lyrics and complex changes of key and time at the ripe old age of 75!