The first thing you’ll notice – beside the fact that the Jade Elixir has gone red, presumably with anger or with the effort of trying to keep up with an evolving market that is pulling ever further away from the olde-worlde manly-man ideal that VB still pushes so hard – is the adorable tiny grenade this thing arrives in. Coming in at an elfin 250ml, this diminutive yet nonetheless boozy drop is still more than a standard drink, despite being somewhere in the region of only two thirds the size.
It pours clear amber with an agitated, large-bubbled carbonation that immediately attempts to escape the glass fully: outgassing like an aggressively over-infused soda water or an asteroid in a suicidal near-earth orbit with a very rapidly subsiding white head. Soon enough, it settles into being quite flat and still. It smells like bitter toffee – not entirely unappealing. Then you taste it and it’s like corn and cardboard and unbuttered toast, with a mostly flavourless and – duh – bitter finish. There is a (possibly imagined?) vinous note, perhaps the effect of the extra ABV points, along with a light sweetness as of cheap, sugar-syrup blended honey thrown in there as an afterthought, along with a ghostly herbaceousness like someone wafted a bottle of Jaegermeister over a pile of lawn trimmings and called it good.
There is a big hole in the mid palate where the enjoyable flavours and experiences of drinking beer might usually go. This makes for an odd effect; with the dry-toast malt flavour up front and the swollen carbonated belly of nothingness giving way to a finish like a very light and palatable paint stripper, drinking this beer is like swallowing an entire egg with each mouthful. Frankly, the entire experience is like one big, hard-to-swallow, bitter pill – no metaphor there for VB’s desperate attempt to cling to relevancy, I’m sure.
And what’s that, I hear you cry? What would be the best thing to food match with this beer? Ah, well, this is a question I get often, actually. And if I were to pick something for this, then, why, look no further than the Fray Bentos Steak and Kidney Pie in a can. Yes, you heard that right. The best food matching I could think of for one monstrosity in a bottle is another monstrosity in a can.
Crack this tin and what you’ll find is a lid of pallid, flabby puff pastry that could for all the world have been a flap of skin taken from a drowning victim pulled from the Thames in Victorian London.
This obscures a near-homogenous, brown-grey filling with some discernible hunks of (presumably) beef and nodule-heavy pieces of kidney; unmistakeably renal with all their gristly visceral bio-tubes on display. Oddly, it doesn’t smell too bad – aromatic, like spiced tomato paste and onion with the richness of generic meat scent.
Of course, it gets better in the oven. It comes out puffed and golden and fragrant, and it reminds me of why, full disclosure, I actually used to love these in the distant and Dickensian days of my youth.
But that doesn’t last overlong. The top layer of leathery pastry is plastic-y, papery crisp, but the underside is more like a floppy, floury, soft and supple lasagne noodle. The filling is indistinguishable from dogfood, has a very greasy, fatty mouthfeel, though it is surprisingly tasty while you’re eating it. The texture is the stringy tenderness of long overboiled beef from unnamed cuts, and the kidney is rubbery-soft with a little graininess that is… unsettling but overall the taste is savoury and frankly almost good. For an emergency ration, at least. However, there is a lingering and growing metallic taste, one that lengthens and layers like a hop presence in an IPA might do. A tinny, blood-iron, metallic sort of taste which could be the offal-iron taste or the interaction of the ingredients with the can itself.
It is undeniably a food you regret eating, either towards the end or immediately afterwards, and this extends for hours after consumption, sitting so heavily and greasily in the belly as it does. It just feels unhealthy. Like you’ve just eaten two or three day’s worth of richness and bad food. But I guess it’s a hangover from a different time, the Fray Bentos Steak and Kidney Pie in a can – something people from the post-war era could keep on the shelf If they lacked a refrigerator for a quick and easy and (relatively) inexpensive meal. Combine it with a beer whose hey-day has long since past and you’ve got a pretty decent snapshot of some of those golden-oldie good-old-days that, frankly, never really happened. Like this combo they were probably, in all likelihood always pretty shit.
Long story short; go hard or go home. Drink this and abuse the fuck out of your body, or avoid it entirely and do yourself (and frankly, everyone you know) a favour. Life is too short to give this dross any actual attention.