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    Drinks, Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    So you want to be a beer blogger? With Matthew Curtis

    brewdog_beers_line_glasses

    At the risk of becoming one of those bloggers that blog about blogging (which I avoid, at least on here anyway), I’ve been mulling over this event for something stupid like six months.  Which I realise, even for me, is a ridiculously long time to leave to finish a blog post, but I’m still thinking over some of the things that were said – and more interestingly, seeing some of the cool stuff that has come from it.  But basically last year Matthew Curtis from Total Ales came to Brewdog in Birmingham to talk beer blogging, in a sort of talking about beer, and blogging, and blogging about beer.

    Neil, previously of Brewdog and now at the excellent Tilt in City Arcade, introduced the talk and what the afternoon was about – mainly about getting enthusiastic people to hear about and hopefully talk/write more about beer, and hopefully about beer in Birmingham.  And it’s totally worked – more on that later.

    Talking about blogging to non-bloggers can be really dull, I am well aware, but Matthew managed a talk which appealed to bloggers, non-bloggers and wannabe bloggers alike, which is much harder to do than you’d think.  In as much as you’re allowed to have a life-long interest in beer, he talked about where his enthusiasm for beer was really sparked, and where that journey has taken him since.  And if that sounds pretentious then it’s not meant to, but there’s so much beer stuff happening that it’s hard to see it as anything other than a journey.

    Neil_brewdog

    He also talked about the start of his blog, how it began as a space for his own beer musings but also how it has become part of the wider beer community, and how it led him to co-authoring beer books, writing for beer magazines, hosting beer tastings, photographing beery things and speaking and consulting.And more importantly, talked about everything it had led him to, whilst still retaining a passion for what he started doing.  And being sat in a room full of beer geeks the talk fell into a discussion about lots of exciting beers being brewed, breweries and the emerging beer scene in Birmingham.
    So why has it taken me six months to write this up?  Well there were lots of blogging related ideas that I kept coming back to, but I want to keep this blog about food and drink and Birmingham or a mix of the three and not blogging about blogging.  But if you’re a beer fan, a blogger about anything but in particular beer blogging, then I’d really recommend going to listen to Matthew speak.

    matthew_curtis_beer_writerOne of the things it did make me do was start paying more attention the beer scene in Birmingham.  I’ll readily admit that I’m more of a spirits drinker, cocktails preferably, and whilst I’ve tasted and written about beer before it was something that I knew I needed to look more at more.  Since, I have written about a beer tasting, I’ve not done much else other than pay more attention to what’s going on, but one of the things Matthew’s talk did do, was introduce me to the team behind Midlands Beer Blog, who, quite frankly, are doing a stellar job talking about the beer scene in the city – and beyond.  And sure, like a lot of things food and drink wise, Birmingham is pretty far behind other cities when it comes to beer, but things really seem to be ramping up; the aforementioned Tilt in City Arcade is awesome, the Craven Arms is also great (and not just for the name), the Birmingham Beer Bash is beer heaven, and Wildcat Tap has just opened in Stirchley.  And that’s not mentioning some of the beer stalwarts like Cotteridge Wines (brilliant, and award-winning), the Wellington, Post Office Vaults etc etc…  I’m always banging on about evolving and exciting Birmingham’s food and drinks scene is, the Birmingham beer scene feels like a massive part of that, and something well worth raising a glass to.

    Disclosure; bought my own ticket. And even if they knew I was blogging about it, they probably didn’t expect it would take this long.

    Bar reviews, Drinks, Reviews

    Botanist ale tasting

    botanist_beer_menu

    I’m a total sucker for a pretty drinks menu, so when I sat down at the table to hear about the new ales at the Botanist on Temple St I was already curious, and that was just because of some snazzy stationery.  Usually if I got to The Botanist, or anywhere really, I’ll stick to sprits and preferably in cocktail form.  It’s nothing personal, I’ve just never really spent the same amount of time learning about beer and which ones I like.  But then I got an invite to a tutored tasting from Kieran Hartley, one of the beer gurus at New World Trading Company, Botanist’s parent company, to hear about the 13 need beers and cider on the menu.  So I figured what the hell…

    beer_tutorial

    As one of the early birds, I ended up chatting beforehand with Bob and Sarah from Midlands Beer Blog, which is frankly a much better guide to beer drinking in the city.  For some reason we ended up discussing a Millionaire by Wild Beer Co.  On hearing our conversation, Kieran swapped out one of the beers to let us try this and I’m so glad he did, because it was so different from other ales I’ve tried.  Using lactose, which yeast can’t process so remains in the beer, it was designed to mimic salted caramel millionaire shortbread and did a pretty good job with an immediate salt hit, developing into dark chocolate.  Personally I’m not sure I could finish a whole bottle of the stuff, but I’d be willing to give it a try – or share it with a friend for a liquid pudding.

    botanist_beer_notes

    I really enjoyed the variety of beers we tried, which suggested that there was something for everyone.  The Camden Town Brewery’s Gentleman’s Wit is an award-winning Belgian style white beer made with slow-roasted lemons and bergamot.  It was a light, almost summery beer with not much aftertaste but very drinkable and would be good with dinner.  The Goose Island Honker’s Ale is an American take on English bitter, with dominant hops and a malty backbone whereas Thwaites Crafty Dan 13 Guns is an English take on an American style IPA – confused yet?

    I should probably point out that we were trying sample sizes of the beers along with hearing some history of the production of beer.  I’m a sucker for a good story so I always enjoy hearing the folklore surrounding drinks and there are plenty around beer.  The story Kieran told about the possible origins of India Pale Ale which accompanied us trying the Vedett IPA was entertaining, as was hearing that the samples of wheat grains that were passed round to get us to understand the history of beer had accidentally been eaten as a snack by another group!

    guinness_porter_botanistHonestly I couldn’t tell you what state The Botanist’s beer menu was before the new addition, but it now feels like a fairly comprehensive menu which had a wide variety of styles from IPAs to Belgian white beer, dark porters and a few oddballs.  Birmingham is quickly becoming a bit of a haven for beer drinkers and the Botanist’s new beer menu certainly makes it feel like it should be included on any ale trail.

    http://thebotanist.uk.com/location/birmingham

    Disclosure: I was invited to the tasting and drinks were complimentary, but that didn’t mean I had to be. One day I’ll get better at remembering names and I might remember what styles of beer I like.

    Cake, Cocktail, Drinks, Recipes

    Recipe: Jagermeister cake and cocktail

    Jagermeister cakeOkay so I totally didn’t intend to post two recipes alongside each other, but when Jagermeister sent me a couple of bottles and challenged me to do something with them, I couldn’t help but agree.  I totally thought about just blogging a recipe for Jagerbombs, because I thought it would be kind of funny for the two people in the world who have never had one.  I mean, even my mum knows what a Jagerbomb is.  Sure she had to ask her husband, but she knew.  Frankly this just made me think I need to get my mum to try one of these next time we’re out, but I think she might write me out of the will (jokes, I’m pretty sure I managed that a while ago).

    So then I went to a more sensible plan – actually I went with two; a cake and a cocktail.  I’ve had a bit of a thing about baking with alcohol for a while and I’d been itching to try out the Jagermeister and honey bundt cake from The Boozy Baker cook book for a while.  This recipe is vaguely inspired by this, but I think I’m actually incapable of following a recipe and I realised one of the bottles was for Jagermeister Spice, which is a remixed version of the same collection of herbs and spices as the traditional Jager.  But it tastes sweeter to me, less medicinal than standard stuff and frankly if it wasn’t winter I’d have a go at making ice cream with it.  So instead I went to my favourite thing to make; cake – rather a Half Cut Cake (because that’s what I like to call boozy baking).  As the Jagermeister Spice has enhanced notes of cinnamon, vanilla and saffron, I wanted to create something comforting but a bit wintery, as a nod to its big sister’s usual ice cold serve.  The two types of flour give it a little bit of a dense texture and the added ginger gives it a bit of a kick, but not too fiery.

    Recipe: Jagermeister cake
     
    Prep time
    Cook time
    Total time
     
    Author:
    Recipe type: cake
    Serves: 8
    Ingredients
    • 220g muscovado sugar
    • 225g butter
    • 2 eggs
    • 110g Jagermeister spice
    • 1tsp ground ginger
    • 160g self raising flour
    • 85g plain flour
    For the icing
    • 120g butter
    • 240g icing sugar
    • 1tsp Jagermeister
    • sprinkles
    Instructions
    1. Pre-heat the oven to 180c, grease a baking tin or two
    2. Cream in the butter and sugar
    3. Add the eggs and Jagermeister and give it a good stir
    4. Add the ginger and sieve in the two types of flour
    5. Make sure everything is well mixed and then pour into your baking tin/s
    6. Cook for around 50mins if in one tin, or about 20mins in two tins - you can tell they're done if they look golden brown and you insert a cocktail stick or fork and it comes out clean
    7. Leave the cake to cool
    8. Once the cake is cooled mix together the icing ingredients (minus the sprinkles)
    9. If you're sensible (unlike me) and cooked two cakes rather than one, use about two - three heaped tablespoons and spread evenly on one cake and use the other to create a sandwich. If not, slice the cake in half and do the same sort of thing.
    10. Add the rest of the icing on the top, smooth down and use lots of sprinkles to decorate.

    Jager-Mega-Drive cocktail

    jager-mega-drive_cocktailIf I were more witty I’d have given the cake a clever pun name, but instead I left that to the boys of Island Bar when I challenged them to come up with a simple cocktail to make at home; enter the Jager-Mega-Drive.  The grenadine and sugar rim gives the red button colour and the rest of the ingredients give it a sort of faded black.  If you enjoy this sort of geekery, I’d highly recommend checking out Island’s monthly Geek Quiz, or just heading down on a weekday for some cocktails and video games.  Thanks to Simon for coming up with this recipe.

    Jager-Mega-Drive

    • 40ml Jagermeister Spice
    • 20ml black Sambuca
    • 4 blackberries
    • 25ml fresh lemon juice
    • lemonade to top up
    • small amount of grenadine and sugar for the garnish

    To make: Pour the grenadine onto a flat surface or a plate and coat the rim of the glass you’re serving the drink in it, then dip it in sugar and leave to set whilst you make the drink.  Muddle the blackberries in a glass (squish them, use a rolling pin if you don’t have a muddler), add the Jagermeister, sambuca, lemon juice and a bunch of ice and give it a good shake (use a jam jar if you don’t have a cocktail shaker), strain into a glass with fresh ice and top up with lemonade.  And there you have it…the Jager-Mega-drive.

    Disclosure: Jagermeister sent me a couple of bottles as part of a blogger challenge and asked me to have a go at doing something a bit different – hence no jagerbombs. I wasn’t obliged to say anything nice blah blah blah… 

    Drinks

    Festive cocktails at the Mailbox

    aluna_cocktail_bloggers

    Anyone else feeling the festive pinch, time wise?  I nearly lost the will to live queuing to pick up presents in my lunch break today, but after a couple of bottles of wine (as presents people), I think I’m all done…now I just need to wrap.  Talking of Christmas and drinking, a natural pairing I think you’ll agree, I joined a few other bloggers for a mini festive bar crawl at the Mailbox last week to check out some cocktails at Aluna and Gas Street Social.

    I’ve been to Aluna recently to try out their new food menu (review soon), but this time round it was much busier – there were a few Christmas parties in, by the looks of things.  Thankfully we were meeting Natalie from Rewired who had a table reserved for us.  As we all caught up and heard about each other’s Christmas plans, we grabbed a drink – I had a Passion Fruit Mojito which is a variation of the classic rum drink, but was a bit too sweet for me and could’ve done with a bit more lime juice, but I know lots of people who like sweeter drinks.
    watching_aluna_cocktails

    After everyone had caught up and finished their drinks we were taken over to the end of the bar for a mini cocktail masterclass.  Having participated in a few cocktail masterclasses before, I was quite content to stand on the right side of the bar and let me fellow bloggers do the hard graft while I documented the event instead.  One pair of bloggers had a go at making a Black Forest Gateau cocktail, which always feels like a wintery to me although I’m not entirely sure why.  The second group got to make one of Aluna’s most popular drinks from their menu, the Lava Lamp cocktail which bubbles away and has little floating balls of gel in it – it seemed to involve a syringe and a steady hand, but both girls managed to get it and their drinks looked great.

    cocktail_shaking_pair

    After Aluna we headed upstairs to Gas Street Social to check out some of their festive range.  Gas Street Social have really gone to town on Christmas and the decoration in the venue is fab.  Sadly I didn’t get a decent picture, but they’ve turned their booths into little festive huts and created a lovely little festive haven.  But the drinks haven’t been forgotten either; they’ve got four festive cocktails plus two more unusual mulled drinks (cider and ale) and 12 festive cocktail shots.

    I’m not much of a shot person, but these all have some lovely flavours to them, including Black Forest (clearly a bit of a theme) and After Eight, which was probably my favourite.  Whilst you could order a paddle of shots for a table of friends as a way to celebrate the upcoming festivities (drink responsibly), they’d actually make pretty nice drinks to sip after dinner too.  We also tried a few of the cocktails and whilst I generally like anything with gingerbread in it, the Gingerbread Espresso Martini was delicious.

    gas_st_social_festive_drinks Disclosure: I was invited down by Rewired and drinks were complimentary. I wasn’t obliged to write anything, but I like Christmas and I like cocktails, plus writing means I can avoid wrapping presents.

    Drinks

    Recipe: Hot Toddy with Crabbie’s Light Ginger Beer

    hot_toddy_ingredientsWe’ve already established it’s winter, but holy balls it is cold this week. And it seems like everyone is coming down with the lurgy…probably the same lurgy that I had last month, because the only thing I’m likely to catch onto before everyone else is germs.  Anyway, winter, colds and a crap load of alcohol arriving ahead of the BBC Good Food Show this weekend meant one thing; it was time to create a Hot Toddy.

    Now the nice folks at Crabbie’s sent me a crate of their Crabbie’s Light Ginger Beer, which launched recently and contains half the ginger of Crabbie’s Original.  Personally I’m a fan of ginger, but after nearly choking on a particularly spicy cup of ginger tea (effortlessly uncool, me) I totally get that not everyone is a fan of it.  Crabbie’s Light Ginger Beer is still alcoholic but reduced, about 2.8% abv compared to 4% abv on the original; a 330ml bottle is 0.9 of a unit.  It’s this lightness that gives it a bit of a better chance of being a food pairing match, but also makes it a pretty good base for a cocktail.

    Having been introduced to the idea of ‘gin & ginger’ by a red-haired bartender friend a few years ago, it’s quickly become one of my alternatives to a GnT, particularly in winter.  There’s nothing particularly spectacular or complicated to it, it’s merely that the tonic has been replaced with a ginger ale/beer but it gives it a bit more spice and warmth, which is always welcome when the nights are dark and the weather outside frightful.

    But just telling you about a spirit and a mixer feels like a bit of a cop out, so I thought I’d try a Hot Toddy, only rather than the heat coming from the boiling water, I wondered what would happen if the heat came from the ginger and warm Crabbie’s Light Ginger Beer at that?  Turns out it’s actually really nice.  I used The Pogues Irish Whiskey, which also sent to me.  It’s a blended Irish whiskey, made by one of Ireland’s last independent distilleries, West Cork Distillers, aged for for three years and a day – which makes it fairly young.  To the whisky, add the usual Hot Toddy ingredients of lemon and honey, but top up with Crabbie’s Light Ginger Beer.

    Hot Toddy with ginger
     
    Prep time
    Cook time
    Total time
     
    Author:
    Recipe type: Cocktail
    Serves: 1
    Ingredients
    • 50ml whisky (I used the The Pogues Irish whiskey)
    • 10ml lemon juice
    • 1tsp honey
    • Top up with Crabbies Light Ginger Beer (about half a 330ml bottle)
    Instructions
    Method one
    1. Heat the Crabbies Light Ginger Beer in a saucepan until it's warm
    2. Put the whiskey, lemon and honey in a glass and stir well
    3. Add the Crabbies Light Ginger Beer slowly to the glass, stir well and serve.
    Method two
    1. Whack everything in a glass, give it a good stir and bung in the microwave for about 50secs or until it's sufficiently warm enough for you.

    hot_toddy_pogues_crabbies

    If you’re heading down to the BBC Good Food Show Winter this weekend, Crabbie’s will be at the  on stall F170 and will be handing out recipe cards on how to use their Crabbie’s Light Ginger Beer in cocktails. I’m imagining if you ask nicely enough they might also have samples, but don’t quote me on that.

    Disclosure: The PR team who look after Crabbies and The Pogues Irish Whiskey ent me some products to sample.  The lemon, honey and near death by ginger tea story are all mine.

    Drinks, Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Glenfiddich whisky tasting

    glenfiddich_bottles

    There are few better ways to spend a wintery evening than sitting in the snug of a pub, drinking a dram of whisky.  Glenfiddich brand ambassador Mark Thomson recently came to Birmingham for a series of events to extoll the virtues of the brand, and on a blustery weekday evening the Birmingham Whisky Club invited a few of us down for an intimate tasting.

    For me, one of the draws of whisky is the rich history that encompasses the spirit and the story of Glenfiddich is not short of them.  One of the world’s biggest selling and most awarded, this family run business first produced whisky on Christmas Day, 1887.  Still run by the fifth generation descendants of founder William Grant, Glenfiddich’s family ownership means that they are able to do a few things a bit differently. Such as, in 1963 they were the first whisky brand to market single malt Scotch to America, a risky move, given the country’s bourbon production, which ultimately paid off.

    A natural storyteller, Glenfiddich’s brand ambassador Mark Thomson was able to spin a rich tale of the origin of whisky, the story of William Grant and the evolution of Glenfiddich’s production over the 128 years.  If you’ve sat through a number of whisky tastings they can get a little repetitive, but Mark was engaging and peppered the story with anecdotes and humour.

    glenfiddich_brand_ambassador

    And then of course there was the whisky.  We started with Glenfiddich 12 Year Old, probably the most well known of the selection with it’s iconic green triangular bottle; it’s a regular on whiskies shelves in most bars.  It’s a light fruit whisky, reminiscent of summer time with vanilla, fresh pear and caramel.  The Glenfiddich 18 year old is the sister to the 12 y/o, mainly due to a similar mix of barrels used to age the whisky.  To me, this was a smoother whisky, with flavours of cooked fruits, older oak and dare I say it, a touch of Christmas.

    Glenfiddich 15 year old has a different style, more earthy, nuttier, oily and dry – Mark called it the pinot noir of the range.  Unlike the other two whiskies, the 15 y/o uses a solera method to age the whiskies, a method developed by sherry producers, and so 15 years is youngest of whisky component in this bottling.  It gives it more of an earthy flavour which would compliment game meat, particularly as an Old Fashioned – a good gateway into easing people into whisky drinking (and a damn tasty cocktail too).

    Our fourth whisky of the evening was the Glenfiddich 21 year old Gran Reserva whisky.  This is finished in a rum casks, which are created in the Caribbean especially for Glenfiddich, and you can certainly note some of the rum flavouring, particularly the sweet brown sugar, fruits and spices.  The last of the age statement whiskies we tried was the Glenfiddich 26 year old, which is certainly likely to challenge drinkers preconceptions due to its pale colour, which probably comes from the American white oak casks used to age it.  It is light with flavour that really lasts and lingers, and a slight peppery note.

    whisky_glassWe were also treated to a tasting of Glenfiddich The Original.  A limited edition whisky, inspired by the 1963 Glenfiddich Straight Malt which was taken to America to introduce the world to single malt Scotch, it was created with help from the original recipe book from Glenfiddich’s fourth Malt Master.

    Having been to a number of The Birmingham Whisky Club events in the past, this was another fantastic chance to hear more about a brand with a rich history and try their range, particularly from an engaging storyteller like Mark Thomson.  The Birmingham Whisky Club run a number of whisky tastings throughout the year themed around brands, styles and countries, as well as Whisky Birmingham, a whisky festival which is taking place again in March 2016 and tickets are on sale now (hello Christmas present).

    http://www.thebirminghamwhiskyclub.co.uk/

    Disclosure: I was invited to the whisky tasting as a guest of the Birmingham Whisky Club, but wasn’t obliged to be positive or write anything…which is probably wise, given the state of my notes from the evening.

    Drinks, Product reviews, Reviews

    Teapigs everyday brew

    teapig cup of tea teabagI used to be a proper tea fiend.  Like a cupboard full of different types of black tea, one for each occasion, kinda gal.  But a few years ago I found out I had a lactose intolerance and for some unearthly reason it seems to disproportionally affect tea with cow’s milk.  I can’t begin to tell you how much this upsets me.  I’ve tried the whole drinking black tea with milk alternatives and it’s Just Not The Same. At all.  So now I mainly drink green tea and savour the few cups of black tea and milk I can cope with.

    A while ago teapigs sent me some of their everyday brew black tea and challenged me to switch my normal tea to theirs.  Frankly my normal tea is whatever mystery teabags are in the office kitchen, so figured I might as well give it a go.  The idea was to give it fourteen days to see if teapigs everyday brew would win me over and stop me going back to my normal brand.  Given that I probably drink less black tea now than most people, I decided to switch this up for more than a couple of weeks to really give it a good try.

    teapigs_everydaytea_challenge

    Teapigs Everyday Brew is described as “gutsy” which I think this is a fair description as it feels like it has stronger flavours that the bog-standard teabags you get in the supermarket.  I guess this is probably from the Assam which has always been a pretty good breakfast tea because it tastes stronger, which is certainly helpful first thing in the morning.  That’s not to say that the teapigs Everyday Brew moniker is incorrect, but the strength of flavour means it feels like more of a tea to savour than one to just absentmindedly knock back.  I don’t know what that says about me, but an everyday tea for me needs to be something that’s nice but unremarkable, whereas this makes me want to take five minutes out and enjoy its flavours.

    This tea also copes being drunk without milk, the flavours are strong but smooth enough to be enjoyed with just added hot water.  It was really helpful having this tea around when I moved house as it meant my trusty movers (aka my mum and her husband) and I were able to drink tea in between moving boxes, because obviously a kettle was one of the things I did have (although my only cutlery was a cocktail spoon).

    So, after around four months of switching up my anonymous tea for teapigs Everyday Brew I certainly noticed a difference.  For me it felt a bit of a shame to relegate it to everyday brew as it feels a bit ordinary and I certainly noticed a positive difference compared to the pretty standard teas we have in the kitchen.  I’ll definitely be treating myself to a cup of teapigs everyday brew it more often!

    http://www.teapigs.co.uk/

    Disclosure: I was sent a package by teapigs and asked to switch my regular tea for teapigs Everyday Brew.  All opinions are honest and trust me, I’ve tried a lot of tea with cow’s milk alternatives and they don’t taste right. Some times tea is worth suffering for.