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    Drinks, Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Glenfiddich whisky tasting


    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.


    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).

    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 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!

    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.

    Drinks, Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    The return of Rib Nights

    Team_ribs_plate I’ve got a confession to make – I never made it to the previous Rib Nights.  So when Ahmed mentioned that they were coming back for a couple of dates, with a limited capacity, I knew I had to try and get to one.

    In a new location, this time Cafe Opus in the Ikon Gallery, the premise is pretty simple; two teams compete to be the best ribs of the evening, as voted for by the diners.  To prevent any bias, the ribs are named team A or B and loaded up onto plates.  If six hefty ribs isn’t enough to fill your boots, then there are also a pile of sides on offer too – namely fries and coleslaw.  pickleback_shots_spiced_rum

    Sponsored, in part, by spiced rum brand Sailor Jerrys, the night started of with a customary Pickleback.  For those not familiar, the Pickleback is a series of two shots, usually Irish whiskey (Jamesons seems to be the favoured spirit of choice) and pickle brine/juice, shot one after the other.  They made their way over here a few years ago and I’ll admit to being a fan of the Pickleback; the stark contrast of the slightly sweet yet alcoholic kick of the whiskey followed by the salty pickle brine pleasantly ambushes the tastebuds.  Or at least does after the you’ve had more than one…it’s always the second one that gets you hooked.  But for this one it was Sailor Jerrys and complementing pickle juice, and whilst the flavours complemented each other well, it just didn’t have that same kick for me.


    Anyway, ribs.  I start off with Team A’s ribs, which turned out to belong to Smoke and Spice BBQ, hailing from Banbury in Oxfordshire.  These were the drier of the two ribs, which is no bad thing in my books, and I enjoyed the flavours with a nice smokiness and bite to the meat.  Team B, also known as Crackerjack BBQ, were an all together different affair with a messier, sweeter sauce and I was unlucky enough to get some really fatty ribs which seem to have a lot less meat than Team A’s.  I don’t mind a bit of fat on my ribs, but I wanna taste the ribs, which is pretty much how I feel about loads of sauce too.

    For me it was a clear winner of Team A, due to the meatiness of the ribs I was given and their smokiness.  The popular vote and therefore winner was for Team B (Crackerjack BBQ), although a Michelin-starred chef was also in attendance and tweet to say his vote was for Team A too, so that made me feel better!

    Sadly this is one of the last Rib Nights, nearly two years after it began.  However you’ve still got time to make it to one – there’s a final event on Sunday 15 November 2015 and tickets can be bought via Design My Night.

    Disclosure: I paid for my own ticket to Rib Nights. So there. Also, I’m pretty sure pickle juice is an antidiuretic, which is why the hangovers on them never feels as bad to me.

    Drinks, Food and Restaurant News, News, Pub and Drinks News

    Argentinean wine dinner at Opus


    At a loose end tomorrow evening and like your wine? Opus on Cornwall St is hosting a dinner and drinks pairing with a range of wine from the vineyards of the Mendoza region in Argentina.

    During the evening, wine from Opus supplier Eduardo Pulenta’s prestigious estate will be expertly paired with five specially-prepared courses created by Opus’ chefs. Opus are notoriously proud of their suppliers and it’s a rare opportunity to meet and learn more about them. Eduardo will educate and regale diners with stories from his family vineyard in the beautiful but demanding landscape in the shadow of the Andes Mountains.

    Ann Tonks, managing director at Opus, said: “It’s a pleasure to have Eduardo in the restaurant and showcasing his beautiful wines. The Pulenta family have been growing grapes since 1912 and Eduardo’s passion shines through when he’s telling customers about their award-winning wine.”

    The dinner costs £75 per person and includes five courses, an aperitif, wine with each course and service. For more information call 0121 200 2323.

    Drinks, Product reviews, Reviews

    Holiday memories of Barcelona


    Don’t you just love holidays?  I’m not really one for days relaxing by the beach, I’m more of a spend ages researching beforehand and planning a packed itinerary to make sure I fit in as much as possible – and making sure that there’s a list of great places to eat at.

    One of my favourite holidays was with my mum to Barcelona.  We’d been to the region a few times when I was younger, but this was the first holiday I went on post-university that I was in charge of, and I’d done enough research that I probably could have run my own tour.  I wanted to see all the Gaudi stuff we could, particularly Park Guell, which we spent an afternoon wandering round with and enjoying a makeshift picnic.

    catalan_wine_duoFinding some great food places was of course on top on my priorities and I had a list and substitute list of restaurants.  Considering La Rambla sort of resembles Birmingham’s Broad St of an evening, there was a great little tapas place on there that was listed in the guide book and actually pretty good.  We also found delicious seafood by the harbour and a great little steak place down a side street (which had Spanish cartoons on the toilet doors).  Our hotel was just off Avinguda Diagonal and of an evening we used to walk past a great little wine bar which we stopped in regularly for a nightcap.

    I was lucky to be sent a couple of bottles of Catalan wine from the Catalan Tourist Board, which took me right back to that wine bar, sitting with my mum chatting away about our holiday.  Both bottles were from Torres, a family run business in the heart of the Catalan region.  My mum enjoys a glass of Chardonnay, so the Gran Viña Sol Chardonnay with dinner was a hit – slightly woody with floral notes was great with our roast chicken.  After dinner we had the Gran Coronas Cabernet Sauvignon, a really lovely bottled of red; silky with a strong taste of berries and a hint of vanilla.

    After an evening of good food, even better wine and reminiscing over holidays, I found myself looking at flights to go back!  Catalan cuisine is internationally renowned (it was home to the world-famous El Bulli, after all) and if it’s all about the food for you, there is even a series of Gastronomic Holidays which are well worth taking a look at.

    Disclosure: the nice people at the Catalan Tourist Board sent me a couple of bottles of wine free of charge and asked me to write bout my memories from my holiday to Barcelona.  I wasn’t obliged to be nice about anything (seriously, aren’t you used to that yet).   The glamorous assistant in the top photo is my mum, she posed in exchange for helping me drink the wine.

    Drinks, Events, News

    Licor 43’s Tiki Bar Takeover

    licor43_islandLooking for a way to paint the town gold to celebrate the Bank Holiday weekend?  Well Licor 43 have teamed up with Island Bar to take over their upstairs Tiki Bar for a Golden Party on Friday 22nd May.

    Licor 43 is a golden yellow Spanish liqueur with predominantly vanilla and caramel flavours.  It’s great in cocktails and apparently in Mexico they drink it with espresso coffee for a nifty disco coffee, which means it also goes pretty well in Espresso Martinis.  Personally I think it’s also pretty dandy over waffles and ice cream for a really indulgent dessert too.

    Anyway, the party.  Island Bar opens as usual from 5pm with DJs starting from 9pm (including Tiki Thursday’s DJ Magoo).  Guaranteed there will be cocktails – with Licor 43 cocktail specials, plus lots of gold & giveaways, Licor 43 shots…and rumour has it there might also be a fire dancer.  Then again, if you ask nicely the bartenders might just breathe some fire too.

    For more details, check out their Facebook event – stay gold ponyboy!

    Drinks, Product reviews, Reviews

    Eisberg Riesling non-alcoholic wine

    Frankly when my aunt accounted that she was having a BBQ at the weekend to celebrate the engagement of her son, I was a bit wary. Not of the engagement – I’m dead pleased Em is joining our crazy little gang, but that the good weather would continue.

    Mum and I were requested to arrive early to help set up. I think this is actually code for make sure someone is on time, as my family are notoriously late for things. However this left mum in a bit of a quandary, as she didn’t want to be “blottoed by 5pm”. So when a bottle of Eisberg Riesling non-alcoholic wine arrived on my doorstep it seemed like the perfect chance to try it out.

    IMG_2248.JPGEisberg do four different types of non-alcoholic wine: Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rose and Riesling. I’d opted to try the Riesling, as it’s a alcoholic wine variety I’ve enjoyed before and thought it would be a good all-rounder. It’s described as “honeyed aromas of rosy apples and juicy melons” which I think is pretty fair – it had a nice sweet fruitiness to it, which wasn’t cloying, but was also refreshing. The slight alcoholic aftertaste that comes with wine was missing, but I was the only person to notice this – my mum and aunt said they didn’t taste a noticeable difference between it and regular wine. In fact my mum enjoyed it so much that she pretty much adopted the bottle for the evening.

    My mum was initially sceptical at the point of non-alcoholic wine and couldn’t really understand why anyone would buy it – Which is a notion I think a lot of people share. I’d tried to give a few examples including people that wanted to drink wine but couldn’t or wouldn’t (health or pregnancy) and that most diet-wines are basically low alcohol, but she was still sceptical. Yet as she dropped me home (bonus, no taxi fare) I asked her what she thought of the wine and she’d said that she enjoyed it; that she could still feel part of the party, that the wine gave her a chance to join in, but still drive home.  She’d gone from sceptical to wondering where might stock non-alcoholic wine (answer: most supermarkets).

    Disclosure: I was sent a bottle of non-alcoholic wine to review. I wasn’t obliged to be nice and neither was my mum, even thought she unwittingly reviewed it. “Blottoed” is probably Irish slang, but definitely should be used more.