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    Drinks, Events, News, Pub and Drinks News

    Cocktail round up

    cocktail news

    2015 is proving to be a very exciting year for Birmingham’s food and drink scene.  There’s a bunch of news that’s filling my inbox, so I’ve collected it up to share…

    Birmingham Association of Bartenders turns 10
    You might not have heard of the Birmingham Association of Bartenders, but chances are you’ve had a drink made by one of them.  Set up by Julian Rose-Gibbs (of The Botanist) and Carl Hawkins (of KitchInn), they’re a group of bartenders “who give a ****” and have been meeting semi-regularly to improve their knowledge through tastings and talks by brand ambassadors.  The group turned ten years old this month and as drinkers in the city we should raise a toast to those bartenders who’ve turned up to learn more about their craft. Congrats on Raising the Bar since 2005 guys – here’s to another ten!

    Brugal Spiced rum competition
    Congratulations to Jason Ballantyne of The Bureau on Colmore Row for winning first place at a Brugal Spiced rum competition, held at the Vaults earlier in the month.

    From the man who brought us Ribs Nights and UK Burger Battle comes a series of events which promises to bring together some of the world’s finest bartenders, drinks brands and bars.  The first event will take place at Bar Opus, with a limited number of tickets and the first brand to be announced shortly.  Keep an eye out on the Twitter account @CocktailXChange for more details.

    The Drinks Bus
    Whilst they might’ve had their launch night in Leicester, the Drinks Bus is likely to be a regular sight in Brum so feels worth a mention.  Another Ahmed Kage concept (seriously, does he ever stop), it’s a converted 1977 Bristol Bus, available for hire and will no doubt be rolling into the city soon. Check for more details

    Bar Opus introduces cocktail masterclasses
    Bar Opus at One Snow Hill has introduced Saturday afternoon cocktail masterclasses.  For £15 per person, participants will be trained to make two seasonal cocktails by Bar Opus’ expert bartenders and an info sheet with the specs and overview of products to recreate them at home.

    Birmingham Cocktail Weekend
    Info on this one is a little scarce, but what we do know is that it’ll take place between 10 – 12 July 2015.  Venues taking part in the weekend are yet to be announced, but wristbands and guidebooks will be on sale to direct you towards participating bars. To hear more when it’s announced, sign up at

    And not forgetting cocktail consultants Shaker group’s Gas Street Social has opened, and early next month The Botanist finally flings open its doors…

    Drinks, News, Pub and Drinks News

    Joule’s Brewery opens pub in Sutton Coldfield

    Birmingham beer lovers, your Christmas has come early as Joule’s Brewery has just opened their flagship tap house in the area.

    IMG_4154The Boldmere Tap in Sutton Coldfield, formally known as the Boldmere Oak, has been carefully restored, which is nice to hear as the pub needed a bit of love.  It will serve a number of the brewery’s ales which are already incredibly popular in the city, including Joule’s Pale Ale, Blonde and Slumbering Monk, plus some seasonal offerings.  The pub will also be offering home cooked food using fresh locally sourced produce and I hear the Sunday Roasts will be worth heading down to check out.

    The tap house on Boldmere Road (and within stumbling distance from Chester Road station) is themed around an Old Curiosity Shop, with a display of historic beer bottles, which will no doubt pique the interest of beer geeks as much as the ales.  It’ll also retain a friendly, village feel or as their marketing person put it “a pure ‘real ale’ pub, a bit old fashioned, but in a really good way – just our kind of pub”.  As someone who used to live nearby, I’m pretty pleased to hear the pub has had a new lease of life!

    For more information, check out their website or Facebook page.

    Drinks, Events, News

    Bespoke Bombay Sapphire bottles this Saturday

    bombaysapphireIf you’re feeling a bit stuck about what to get someone for Christmas and want to avoid the impersonal bottle of plonk, then Bombay Sapphire has your back as they’ll be doing personal engraving on bottles purchased in Selfridges this Saturday.

    Head down to the Wine Shop in Selfridges on Saturday, between midday and 8pm, to have a Bombay Sapphire hand-engrave something nice on one of their crystal-blue bottles.  It’ll cost £29.99 for the bottle of gin and the hand-engraving, which is pretty good for a unique Christmas gift.

    Personally I’m a much bigger fan of gin than I am wine, so this sounds like a pretty neat idea to me – plus with a certain hazelnut chocolate spread offering customised jars in The Bullring too, you’ve pretty much got Christmas evening sorted right there.

    Drinks, News, Pub and Drinks News

    Starbucks Red Cups come early to Brum

    Starbucks_056There are certain signs that Christmas is on its way; Cocoa Cola TV adverts, Christmas lights switch ones and the return of festive mugs in coffee shops.  So when I heard Starbucks in Birmingham’s Selfridges was launching their red cups a little early to coincide with the department store’s Christmas launch, I couldn’t help but go find out more.

    With Selfridges choosing a treasure theme for this year’s Christmas display, Starbucks have followed suit in their two in-store venues (the other being in London).  This means that as well as the red cups making a return early, the store has some exclusives including gold merchandise and gold sprinkles, which I was a bit too enthusiastic about (glittery sprinkles make everything better).

    Now I consider coffee to be two different things; stuff I’ll drink neat with nothing added to it, and what I call ‘Disco Coffee’ – coffee, mainly lattes, with flavoured syrups.  If I’m in Starbucks it’s nearly always because I’m ordering a Disco Coffee.  So trying their new Christmas blend coffee neat was a new experience for me.  I found it a lot more drinkable than their regular filter coffee (which I’ve tried once and instantly vowed never again); it doesn’t taste as bitter and unusually tickles the sides of the tongue, which was kinda fun.  I’ve been given some to take home, so I’ll be giving this another try.

    Hot choc with gold sprinklesTheir new drink this year is the Honey and Almond Hot Chocolate.  I had mine with soya milk and for someone who’s not overly keen on hot chocolate, I managed to drink the lot – the sweetness offset by my lack of lunch.  There’s a definite and delicious nuttiness from the almond syrup which is complemented by the honey.  It wasn’t too rich or sickly sweet either, which made it a nice little indulgence, though I don’t think you’d want to drink too many unless you were looking to gain a Santa style belly.  Also, mine was covered in gold sprinkles which are always going to help win me round.

    There were some other Disco Coffee drinks returning; Eggnog, Toffee Nut and (my personal favourite) Gingerbread lattes.  I was surprised to hear that Starbucks estimate there are 80.000 different ways to customise their drinks, so next time I find myself in one I’m going to try a gingerbread hot chocolate.

    The red cups return to Starbucks UK stores officially on 4th November, with reward card holders being able to get them from the 30th October if they ask nicely.  This means I just need to see a ‘Holidays are Coming’ advert and Christmas is officially on its way.

    Disclosure: I was invited down to Starbucks in Selfridges and given products to try, free of charge, in exchange for an honest review.  I wasn’t obliged to give a positive review, which you’ve probably realised from my views on their filter coffee.  Photos belong to Starbucks and/or their PR people.

    Bar reviews, Drinks, Reviews

    Cocktails at The Edgbaston

    With the Edgbaston cocktail bar and boutique hotel opening back in May, it’s a stark reminder of how quickly this year has flown by – I’ve been saying I’m going to go “soon” for a while.  And when I visited The Highfield a few weeks ago, it seemed rude not to visit The Edgbaston too.

    A boutique hotel with six bedrooms and three cocktail bars, The Edgbaston joins The Deli at Edgbaston, Simpsons fine dining and the newly opening gastropub The Highfield in Edgbaston’s gastronomic village hub.  It’s also owned by Stuart & Darren Insall, who also own The Kenilworth which has an excellent reputation and so I expected great things.

    Lets get the negatives out of the way first.  The Edgbaston’s signage outside is understated and doesn’t make it the easiest to find.  Which seems to be a theme carried inside, as I walked through the front door to a small unmanned, un-signposted reception.  To the right I could see a doorway into a beautiful bar ladened with whiskies galore and peeking my head to the left into a larger bar set in a beautiful art deco cocktail lounge, complete with gold banquette seating and a fantastic chandelier.  What I couldn’t find was someone to tell me what was going on.  After beginning to feel like a gatecrasher, I finally found a member of staff who greeted my warmly, invited me to sit where I liked and brought my a glass of cucumber water.  Negatives over.


    Although I was offered some assistance with what to choose, I’d already made my mind up to try the Clover Club 3000.  I’m a big fan of the classic drink; the tart and zesty gin and lemon, smoothed out with raspberry makes it, in my mind, a great drink.  A friend jokes its a drink you see grannies drinking, probably owing to its pre-Prohibition era origins, but if the classic Clover Club is a grannies drink, then the Clover Club 3000 is the drink reborn.  Arriving looking like something you’d give a child with baby-pink foam, sprinkles and a side of candy floss, it was clear this wasn’t going to be any run-of-the-mill cocktail.  Eminently drinkable, the Clover Club 3000 had a playful lightness to it, both in colour and consistency I wasn’t expecting but being perfectly balanced it made it the sort of drink you’d easily want a second of.

    Having just enough time for a second drink it seemed only right to give another spirit a try.  The Silver Screen with its blend of Glenmorangie whisky, butterscotch and lemon is served in dramatic fashion – dry ice pouring smoke all over the table, which sadly I failed to get a decent picture of.  The drink itself is layered in flavour; the whisky first, followed by a teasing tickle of lemon fizz, replaced by butterscotch.  It’s very drinkable and the garnish of toffee popcorn in a retro container balance the dramatic with the whimsy – a real feature film of a drink.

    Totalling in £21 (without service) for two drinks, a trip to The Edgbaston is not going to be cheap.  But then again it’s not so much about just going for drinks as much as it is a drinking experience, pretentious as that might sound.  It’s well worth the visit and an excellent addition to the cocktail scene in Birmingham.  I’ll be going back to try and get a photo of the Silver Screen.


    Have you spotted us in Area Guide?

    Screen shot 2014-08-31 at 20.08.54I love giving recommendations to people on places to go eat and drink – I get asked so often it was part of the reason I started the blog, so when Area Guide asked if any food bloggers were interested in writing a piece for their food and drinks themed issue, I couldn’t help myself.  I wanted to make it something a bit more interesting, so I went with five places in the city you can go for an after work drink that aren’t pubs – or Not a Normal Nightcap, to give it a bit more of a punchy title.

    Area Guide‘s food and drinks themed issue, to tie in with the Independent Food and Drinks Festival is available to read here.

    This is by no means an exhaustive list, but five seemed like a good number (there’s nothing wrong with going to the pub for an after work drink either, but that seemed a bit obvious to include in the article).  I’m also thinking of doing a few more ‘Five places…’ posts, so watch this space!

    Cafe News, Drinks

    Coffee tax and Birmingham

    Screen shot 2014-08-10 at 17.11.44

    Fellow Brummie Jon Hickman has written a really interesting article over on Contributoria about tax, coffee shops and Birmingham.

    It’s well worth a read – and not just because I’m quoted in it.  But it looks at issues which have affected both Cafe Blend and very recently Ashton Levi, both well loved coffee shops sadly forced to close.

    I’m a big fan of independent coffee shops, I think they offer a great deal to the city both in quality of products (although I have a giant soft spot for Costa’s gingerbread soya lattes) and the willingness to open up their space for book clubs, exhibitions and spoken word.  The article gives a really interesting insight into the issues affecting independent businesses and the people behind them.

    Read the article here.