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    Drinks, Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Meet the brewer with Magic Rock Brewery at Tilt

    tilt_beer_birmingham

    Back in a past life, when I controlled a pub’s social media accounts, we announced that we were going to get some Magic Rock Brewery beers in as guest ales and the online enthusiasm was palpable.  I remember harassing the poor bar staff on site to tell me, and photograph, when the beer was in, racked, tapped etc.  Back then beer wasn’t something I had any interest in, but I am a sucker for nerdy enthusiasm and this was like Christmas.

    It’s largely the reason I have a bit of a soft spot for Magic Rock, and when Tilt mentioned they were doing a tap take over and meet the brewer session, I figured that my newly acquired desire to get into beer should probably go along and find out what the fuss was about.  Turns out that nerdy enthusiasm I witnessed online years ago, yeah I got to see that in real life and it was great.

    magic-rock-brew_rich_talk_tiltRichard from Magic Rock spoke about the brewery, the beers and Birmingham, but mainly answered a lot of questions.  They might be based in Huddersfield, but it was clear there was a lot of love for Magic Rock in Birmingham; people asked a lot of questions about the beers, Magic Rock’s history (they started back in 2011) and what to expect in the future.  To be honest I should probably be able to recall more of the talk, but I was mainly interested in how what had previously felt a bit like a noisy common room had gone deadly silent to listen to Richard talk.  I guess that shows how much respect people have for the brewery – and why RateBeer named they second best new brewery in the world 2012, after only being open a year.

    magic_rock_beers_tilt

    This is a terrible write up of the night because I failed to pay attention to how many beers were available, mainly because I was still a bit cautious about the whole ‘getting into beer’, but I think there were about seven.  Given my propensity to forget names, the fact that I’d remember two of the beers that everyone raved about years ago was pretty impressive and so I mainly stuck to the core range, namely the Cannonball IPA and High Wire – Magic Rock’s tribute to the pale ales of the West Coast of America.  Both a bit fruity, but fresh and delicious.  I also tried the Bearded Lady, Magic Rock’s Imperial Stout which was rich and heavy; I tasted notes of chocolate and coffee, maybe some darker fruits too, which made it feel like if you were looking for a two-in-one dessert and after-dinner drink, this would hit the spot.

    magic-rock-brew_bearded_lady_tilt Disclosure: All beer paid for either by myself or a friend (and by this I don’t mean the venue or brewery)

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    A World of Gin

    bartender_lucy_pouring_martini

    So summer has finally arrived.  Sure we’re now all whinging about it, because this is Britain and we love nothing more than talking about the weather, but remember last month when there was one solitary sunny weekend which we all thought might be our only glimpse of the sun?  Well of course that would be the weekend I chose to go and find somewhere nice and cool to hide…and where better than a bank vault with gin? I mean, really, it’s perfect.

    The excellently titled A World of Gin, which described itself as “Think village fete, indoors…with gin” which feels like a fair way to describe it.  The ground floor foyer had a range of stalls with a bunch of gin stands, plus gin-cured salmon created by Andy Low’n’Slow, which sadly I did not get to try because I went rushing over from brunch and sadly there was not enough space to eat salmon and drink gin.  First world woes right?

    masons_gin

    Now as a seasoned gin drinker I’m always a bit wary of things like gin festivals because there’s always the worry that you’ll end up being surrounded by the usual suspects, and thankfully this wasn’t the case.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some gins I’m always pleased to see on a back bar, but if it’s a gin festival I want to try something new and there were plenty of options.  The Masons Yorkshire gin was a good find; it’s a pretty punchy gin which certainly lives up to not being “run of the mill” and it might divide people, but I like my gin to have flavour and this certainly does.  Masons do three versions: the original; lavender, which will be good in more floral gin drinks, which are usually a winner in my books; and Yorkshire tea edition, which is a nice nod to where this gin originates from.  According to their website you can buy Masons from Cellar Door in Sutton Coldfield, I think someone mentioned Harvey Nicholls too, but hopefully it’ll make its way into some bars in Birmingham.

    edinburgh_gin

    Another new to me gin was the range from The Edinburgh Gin, with their lovely art deco labeling.  With a nod to their homeland, this gin uses locally sourced and grown Scottish botanicals, which includes milk thistle and heather, the latter of which comes through in the taste.  Considering normal people don’t usually drink gin neat, this is surprisingly smooth and doesn’t need a lot of messing around with.  The seaside gin is pretty cool, a is a limited edition which uses ingredients found around the Scottish coast – it’s novel, but more importantly it evokes memories of the seaside, which isn’t easy to do stood in a disused bank in landlocked Birmingham.

    And it wasn’t just gin on offer either.  I stopped by 40 St Paul’s stand to check out some of their Hockley Tonic.  Now I’m convinced that most people that tell me they hate gin actually hate tonic and I don’t blame them because some of it really isn’t the way to get people to like gin.  But the Hockley Tonic stuff is superb.  It’s small batch, made by the guys from 40 St Pauls who plan to do seasonal variants and care about this stuff on a level that is impressively geeky.  In fact, it’s so nice that you could lengthen this with some sparkling water and drink it as a soft drink if you’d finished all your gin.

    gin_top_trumps_gintleman

    Another gin-related-but-not-gin find was at The Gintleman’s stall, a sort of Top Trumps for gin brands.  Just Gin, as it’s actually called, features international and award winning gins and can be played as top trumps with six categories or something called Quartet, which I am not cultured enough to know how to play; frankly I’d just buy two decks and play Snap if it were up to me.  As well as being useful for Top Trumps, the categories also give you useful information about the gins, like the botanicals used, the alcohol by volume and when it was established, as well as the perfect serve.  Come Christmas these are going to make a great stocking filler. 

    And to finish off, I headed down into the bank vault to hunt for gin.  The tricksy organisers had hidden miniatures in some of the safety deposit boxes and for any of you that have ever made your way down to the vault in the Birmingham Municipal Bank, you’ll know there’s bloody hundreds of them.  In fact, whilst several of us tried to find gin, we were luckier finding things left behind from other exhibitions, including someone’s glasses and some random postcard things…and a rather indecent cartoon, which was the best find of the session.  But there was gin, in fact I’d half expect that whoever uses the vault for the next exhibition might end up finding some lost ones.

    gin_in_the_vaultsA World of Gin is having another outing, sadly this time the London folks get all the fun, but the website suggests that there might be more in the way of fun gin-related things, so it might be worth keeping an eye out http://www.aworldofgin.com/

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Birmingham Cocktail Weekend 2016 (sort of)

    BCW16_lostandfound_bartender_pouringYou know what’s worse than being poorly-sick?  Being poorly-sick, but well enough to leave your sofa/sick bed, but not well enough to eat or drink anything interesting…AND the city simultaneously hosting a vegan beer festival AND the second Birmingham Cocktail Weekend.

    However, I did manage to get to some of the Birmingham Cocktail Weekend before I was back to not being able to consume anything more exciting than flat cola, soya lattes and beige foods.  I started by picking up my wrist band at the Jim Beam hub hosted by Island Bar and said a quick hello to Joe and Luke who were there from Jim Beam.  Sadly I had to decline trying the Jim Beam Apple because I definitely wasn’t up for neat spirits.  Someone tell me what it’s like, because apple isn’t something I’d immediately think of with whisky and so I’m really curious.

    jim_beam_range

    My first stop as a Birmingham Cocktail Weekender was actually to something that I’m not convinced was officially part of BCW as it wasn’t taking part in the £4 cocktails, but was no doubt popping up for the occasion.  The yet-to-be-named Langley’s Gin bar which is coming to the Great Western Arcade sometime soon held a pop up bar outside the build works for their new venue – something we’ve all been looking forward to for some time (hence why the boards read “Birmingham’s worst kept secret”).  I had some gin, naturally, because it’s medicinal right?  My friends and I then headed to Bistro 1847 and had their signature serve for the BCW, but I figured better pace myself.

    Next up a bunch of us headed to Lost & Found to the not-so-secret bar behind the bookcase.  Gin is ridiculously popular at the moment, there’s no doubting that, and Lost & Found seemed to be doing something with Sipsmith, although for me (and checked with others in case my tastebuds were still home poorly) this just tasted of sweet lemon to me.  Which for a lot of people would probably have be fine, I just like a bit more nuance to my cocktails.ed_langleys_pour

    Our plan was to head to Bureau next to try out their Birmingham Cocktail Weekend signature drink, but apparently their doorman is still living in the 90s and refused us entry because several of the group were wearing trainers – kinda ridiculous considering how many offices in the Colmore area now operate a dress-down Friday policy.  And in case you think it’s just that I hang around with a bunch of deviants (I do), we bumped into a group of 12 who were also denied entry for the same reason.  Oh well, Bureau’s loss was Chung Ying Central’s gain.

    Our final stop of the night then was at Chung Ying Central, who’s cocktail was another gin one; Flamingo Island, again sweet but with enough watermelon kick that it contrasted well with the salt and chilli chicken wings that I had there for dinner.  Sadly, after a few drinks on Friday, whatever had struck me down for the rest of the week returned and I decided to call it a night on the rest of the Birmingham Cocktail Weekend.

    chung-ying-central_chicken-wings

    With somewhere in the region of 3000 wristbands sold and thirty venues taking part, Birmingham Cocktail Weekend is an impressive undertaking and the organisers should be proud; organising a multi-site event with lots of potential logistical nightmares is not easy, I know, and I’m really pleased to see the continuation of the festival for a second year – and hopefully a third, fourth etc.  There are some problems which do need ironing out, like the lack of mention of dress codes for certain establishments and some notable names missing from the list, but overall BCW seems to achieve what it sets out to do – showcase cocktails to the Birmingham masses.

    If there is to be another Birmingham Cocktail Weekend, I hope there will be a continued, if not heavier, focus on the things that make up a great cocktail – the ingredients, the brands, the expertise, the bartenders, the stories and mythologies.  Some bars seemed to revel in the challenge of a signature £4 cocktail, whilst others played it safe – and by safe I mean overly sweet.  £4 cocktails tend to be the low cost, knock them out quickly sort of drink and with a heightened exposure like BCW then it’s easy to see why some bars go for this option, but next year can we have less sugar syrup and a bit more imagination please?  It would also be nice to see some events for bars and venues who don’t generally serve high-volumes of drinks, perhaps in the form of some fringe events.

    Either way, I’m looking forward to seeing Birmingham Cocktail Weekend 2017!

    Disclosure: I was given a complimentary wristband but paid for all food and drink myself…as ever all views remain my own. Not the germs though, they’re free to whoever wants them.

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Colmore Food Festival 2016

    seekasaurus_brownies_dinosaur

    Food, drink, adventures and dinosaurs…these are a few of my favourite things.  Or, you know, would be if I were in the Sound of Music.  But as if I needed any more excuse to go to this year’s Colmore Food Festival, this year there were dinosaurs! Or the superb Seekasaurus had hidden some mini dinos as some of the stalls.  Which is an excellent excuse to visit more stalls that I’d initially intended.  Good work Seekasaurus, good work.

    beer_pie_wellington

    After having been to the Colmore Food Festival in 2015 (and judged an award) and 2014, I have now developed an excellent plan to get the best out of it – minimal dinner the night before, light breakfast and no elevenses so by lunchtime I’m ready to eat.  Seriously, there’s always so many good things on offer at the Colmore Food Festival that a proper meal plan is in order – where else are you going to be able to pay £4 for a dish prepared by a Michelin-starred restaurant?!  That’s the beauty of the Festival, it seems like nearly all the food and drink establishments in the Colmore Business District get involved, everyone from independent and chain coffee shops to real ale pubs, Michelin-starred and fine dining restaurants, bakeries, cocktail bars and so much more.  And because it’s all organised by the Colmore Business District BID people it runs over a Friday, meaning those of us who work in the area can pop out for an tasty lunch and after-work treat, through to Saturday for families – and it’s free entry, and conveniently located slap bang in the middle of Victoria Square, outside the Council House.

    opus_cbdfoodfest16First up I visited Nosh & Quaff for some of their chicken wings in a smoked butter and habanero sauce.  I remain a bit mixed on my feelings towards these because the wings themselves were great; the batter remained crispy whilst slathered in a sauce which, frankly, got to be too much for me.  I get it wings are messy and they sure were, but it would’ve been better if the sauce was on the side more so for flavour than anything.  Then it was off to Opus on Cornwall St for fishcake and poached egg which was deliciously light and flavoursome, with a positively oozy egg yolk, definitely a winner.  For lunch-pudding, I picked up some salted caramel macarons from Miss Macaron which were supposed to wait until late afternoon, but realistically lasted until I got back to the office…which is about five minutes after leaving the festival.

    miss_macaroon_macarons copy

    This time round I split my time and headed back to the Festival for a spot of post-work, start-of-the-weekend dinner.  I headed straight to the Jekyll & Hyde stall for a spot of their punch and some lamb biryani from Ashas, which was also delicious – and worth all the good comments on social media. I’d heard a few people mention how good the scotch eggs from Jake’s Coffee Box were – and I’d heard they had a Seekasaurus, so I went off to try one of these.  I wasn’t quite expecting the scotch egg to be quite so big (seriously, it was a meal in itself) but it was delicious.  I may also have yelped in delight at the sight of the little mini dinosaur…hence the first photo.

    jakes_coffee_shop_scotch_egg

    After some serious Seekaraurus searching with Viv and Ryan (aka Brummie Gourmand), it was time for a final cocktail (or maybe it was really pudding, I’m not sure how you’d describe this); a frozen strawberry daiquiri from Ginger’s Bar, but it was deliciously boozy and a great way to end the festival.

    strawberry_daiquiri_gingers

    Disclosure: I paid for everything myself, apart from the daiquiri which was a treat from Ryan and Viv. I also left all the dinosaurs behind for others to find, because I’m charitable like that.

    Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Foodies Festival Birmingham 2016

    Foodies_festival_vans

    Planning an outdoor festival in Birmingham is pretty brave these days, particularly given the almost biblical floods we’ve been having.  But whoever organises the Foodies Festival managed to pick what might be the only sunny weekend we get this year to hold their second event in Cannon Hill Park, earlier in the month.

    This time round there felt like there were a lot more stalls, or maybe that’s just because I spent more time at them trying to hide from the sunshine like a vampire.  Like the previous festival, there were some local stalls dotted amongst the national offerings, plus a raft of Birmingham-based chefs doing demos at various stages dotted about.  I’d like to tell you I went to see some of them but they were pretty busy, although I did stop my the Appleton rum tasting, which was giving people the opportunity to try their signature blend as well as the 12 and 21 year old rums.

    appleton_tasting

    Having drunk quite a lot of rum, and Appleton at that, it was nice to be reminded of the story of this Jamaican rum.  Appleton had a change up of their naming structure of their rums last year, which was a pretty sensible move as trying to explain Appleton Estate VX to people can’t have been fun; it’s now been more logically been renamed as Appleton Estate Signature Blend.  Me personally, I really like Appleton rum and in particular the Appleton 12 year old as it’s got a deeper flavour and I pick up notes of vanilla with a sort of oaky finish, which makes for a cracking rum Old Fashioned.

    chaophraya

    I always like to see a local flavour at food festivals and there were some scattered throughout the Foodies Festival.  I stopped by Chaophraya, who have a restaurant in the Bullring, and tried some of their panang beef curry which really hit the spot in the summer sunshine.  I’ve been to a cooking class at Chaophraya and at some point I really do need to go back and check the place out properly.

    macaron_madamemoiselle

    I know it’s really cliched but I had a total soft spot for macarons, and when I spotted Mademoiselle Macaron from Edinburgh I went over to check out the delicate little beauties.  They had a whole raft of flavours and I love a bit of a gimmick, so when I spotted several alcoholic macarons using drinks synonymous with Scotland I knew I had to pick up a few for later, namely Hendricks gin, Innis & Gun and Irn Bru flavours, along with a lavender one.  These were delightful, the flavour was delicate, something that’d ordinarily disappoint me, but with something like macarons they sort of have to.  I only wish they were a bit closed to Brum so I could go back for more!

    oops_birmingham

    No idea what stall I spotted the above photo from, but it had a long queue, so clearly everyone was much more forgiving of their geographical illiteracy that I am.

    And to round off the day I headed over to the Appleton rum bus for a cocktail in the sunshine – or you know, desperately clinging to the shade which was more realistic in my case.  I went for the Tiki classic Mai Tai because it’s a tiki classic and the original creation was said to be developed by Trader Vic using Jamaican rum, so it would be rude not to.

    appleton_rum_bus Disclaimer: I was given a complimentary ticket to the Foodies Festival and some complimentary samples by some of the stalls, but some I bought my own. Also, was that weekend our only sun for the season, or should I buy some sunscreen?

    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.

    Masterclasses, Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Making chocolates at the Chocolate Quarter

    piping_caramel_chocolate

    I know, writing about chocolate in Birmingham, that’s never happened before…but this time it’s not the big purple monolith, but a cute little family-run boutique chocolatier in the Jewellery Quarter, also known as The Chocolate Quarter.

    Jay, Maninder and Kempes run the Chocolate Quarter and they have the sort of warmth and friendliness that is infectious.  I’m generally a sort of take it or leave it person when it comes to chocolate, but it’s hard not to get wrapped up in their eagerness.  You know that sort of giddy enthusiasm which helps you absorb information so much better because you know this is less transactional and more a genuine love of the product?  Yeah, that.  And there was lots to learn; the basics about cocoa mass and white chocolate not really being chocolate, but also about beta prime crystals and tempering chocolate, and how higher percentage of cocoa mass doesn’t necessarily make better chocolate, if cheap beans are used.  But you know, in a fun way, that didn’t make it feel like a year nine science class.

    pouring_hot_chocolate

    A few of us went down to hear about what they do, what they sell and check out one of their chocolate making masterclasses.  We started with hot chocolate, because it would be rude not to, then Jay took us through the process of chocolate making and explained that we’d be having a go at making our own caramel truffles; piping in caramel, sealing, then tempering some chocolate to ensure once we dunked the truffle, the chocolate wouldn’t go gritty.  We were given a few options on how to display the truffle, from a smooth look to something a bit more rustic, dusted with icing sugar, cocoa or coconut.

    jay_explaining

    Most hands on masterclasses I’ve been to have either been alcohol-filled or the sort of specific and detailed thing that I can’t see myself doing outside of the class.  I’ve made truffles at home before and the tips I picked up were useful, but mainly it was just a really lovely way to spend an evening.  There’s the option to BYOB if you like, somewhat dangerous I expect given how close they are to Hard to Find Whisky, or just enjoy hot chocolate, which gives it a nice option if you want to do something fun but the group are less about the drinking.  This could totally work as a birthday party of hen/stag do, or just a good excuse to get a group of friends together.

    filled_chocolates

    After we made our chocolates, Jay and Maninder used us as guinea pigs to check out some of their experiments for Father’s Day; whisky, bacon and stout chocolates.  I’ve had bacon cupcakes before and whilst it’s a bit weird, the chewy texture didn’t quite work for me, but the salt and chocolate flavours worked.  The whisky chocolate was great; I hate it when things are flavoured and it’s a bit shy but this had a great hit of whisky.  And then it was time to collect our chocolates, pick up a few more (it would be rude not to) and then head home, with a new found respect for chocolate. 

    gold_chocolate Disclosure: This was a free event for a small group of bloggers, but I totally bought chocolate too because it was gooooooood. And we got a free Darth Vader chocolate too.