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    Afternoon tea, Reviews

    A festive trip to The Edgbaston

    My friend’s birthday is two days before Christmas and we seem to have a traditional celebration of afternoon tea; last year we went to Leamington Spa, the year before Stratford-upon-Avon. But the end of this year has been a bit rubbish for both of us so we wanted to stay local, but still enjoy something fantastically indulgent.  I’ve already written about my experience of afternoon tea at The Edgbaston so when they could fit us in, I knew we’d be in for a great afternoon. And The Edgbaston didn’t disappoint!

    The above picture is of the amuse bouche is a suitably festive with Irish whisky and chocolate cream with shortbread and the table was dowsed with smoke that smelled like Christmas.  I’ve been to enough afternoon tea and a few festive ones to know that everyone tries to add an extra sparkle at Christmas but the Edgbaston’s afternoon tea nails it.  The afternoon tea itself had hints of festivity with turkey sandwiches and smoked salmon, snowflakes and mince pies.  It was even better than last time, the desserts are wonderfully delicate and the scones are a delight.

    Edgbaston_winter_afternoon_teaAnd then I may have convinced Beccy we should also enjoy some cocktails, tis the season and all.  These were two cocktails from their festive Christmas menu and I’m not sure if they’re on the menu anymore.  Mine was the short, whisky cocktail with mince pie flavours – and a mince pie garnish. Lovely stuff.  We also had a second cocktail each and I went for my favourite drink at The Edgbaston, the Clover Club 3000.
    Disclosure: We paid for our own afternoon teas and cocktails…I mean really, who needs birthday cake when you can have afternoon tea?!

    Bar reviews, Drinks, Reviews

    Be at One, Birmingham

    bartender_shaking_BW

    Like most of the rest of the planet, I’m quite looking forward to the end of 2016.  It’s not been one of my favourite years, for various reasons, one of which was the great SD card meltdown and computer strop which meant that a bunch of stuff kinda got forgotten about. 

    But I’m in clear up mode before holiday and I stumbled across some photos from when I went to Be At One bar, a London-based bar group which opened in Birmingham earlier in the year.  I went on the preview night where the staff were overly friendly in a sort of try-hard way which brings out my hatred for small talk even more than normal – talk to me about your release from mental health hospital on the bus stranger, I’m fine with that, but bartenders pretending to care how my day has been…nah.  Look, I get it, bartenders are there to make sure you have a good time but talk overly in depth to me about the maturation process of the spirit you’re pouring, complain about something like the weather or whatever, but don’t channel the spirit of Matthew McConaughey with all your “alright alright” over-enthusiasm.  I’ve been in to Be At One since and they do seem to have calmed down a bit, thankfully.

    cocktail_be_at_one

    Hyperactive bartenders aside, Be At One is underground…I mean literally.  It’s underneath Piccadilly Arcade and the entrance is pretty small because it’s basically a set of stairs, so there’s a nod to the speakeasy but not much more, especially given there’s usually a doorman and red rope outside.  Downstairs the bar has a nice vibe which feels like it encourages a party, without feeling like you got to the party too early if you’re there when it’s quiet.  It’s deceptively inviting in some respects, like you think you’ll kill time having a drink before your train arrives and then find yourself dashing for the platform because you’ve been there too long.

    BW_double_drinks_bartender

    Drinks wise the menu has over 150 cocktails, and some non-alcoholic cocktails and a wine list too.  For those who might think that’s cocktail overload, the menu has some handy tips, namely a top ten’s page which has the most popular drinks on there if you’re not fussy and a flavour wheel which lets you pick your poison based on your preferences for sour, bitter, smooth and then your spirit of choice.  It’s not foolproof, but it’s definitely a good start.

    cocktail_wheel

    I was invited down on opening night and I mainly tried out the classics…which was a bit of a risky move on my part because it seems like several chains in Birmingham think sugar syrup is the answer to everything.  Thankfully this didn’t seem to be the case for Be At One.  Sure, my first Aviation could’ve done with a touch more sourness but was a very good effort.  The Sazerac was made with a spritz of absinthe rather than a rinse, but at least this meant no wastage and didn’t seem to affect the drink, and the Daiquiri I tried was spot on.  One of my favourite drinks, the Clover Club, is referenced in the sweet section of the flavour wheel which worried me a bit.  To me, the Clover Club is a fantastic drink, pre-prohibition era, fruity and dry, where the sweetness comes from the raspberry syrup or grenadine but it’s not really sweet.  Thankfully Be At One’s doesn’t fall susceptible to over-sweetness, although the foam head on the drink wasn’t as bountiful as I’d have liked.

    making_drinks_at_bar

    Overall, my couple of experiences of Be At One have been largely positive.  Birmingham’s cocktail renaissance is in full swing and sure, Be At One is another out-of-towner but unlike some of the others it doesn’t feel like style over substance or that it takes itself too seriously.  But it also doesn’t stray too far and seems to stick to what it knows. The only time I asked a bartender to go off-menu he looked panicked, but with a comprehensive drinks list which is a nice mix of classic and contemporary – and creamy, sweet things if that’s your deal too, there should be something to keep most people content.  Be At One is a pretty safe bet.

    smiling_bartender_be_at_one_BWBe At One, Piccadilly Arcade, Birmingham B2 4BJ. http://www.beatone.co.uk/cocktail-bar/birmingham

    Disclosure: I was invited down to the opening and drinks were complimentary, but this hasn’t affected my opinion. And yes, I really did have a conversation on a bus with someone who’d recently come out of a mental health hospital.

    Bar reviews, Reviews

    The Anchor in Digbeth relaunches

    cocktails_jacob_anchor

    Here in Birmingham we have a thing about anchors. It can largely be traced back to Matthew Boulton and the Crown & Anchor Tavern in London, with anchors now gracing Birmingham products worldwide as our hallmarking symbol. But I want to talk about a different pub and a different anchor.

    A few months ago, Julian Rose Gibbs, took over the CAMRA-lauded Anchor pub in Digbeth. Most discerning drinkers of Birmingham will know Julian from the heydays of the Victoria on John Bright St, which he opened back in 2008 as general manager for Bitters n Twisted. During Julian’s stewardship, the Vic went from being a disjointed pub to one of Birmingham’s best, with an eclectic vibe that some confused with ‘hipster’ but appealed to the daytime old man supping ale as much as the style-conscious cocktail drinker.  The Vic blended together good drinks, a great atmosphere and groups of people who you wouldn’t normally expect to see together.  And whilst it feels very much to this writer like the Victoria has lost its captain, its loss is the Anchor’s gain.

    craft_beer_anchor

    The Anchor is one of those pubs Birmingham is lucky to still have. Nestled away in Digbeth, the grade II listed traditional style pub has largely avoided the glitzy renaissance of the city’s drinking culture over the last few years, remaining steadfastly traditional, yet welcoming, and well regarded by real ale drinkers, often noted in the Campaign for Real Ale publications.  It retained a loyal set of regulars and for those of us who infrequently frequented it often had a soft spot for it too. And not just because of the cob sandwiches and Tayto crisps.

    Jules and his team, headed by Jacob Clarke, who many will recognise from the Victoria and The Botanist, have brought a breath of fresh air to the Anchor. The repainted almost Tiffany blue coloured walls compliment the dark wood and stained glass to create somewhere that marries the traditional and modern; something which is echoed in the drinks menu, with real ales sitting alongside craft beer and modest cocktail and wine menus, the latter of which has been has been curated by Ed at Connolly’s Wines.

    gin_selection_anchor

    Talking of drinks, some well known Victoria cocktail classics like the Bombphire and Sherbertini are rightfully back on the menu, the gin list curated by Carl Hawkins aka the GINtleman, and several drinks have been named after friends and ‘various Birmingham bar industry reprobates’. Sure there are some in-jokes and cynics will scoff, but it’s clear that there’s a lot of love here – for the drinks, for the venue and for the drinks scene in the city.

    It would be cliched to say they’re trying to create a place “where everybody knows your name” but whilst they might not remember your name but they will remember your drink.  Those who remember the Vic team of days gone by will remember a dysfunctional family where those who were on the other side were welcomed like visiting relatives. The Anchor isn’t trying to replicate the Victoria circa 2012, that would be impossible, but it is trying to create a proper boozer for the modern age; good drinks, good service and a sense of community, whoever you are and whatever you drink.

    For all the shiny newness that has come in the last few years of the Birmingham bar scene, it’s nice to see one of it’s anchors back; best of luck Jules and your team.

    The Anchor in Digbeth relaunches on Thursday 17th November.  Find it at 308 Bradford St, Birmingham B5 6ET.

    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.

    Masterclasses, Reviews

    Revolution Birmingham’s cocktail masterclass

    enjoy_frappe_blue_cocktail

    I was talking to someone the other day about looking back on old blog posts; one of my earliest posts was on the cocktail masterclass at Revolution Bar on Broad St, so when they mentioned that they’d revamped their and asked me to come along, I thought it would be a great chance to compare and contrast.

    To start off the class we had a Bubblegum Daiquiri which was singularly the most disco cocktail I’ve seen in a while, what with it being bright blue and in a frappe style plastic glass and garnished with flying saucers.  It was pretty sweet, as a lot of flavoured daiquiris tend to be, and whilst not something I’ve overly keen on, the sweet-toothed will no doubt adore.

    mixing_mojitos

    Cocktail masterclasses are those things which really work well if you’re in a group of friends, celebrating someone’s birthday or as a hen/stag do.  As a blogger you tend to get thrown together with a group of people you might or might not know, but thankfully it was a great group of girls and Paul the bartender hosting the masterclass made everyone feel relaxed and made sure we all had fun.

    Now, I used to book in cocktail masterclasses in a previous job and the question I got asked the most was “How much alcohol will we get” which always used to annoy me, because if it’s volumes of alcohol you’re after then go drink cheap spirits in a park.  If you want to get merry whilst having fun and doing an activity, then masterclasses are a great way to go.  But even if you’re not drinking they can still be a lot of fun, and during our masterclass one of the group was a little wary how much alcohol would be flowing so started off with non-alcoholic cocktails, which Revs were pretty chilled about.

    pipette_cocktails

    Each of us got to have a got at making a cocktail, from the well known Cosmopolitan and Mojito (or super-fruit mojito for a non-alcoholic version), through to a Guava Colada.  One of the drinks, the Blank Canvas, seems to take inspiration from the molecular mixology craze that went round a few years back; it’s essentially a Vodka Collins infused with a concoction decided on by the drinker via a pipette into the drink.

    proud_cocktail

    To keep everyone engaged throughout the class there are mini challenges and after everyone has made a drink it’s time to split into teams.  The party games were similar to the last class I did, in that they were joint efforts to make cocktails, but they’d switched them up a bit and added a new one which involved a group effort, balloons and a lot of fun chaos.  They’re all a sort of good natured competition, which has a great atmosphere.

    And then to end it’s the Revolution classic; a vodka line, where shots of flavoured vodka, made from triple-distilled vodka handcrafted in Rev’s own vodka factory, are lined up and tipped, domino style, into lemonade.  It’s one of those spectacles that looks visually brilliant and is a fun way to end.

    vodka_bombs

    We finished up with something to soak up the alcohol.  It’s been a while since I last ate at Revs, mainly because it’s a menu of burgers, pizza and sandwiches which is decent enough, but not really enough to make me want to wander out to the end of Broad St for it.  That said, they do a 50% off deal on Mondays which is something to remember next time I go for an impromptu Monday night cinema trip.

    revolutions_food

    http://www.revolution-bars.co.uk/cocktail-masterclass/

    Disclosure: I was invited to the masterclass free complimentary, but given it was a masterclass I think we mainly did all the hard work anyway right?

    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…