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    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.

    Events, News

    Whisky Birmingham Festival 2015 on sale

    Pour me a drop of the good stuff because the fantastic Whisky Birmingham festival is returning in March – bigger and better than last year!

    Whisky Birmingham festival - Exhibitor pours a glass for a visiting coupleTaking place on Saturday 7 March at The Bond in Digbeth, Whisky Birmingham already has some big names in the whisky world confirmed, including Laphroaig, Buffalo Trace and Chivas Regal set to attend.  It’s already the largest whisky festival in the country outside of London, in part due to  doubling in size last year, and with over 150 whiskies due to be available to try this year it’s set to be even bigger and better.  As well as the traditional Scotch, the  festival will also play host to whisky from around the world, including Penderyn from Wales, and Paul John, distilled in India.

    There’ll also be the return of the whisky-themed masterclasses – I heard great things about them last year which paired whisky with chocolate, cigars and cheese (I was busy pairing whisky with whisky to attend one of those sessions).  More details about this year’s masterclasses will arrive soon.

    There are two ways to get in; general admission or VIP tickets.  General admission (£30 plus booking) will get you whisky, a festival glass and a ‘dream dram’ token, whereas the VIP ticket (£70 plus booking) will get you all of the former plus entry an hour earlier to the exhibition halls, a brand masterclass and an extra ‘dream dram’ token.

    Tickets are available from http://www.whiskybirmingham.co.uk/ and if it’s anything like the last few years it’s well worth getting your ticket early because they have sold out.

    Events

    A food festival for Bearwood

    Not content with just being a fantastic food co-op, the lovely people behind Bearwood Pantry have set up the area’s first food festival, due to take place on Saturday 25th October.

    The festival will host a number of stallholders (see below), including the Bearwood Pantry themselves, but it’s the communal table, Swap Shop and Bearwood Recipe Book that makes this a real community affair.  Visitors with surplus fruit, veg and homemade goodies are asked to bring them along for the ‘Swap Shop’ and exchange them for other treats – it might be time to defrost those blackberries!  Attendees are also being asked for any recipes they’d like to see included in the Bearwood Recipe Book, which sounds like a great idea and I can’t wait to see that in print.

    The Food Festival is taking place at Bearwood Baptist Church Hall, Rawling Road, B66 4HA, from 11.00am until 4pm on Saturday 25th October 2014.  But if you can’t make it, the Pantry sets up at Thimblemill Library in Smethwick every Thursday between 7 and 8.30pm.

    Stallholders on the Saturday 25th October include…

    • Barwood Pantry, a food co-op with handmade bread, local organic meat, vegetables, fruit, dairy produce, and dried goods
    • Antonios Food Emporio’s Mediterranean delicatessen specialities
    • Barek Oscarek serving traditional Polish sausages, dumplings, stews & potato cakes
    • Bouchon Wines, importers of Burgundy wines and Crémant sparkling wines
    • Charlie’s Mom’s Chocolate Factory with her legendary chocolates and fudge
    • Chocolate Dreams with a molten Belgian chocolate fountain
    • Have Some Cake, hard to resist French macarons and vegan cakes
    • Lil’s Parlour with their range of ‘ultimate brownies’
    • Maidens Fayre with a tasty range of chutneys and pickles
    • Maison Mayci baking artisan bread and pastries
    • Pimpernel’s Delights, Continental products and creperie
    • Veg Out cafe with vegan/vegetarian burgers and falafels
    • Plus small local producers making homemade savoury pies, jams and preserves, Mexican sweet breads and authentic vegetarian Indian food.

    For more info, visit www.bearwoodpantry.com