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    Bar reviews, Reviews

    Haig Club whisky with a view at The Cube

    On the few brief glimpses of summer we get in Birmingham it’s worth either being outside in the sunshine, or my preferred option somewhere with air conditioning and a good view.  And way up high on level 25 of The Cube to check out the new Haig Club Bar isn’t too shabby a way to spend an evening.

    Haig Club, for those not in the know, is a light grain whisky launched by footballer David Beckham and produced by the titan spirits company Diageo.  It comes in a distinctive blue bottle that looks more like an oversized aftershave than whisky, but certainly makes for pretty pictures.  I once heard someone describe a dram as a ‘Breakfast Whisky’ and if I were looking for a way to describe Haig Club, this may well be it.  It’s incredibly light, easy-drinking but lacks the oomph associated with whisky, which will either disappoint drinkers or have the potential to turn them on to a spirit they thought they didn’t like.  Then again, sometimes it’s nice to have something a bit more temperate in the sunshine.

    The bar itself is nestled away in one of the corners of the top floor of the Cube.  It’s away from the bustle of main bar up there, but still has the wow-factor with the impressive views of the city whilst maintaining a sense of exclusivity.  If everyone who goes doesn’t take a photo like the one above of the cityscape in the background I’d be highly suspicious.  The shelves of Haig Club whisky lined up behind the bar also makes an impressive feature wall.


    Head barman Jack Spencer, previously of Bourne & Co and Bank, has taken helm of the bar itself and created a series of cocktails, several of which are based on fairly classic drinks, including the Ginger Julep and Clubman Apple Mule, as well as a few of his own including Berry Beauty and Pears in Paradise – and maybe a few other sneaky specials.  With such a soft spirit it going to be hard not to overpower it or create something sickly sweet and Jack manages to do a fine job of creating something that works.

    There’s also a food menu, which has been designed to highlight the flavours of the Haig Club whisky, apparently.  I’m not overly convinced by this, but it’s a decent array of tapas-style bar menu and there’s a good selection, although it seems to be fairly meat heavy, though there were some veggie options.  Highlights for me included the prawns and the chorizo and I really wanted to like the black pudding bon-bons, because hello black pudding, but I think they needed to be smaller.  I’m not overly sold on the food, it’s okay, but I don’t think it’s the main draw of the place; I think they’re more about having some snacks whilst checking out the view and having a cocktail or two.

    I don’t doubt that Birmingham is ready for a whisky bar, and I think it’s a brave move to focus one around a product which is incredibly smooth but lacks the depth that most people might associate with the spirit.  Then again with the bright lights, city lights twinkling below, perhaps it is more about starting the night than ending it, and if so a lighter-tasting whisky might be the way to go.

    Haig Club Bar, Level 25, The Cube, 196 Wharfside St, Birmingham B1 1RN

    Disclaimer: I was invited to check out the bar at a preview night where food and drinks were provided complimentary, but as ever my opinions remain my own. Also, totally stuck a reference to 50 Cent in there because I’m watching Power.

    Drinks

    Keeping warm with Highland Park on Winter Solstice

    Last night I went on a magical tour of south Birmingham, past some pretty impressive suburban Christmas lights, getting off the bus to realise that winter has been incredibly late to the party but seems to be on its way.  And just in time for Winter Solstice too.

    With all the stressing about going to the other side of the world in a few days where it’s summer, I’d completely forgotten Winter Solstice was today but the nice people at Highland Park whisky reminded me. I’m not going to bore you with too much but the Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year for us in the Northern hemisphere which means we get the least amount of sunshine.  And of course it’s a big celebration for lots of different cultures throughout history, but the people of the Orkney Island in Scotland get a big kick out of it largely due to their Neolithic archaeology, which they’re well known for.  Particularly notable are the Runic inscriptions, a bit like Viking graffiti, on the inner walls of the Maeshowe – a Neolithic chambered cairn, which does some pretty cool things with the angle of the sunshine around the Winter Solstice. Also, Viking graffiti!

    And with Winter Solstice being a significant time of year in the Nordic calendar and all that Viking history, you know the people of Orkney have a good reason to celebrate.  And they also make Highland Park whisky, which means when it’s bloody cold outside and they’re celebrating, they’ve got something to toast with.  The kind folk at Highland Park sent me a hip-flask of their Highland Park 12 Year Old whisky and a lovely snuggly scarf to keep me warm, so I can join in the fun too.  The Highland Park 12 Year Old is a lovely dram; to me it’s smooth, with honey sweetness, a touch of fruit and a hint of sweet peaty smoke, but not overkill.  I’ve been sipping it as I write this and I don’t think it’s going to last long, although I’m going to try and save some for later.

    Because I’ve been coughing for weeks, Hot Toddys are pretty much my favourite thing at the moment and I need to find a way to mix them up. I get sent a lot of recipes and a lot of them, particularly cocktail ones, make me wonder if anyone has any clue about balance.  But this one I think sounds alright, mainly because the Angostura bitters are going to balance out the sweetness from the honey, which itself compliments the Highland Park.  Rooibos tea you can get in most supermarkets, you can probably switch it out for another type of tea but given it’s said to boost the immune system it makes this drink pretty much medicinal, right?

    Highland Park Hot Toddy

    Firstly, heat your tea cup or mug, then add:

    • 50ml Highland Park 12 Year Old whisky
    • 1tsp honey
    • 130ml Rooibos Tea (tbh I just top up the glass)
    • Add a dash of Angostura bitters or aromatic bitters

    Give it a good stir and garnish with some lemon peel

    …And whilst you’re at the kettle, can you make me one too?

    Disclosure: Complimentary samples, not paid to say anything let alone positive…now can I go back to drinking whisky on a school night, please? It’s research.

    Breakfast and brunch, Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Sunday Brunch at The Victoria

    Whilst the rest of you were tucking into chocolate for breakfast on Easter Sunday, I headed off to The Victoria on John Bright Street for their inaugural Sunday Brunch.

    Not the most obvious place for brunch, I’ll give you that, but the team at The Victoria decided to try something a little different for the Bank Holiday.  And being a whisky bar and a long weekend, it seemed only fitting to go for something which married the two.  Now whilst I’m not unfamiliar with the concept of ‘breakfast whisky’ I did wonder how this might work as, even for me, whisky is a bit much first thing.  But work it did, and surprisingly well.

    Pancakes bacon and poached eggs on rosti copy

    Initially, the offering looked like a pretty standard range of breakfast / brunch dishes, including American-style pancakes, eggs Benedict and a breakfast sandwich.  But The Victoria’s chef had put his own whisky-infused twist on them with Jack Daniels syrup for the pancakes, a whiskey hollandaise for the eggs and spicy BBQ beans for the sides.

    The overall experience was a nice bourbon flavour without being too overpowering.  The Eggs Tennessee were a nice twist on Eggs Benedict, with two poached eggs on a potato rosti.  The eggs were well cooked and the whiskey hollandaise had a lovely balance of richness from the egg and butter with the whiskey flavour cutting through.

    A special mention needs to go to the pancakes which were probably some of the best I’ve tried in the city; light and fluffy with a slightly crisp outside, they were delicious and it’s a wonder the Vic doesn’t do them more often.  The JD syrup was a nice alternative to maple or golden syrup but they would have been great with either of these too.

    eggs tennessee copy

    Of course for those who wanted something a little more celebratory, they were also doing a beef jerky infused Jack Daniels Bloody Mary.  Though I’m not enough of a fan of tomato juice to try more than a sip, the spice mix and bourbon would’ve been enough to clear the cobwebs of any hangover, I’m sure.  More to my taste was the Citrus Cooler, which was made of muddled citrus fruit and sugar syrup topped with soda, for a lovely refreshing drink with just the right amount of tartness to it.

    Whilst I was initially a little sceptical of brunch at The Victoria, each of the dishes I tried exceeded my expectations.  The whiskey theme was interesting and did bring something new, but what struck me most was that for a venue I don’t necessarily associate with daytime they really pulled off a relaxed but tasty brunch.

    After the success of the first brunch at The Victoria, they will be bringing it back as a regular (standard non-whiskey) Sunday Brunch on the last Sunday of the month – which means your next chance to give the pancakes a try is on Sunday 26 April.  There are also rumours they might do them for the Bank Holiday weekend, but probably worth keeping an eye out for more info on this.

    http://www.thevictoriabirmingham.co.uk/

    pancakes row of breakfast copy

    Disclosure: I was invited as a guest of The Victoria to try their Sunday Brunch, which meant I had to get up early on a Sunday which is one of my least favourite things so that tells you how good those pancakes were.  Whilst the food was complimentary it didn’t mean I was required to be and as usual all reviews remain honest and my own.

    Events, News

    Burns Night 2015 in Birmingham-ish

    Any excuse to drink whisky and stay out late on a school night…it must be Burn’s Night!  There are a few celebrations happening in and around Birmingham, so I’ve collected together ones I’ve stumbled across *insert joke about drinking too much whisky here*

    Burns Night Whisky & Poetry at the Library

    Experts from Birmingham Whisky Club will guide you through a tasting of six drams of whisky, poetry will be presented by Birmingham Poet Laureate, Adrian Blackledge, and there will be a dinner of haggis, neeps and tatties (a vegetarian option is available).  More details.

    Burns Night at Moor Hall

    If you’re north of the city and looking to celebrate Burns Night early, then Moor Hall hotel in Sutton Coldfield are doing a four course dinner and entertainment on Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th January.  Dress is lounge suit or kilt (it would be rude not to) and the evenings will include a traditional piper to escort the haggis and dancing to an authentic ceilidh band.  Click here to book via email.

    Burns Night at The Church

    Celebrating Burns Night with a Soul Food Project twist, The Church will be serving three courses with live music, all in their unique style.  Tickets are £15 a head for three courses with sharing plates and are available behind the bar or online from here.

    Burns Night fundraiser for Solihull MS

    Not too much details on this, other than a Facebook page but it’s for a good cause so I thought it was worth including.  The event, which takes place at the Knowle Royal British Legion, will serve up haggis, neaps and tatties as well as entertainment in the form of a piper, mini quiz and games.  More details are available at their Facebook event page.

    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.

    Bar reviews

    The Victoria’s new cocktail menu

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    In my mind it was The Victoria who brought cocktails out of the bars and into the pubs of Birmingham and I love them for it.  So when I heard their new menu was taking a new direction, I was a bit worried.  But having worked his magic over at Island Bar, the Vic’s new general manager Ed Shawcross has gotten his hands dirty and stirred things up creating a new menu which combines seasonal ingredients with some of the Vic’s best kept secrets.   To celebrate they held a showcase for some of their most loyal customers – and I managed to snag an invite too!

    The Victoria’s new menu has four distinct sections; seasonal cocktails, Victoria classics, Boilermakers and autumnal whiskies, as well as information on their wine lists (that last bit you’ll have to check out yourself, I’m all about the cocktails in this post).  They’ve always been good at cocktails, we’ve all come to expect that, but this new menu is also bringing out two things the Vic has been doing well but not shouting about as much – whisky and beer.  The new cocktails have also become a little more daring, using seasonal ingredients and twisting up classics and well-known favourites.  There’s no Strawberry Woo Woos in this mix, thankfully.

    It’s the Vic’s seasonal cocktail section takes well-known and loved drinks and gives them a bit of a twist.  The Autumn Mary is, as the name suggests, an autumnal twist on a Bloody Mary with wild mushroom syrup, watercress, tomato and and spices.  One of the drinks being sampled that evening, the Espresso Martini #2, uses Jim Beam honey bourbon shaken with fresh espresso, chestnut syrup and topped with wheat beer.  I tried the Espresso Martini #2, which had the same coffee aroma as the standard variety, but the wheat beer was an unusual combination, although sadly I missed the creamy sweetness of the original.  I loved another one of the samples going round though, the Quince Punch was fruity and refreshing!

    DSC_0613Another stall hosted a selection of their Boilermakers – a traditional British drink which doesn’t get nearly the credit it deserves.  It’s basically whisky and beer, but whether you have them combined or sip them alternately, it’s up to you.  Pairing whiskies with complementary beers, there were knowledgable bar staff on hand to explain why they were a perfect match.

    During the evening they were also showcasing their Christmas buffet menu, with turkey & stuffing wraps, smoked salmon & spinach roulade, roasted squash & chestnut roast, thyme & rosemary roast potatoes and brie, red onion & cranberry tartlets…and more!  The smoked salmon roulade was lovely and used fish fresh from the Birmingham indoor market, and unusually the vegetarian option of squash & chestnut roast got lots of comments from non-veggies.  Another particularly favourite, was the brie, red onion and cranberry tartlets which were creamy and sweet – just delightful!

    I liked the previous incarnation of The Victoria’s cocktail menu, but it was nice to see it trying something new.  Although I wasn’t a fan of all of the twists on classics, it was good to see them step up and challenge their customers expectations, something which I think the city really needs.  The boilermakers are a great way to combine two of the things the Vic does well but doesn’t get nearly enough credit for – whisky and beer.  For years, the Vic has been known as a place that does great cocktails, but it’s nice to see it stepping up and bringing something a bit different to the city.  Kudos Ed and the rest of the team at the Vic.

    http://www.thevictoriabirmingham.co.uk/

    viccocktailcollege_mini

    Disclosure: I was invited down to the cocktail and Christmas menu and given complimentary samples.  I wasn’t required to say anything nice.  The photos used in this blogpost are my own, please don’t use them without permission.

    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.

    DSC_2453

    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.

    http://www.theedgbaston.co.uk/