Beer Gurus at The Botanist

Birmingham Favourites were guests of The Botanist

I attended an excellent beer tasting at The Botanist on Temple Hill, Birmingham, on the evening of the 8th February, hosted by Kieran Hartley, one of the two officially-titled Beer Gurus for the New World Trading Group which numbers this bar amongst its stable. There were 13 other participants drawn from amongst the area’s food and drink bloggers and some very interesting PR people, all intrigued by what might be on offer.

Kieran began with a simple but very comprehensive overview and explanation of the brewing process and types of beer, then gave a brief rundown of what he would be offering us to try. Everyone was impressed by his light and friendly presentation which in no way masked his comprehensive knowledge of the subject.

First up was a Belgian style wheat beer from the Camden Brewing Company, Gentleman’s Wit, which had all the characteristics you would expect of the type – slight cloudiness, a strong taste of orange peel and coriander, nice and fresh. One could imagine it as a splendid accompaniment to a lunch of cheese and bread, as happens in Belgium.

By way of contrast, we then tried a sample of Erdinger Weissbier, the German version of wheat beer, less citrusy and more forthright perhaps. This was a little reminder for me of what I hope are joys to come as I prepare for one of my regular visits to Munich where drinking always starts with Weissbier and graduates to the stronger, heavier duty dark Dunkelbiers. In keeping with the first sample whereby a brewery makes a beer typical of another country, we then tried Chicago-based Goose Island Brewery’s Honkers Ale which is their idea of an English Ale. It was damned good and very convincing. Talk amongst us included the use of hops and we wondered if, in order to get that “English” taste, the brewery would have used more genuine English hops in the brew.

The Crafty Dan Brewery (where do they get their names, I sometimes wonder) offering was 13 Guns, their idea of an American IPA which again had many of the characteristics of the real thing. This was definitely becoming an intriguing experience which had us thinking and talking not only about brewing but international marketing, inspiration for brews, keeping beer fresh when it travels, what makes a good commercial brew, and when does a so-called “craft” beer becomes a normal mass-produced one. And I thought I was only there to taste the beer…………….

Other samples consumed included a delightful Vedett IPA from the Duvel Brewery in Belgium, a Guiness Dublin Porter which was strong tasting, chocolatey with caramel and toffee undertones, Wild Beer’s Millionaire “Salted Caramel and Chocolate and Milk Stout” which was a real WOW, and we finished with another German Weissbier, this time from the Schneider Braueri.

Well, what can one say? It was an evening of education, enjoyment, great company, and enlightenment from a master. Thanks to Frankie and all who organised the event and especially to Kieran and NWTC staff. This was my first visit to The Botanist, never having been sure about a place which is in a part of town which I might call the “Afterwork Braying Suits Run” but there was a really pleasant vibe about the place and a good smell from the food being served so, one of these days, I shall return and try the cooking as well.

By Big Enn who can be contacted on @NcherryNorman #KnifeandFork



Cocktails with Nick : Espresso Martini

Good evening Birmingham.

What we are about to discuss is an important recipe. This is the secret drink that keeps bartenders wired and energized on even the toughest days.

You need the following equipment:

  • A martini glass
  • A cocktail shaker
  • An Espresso maker


  • Good vodka
  • Espresso coffee

That's all.

Firstly, you need espresso coffee.  Make it in a proper espresso maker and allow it to cool.  Accept no substitute.  If you use Nescafé, we can't be friends.

Take the shaker and add five large chunks of ice.  Add 60ml of vodka and the same amount of coffee.  Shake well until condensation appears on the outside of the shaker.

Strain it into the martini glass and serve.

One sip is like doing the ice bucket challenge. But some nights, it is exactly what you need.  Trust me on this.

Words & photos by chef Nick Gilmartin who can be contacted on @Nick1975 or find out more here. #ChefsTable


Cocktails with Nick: Mojito

Hello  Brummies, is it five o'clock yet?

Fresh out of Havana comes one of my all-time favourites.  The Mojito has a unique flavour, sweet and fresh, yet deep and mellow at the same time.  It is rum based, and everyone has their favourite.  I like Morgan's Spiced Rum, as it has a kick, and the spices add layers to the flavour.

So you start with a nice thick based glass.  You also need a muddler stick.  If you don't have one, just use the end of a rolling pin.  And a bar spoon.  Right, that's the kit.

For the ingredients you need:

  • Rum.  I recommend Appleton’s, Havana Club or Morgan's Spiced.  Bacardi, at a stretch.
  • Sticky brown sugar, nice and dark.
  • Fresh mint, nice big leaves
  • Fresh limes
  • Ice for crushing
  • A mixer, such as 7up or sugar syrup

Take a nice, wide, thick-based glass and, using the bar spoon, add a spoonful of brown sugar.  The darker and stickier, the better.  Add four or five large mint leaves. Carefully crush the mint into the sugar, this releases the flavour.  Cut a lime into wedges and add three to the glass.  Now crush them in too.

Add the rum, and we are talking 50ml as a bare minimum.  Make it 70ml, what the hell.  And stir well.

Take some ice cubes and crush them into tiny little pieces.  Pour them into the glass.  Decorate the edge of the glass with a wedge of lime placed over the ice and a few mint leaves arranged in a fan shape around the edge.

Enjoy, amigos. Hasta Manana

Words & photos by chef Nick Gilmartin who can be contacted on @Nick1975 or find out more here. #ChefsTable


Cocktails with Nick: Old Fashioned

Take off your shoes, kick back and open the cocktail cabinet.

The Old Fashioned is exactly as its name suggests. It is also, in my opinion, a very masculine cocktail. It was the cocktail Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra would have waiting for them on the bar after a night playing at the Dunes hotel.

You need:

  • Your favourite brand of Whiskey
  • Angostura Bitters
  • Sugar (cube form is recommended)
  • Mixer (optional)
  • Big chunky ice
  • Garnish


  • One sturdy Whiskey glass
  • A bar spoon.

Take the sturdy glass and place the sugar in the base.

Drip five drops of Angostura Bitters on to the sugar.  Use your bar spoon to crush it down and mix it up.

Add a good measure of whiskey. Anything less than 50ml is just cheating yourself. Give it a stir. If it too strong, add a little mixer. Be it, tonic, lemonade or ginger ale. Never be embarrassed of a little mixer. This is your drink, for you to enjoy.

Add big chunky pieces of ice.  Anything small just melts away and dilutes your drink.  Cut a slice of orange for garnish, and a cherry if you like, and serve.

Enjoy your weekend, Birmingham.

Words & photos by chef Nick Gilmartin who can be contacted on @Nick1975 or find out more here. #ChefsTable


Cocktails with Nick: Cosmopolitan

Hello you lovely Brummie people,

Let's get this show on the road shall we?  Clear some space, grab some clean glasses, because it is Cosmopolitan time. This drink of choice dates back to the days when Dorothy Parker and her cohorts would write a short column for Vanity Fair in the morning and then retire to the bar for lunch, and get kicked out about three in the morning.  In more recent years it became popular with Candice Bushell's alter ego, Carrie Bradshaw, who brought it to the attention of a new generation.


  • Vodka  (Smirnoff is fine, but have you tried Chase Vodka from Hereford?)
  • Triple Sec  (A typical brand is Cointreau but you can also use Grand Marnier for a deeper, richer flavour)
  • Cranberry Juice
  • One fresh lime
  • One fresh orange

Equipment and glassware

  • One two-part Boston shaker
  • One strainer
  • One knife and green chopping board
  • Crushed ice
  • Regular ice
  • and one cigarette lighter (I will explain in a minute)

Right, let's do this thing.

  1.  Take one clean martini glass and place it on a dry surface. Crush some ice and fill the glass with it, and leave it to cool.
  2. Take one lime and cut it lengthways in half. From one half cut a wedge and cut an indent into it so it will hold on to the side of the glass.
  3. Cut a thin slice of orange zest. That's all you need of it, put it back in the fridge.
  4. Fill the glass half of the Boston Shaker with ice.
  5. Take one spirit measure, add 35ml of vodka, 15ml of Triple Sec and  25ml of Cranberry juice to the shaker.
  6. Grab the half of lime and squeeze it into the shaker, using a juicer, or in your hand if you want to look all strong and masterful.
  7. Place the metal half of the shaker over the top and push it down hard and then place one hand on the top of the shaker and half on the bottom. Shake it like a pro, go on!
  8. Remove the crushed ice from the glass and place the lime wedge on the side. Place the shaker on the work top with the metal half at the bottom and the glass half at the top. Using the strainer to hold back the ice, pour the drink into the glass.

Now the final touch.

Take the orange zest and give it a quick wave under a flame from the cigarette lighter. Hold the flame over the glass and squeeze the oils from the orange over the drink. They will ignite as they hit the flame. It is perfectly safe [so he says – the Ed] and adds a bit of theatre to the drink.

To see this done properly (It is hard when you are holding the camera yourself) click this link here

And serve to the person of your choice, with one eyebrow slightly raised.

Next we are doing Don Draper's favourite cocktail, the Old Fashioned.

Words & photos by chef Nick Gilmartin who can be contacted on @Nick1975 or find out more here. #ChefsTable


Cocktails with Nick

Bonjour Brummies I am hanging up the apron for the month, and switching the cookers off. It is time for me to dig out my best shirt, pants and bow tie.  In the back bedroom there is a case of cocktail kit and some very dusty bottles. I've scrubbed them all down to present Nick's guide to running a bar for a party.

First of all, you need a bar. But really all you need is a clothed table, and possibly a shelf behind, depending on what you have got. You need a bucket of ice, glassware, and a few tools of the trade.  Oh, and booze.  Lots and lots of boozy booze and mixers too.

Let's start with cocktail shakers. They normally come in two types.  First, the three-part shaker, which is mostly old school and there is the two-part shaker, that requires at least one separate strainer. To use a three-part shaker, stick the cap on the top half, add ice to the base, and add the top half.  Now to shake a cocktail, place one hand firmly on the top, and one hand on the base, and shake firmly into the shoulder.  Not over it.  And never hold the shaker by the sides, it will fly open and cause a godawful mess.  I have seen this happen at competition level.  After the one shake, the shaker will now be nice and cold, covered in condensation, and ready to go.

So what kind of kit does a bar need?  In the photo you will see some examples.  Tongs for ice and lemon, bar spoons for stirring and adding ingredients such as sugar. Notice how the stems spiral?  That isn't just funky design - they are used to liquors to trickle down when you are making layered cocktails such as the B-52.  The flat-headed wooden thing is a muddler, used for making Mojitos or muddled drinks where you squish down soft fruit, limes or mint.

The little grater is a zester, this is used to extract the lemon zest from the skin.  It is also used for spices such as nutmeg that get added to some milky cocktails.  The fruit knife is always small, preferably very sharp.  Blunt ones just cause more accidents as they can slip easily.

Next to it is a bar zester, another handy bit of kit.  When someone asks for a Martini with a twist, they mean a strip of lemon zest that you cut with the side of the zester, very carefully.  Then they place it in the Martini glass and send it over to Mr Bond's table.

On the far right is a small strainer, to prevent bits of pulp falling from the shaker into your drink.  The one pictured is not, in fact, a very good example.  You really need a strainer like a small sieve.

At the bottom is one of the most important pieces of kit.  To a barman or waiter, this is the most important piece of kit.  The waiter's friend.  The little knife at the front is for cutting through foil on bottles, the lever at the other end is for latching on to bottle edges and the corkscrew drills into the soft cork.  Pull back against the anchored lever and the cork will come out nice and smoothly.  And you look much cooler.  The last thing you need are bar towels or small lint-free towels.

You don't need all this kit, all the time, but it helps, trust me.


Big fruity cocktails should come in nice big sturdy glasses that hold out well and smaller, tall drinks come in half pint glasses. Built drinks, such as Mojitos or a White Russian come in shallow, wide, and thick based glasses usually used for whisky.  They are wide so you get to appreciate the vapours of the whisky.

The triangular glass near the back is, of course, the Martini glass, immortalised by one Mr J Bond.  Of course it was around a long time before he appeared on screen.

Next to it is a slightly more rounded wide cup.  This is a coupe, used mainly for Margaritas.  It is no coincidence that they always seem to be plastic.

On the far right is a latte glass.  Now an important safety tip is that warm drinks such as Irish coffee or mulled wine should only be served in these glasses.  They have a handle and are made from very thick glass that does not shatter when exposed to sudden heat.

For every cold drink, you need ice.  Either nice big pieces or well and truly crushed.  For that, you will need an ice crusher.  If you do not possess one, use a blender or wrap your ice in a clean towel and beat it with a rolling-pin.  It never fails.

As well as spirits and liquors, you'll stock juices, mixers and other herbs, such as cloves and mint.  For mixers, go for things like coke, ginger ale or lemonade.  For juices, orange is always the best bet. Pineapple is very sweet, but when shaken, it gives a lovely frothy head to a drink.  Grapefruit is very bitter but it gives a hell of a kick. Tomato is best served with just spirits on its own.

For fruit, you don't need the full fruit salad, Del-boy style, just cut a lemon or lime wedge or a full slice of orange.  Less is more. The photo also shows an egg and these are used raw, although I don't recommend it. Egg yolks atop vodka and tomato makes a hell of a hangover cure (apparently).

The last thing you need is a few bar decorations. A good bar ought to have a personal touch, be it a few ornaments, flags or small games. Put a full orange in a pint glass of water. Ask people to balance a coin on top of the orange, to see if they can.  You will soon pay off your mortgage.

So this is a good start in what a bar needs. Not all of them, not all the time, it depends on what kind of party you are planning. Next week we get into the serious business of mixing the cocktails. Have your spare liver standing by.

Words & photos by chef Nick Gilmartin who can be contacted on @Nick1975 or find out more here. #ChefsTable


Recipe: Sangria

If there is any one drink I could sip until the sun sets it is Sangria.  It is very easy to drink and has been the culprit of many a lost afternoon.  And most of the evening.

Basically it is thick red wine and orange juice.  I asked a Spanish bartender friend which oranges are best to use for Sangria.  Seville oranges maybe?  He just rolled his eyes at me and produced a bottle of orange Fanta.

Right, ok, then..

So, we need the following:

  • One deep punch bowl and cling film to cover.
  • White Spirit, such as Gin or Tequila  100 ml
  • 500 ml of thick Spanish Red.  Rioja or similar.
  • 500 ml of Orange Fanta
  • The juice of two Seville oranges. (I don't care what anybody says)
  • One more orange, sliced
  • One lemon, cut into wedges
  • Two tablespoons of brown sugar

Add all of the above to the punch bowl, an stir in.  Cover with cling film and leave to sit in a fridge for an hour.  Then serve it up when your Paella is ready.

Chin, chin is Spanish for Cheers.

Apparently. Take a look at all the Spanish recipes here.

Words & photos by chef Nick Gilmartin who can be contacted on @Nick1975 or find out more here.



Recipe: Classic Margarita

The classic Margarita is a worldwide favourite.  It reminds many people of holidays, good nights out and wild parties.

I learned how to make this properly while advising a lecturer at the Dublin Institute of Technology.  Now in Dublin, no one is bashful when it comes to making cocktails at 10.00 am.  It was all in the name of study.  By half ten the room was spinning and I still had to open up my bar.

You need the following: 

  • One large coupe glass or martini glass at a stretch
  • One blender or smoothie maker or a cocktail shaker  
  • 50 ml good quality Tequila
  • 25 ml Triple sec, such as Cointreau, Grand Marnier or similar.
  • One lemon and one lime
  • Still water or tap water.
  • 50 grams of sugar
  • Ice 

First of all, you need your sour mix.  You can make this from fresh, as you go, or if you are having a party, make it in bulk.  For one cocktail.

Take a microwave proof jug, that holds about a pint.  Fill half a  tea cup of water and pour into the jug. Heat for two minutes and then add the juice of a lemon and two tablespoons of sugar. Place in a fridge or freezer to cool.

While you are waiting, cut the lime in half.  Now cut a thin slice (or wheel, as we called it) off the lime.  Cut a slit halfway into it, so that it will clip to the side of the glass.  With the remaining piece, cut another slit and run it around the rim of the glass. 

Take a side plate and fill it with a fifty/fifty mix of salt and sugar.  Never use just salt, this is what always makes people sick, and gave tequila cocktails such a bad reputation, going back years.

Now, when your sour mix is cool add 60 ml to the cocktail shaker or blender.  Add 50 ml of Tequila and 25 ml of Triple Sec.  Add half a tea cup of ice.  Blend well or shake well and pour into the glass.  Add the lime slice to the side of the glass and serve.

Please enjoy more responsibly than I ever did.

Words & photos by chef Nick Gilmartin who can be contacted on @Nick1975 or find out more here.


Recipe: Winter Cocktails


A long time ago, on an island not far away, I worked as a barman for a luxury hotel.  This was before I became a chef.  Dublin was an amazing place to learn the bar trade, particularly cocktails. One of my contemporaries, Peter O'Connor, became a consultant on the hit US show, Bar Rescue.

Throughout the depths of winter, people requested warming drinks rather than alcohol, and we felt we were losing money as a result.  So we developed our own warm cocktail menu.  Here are a few for you to try at home or for parties.

For glassware I only recommend thick glass mugs, wine glasses break too easily.

Hot Whiskey

An old Irish classic.  You need:

  • One shot of Irish whiskey, I like Jamesons, Peter always preferred Bushmills
  • One wedge of lemon
  • Three cloves
  • Honey or brown sugar
  • Piping hot water

Add one measure of whiskey to the glass mug (that's 35.5 ml, not 25.  You are drinking the Irish way now!) Add the sugar or honey and stir to a paste.  Top up with hot water.  Push three cloves into the zest of the lemon wedge and place into the drink.  And serve.  It will clear up any cold.

Note:  If you are not a whiskey fan, try it with port instead.

Irish Coffee

A classic drink, invented by Joe Sheriden, who was, coincidentally, an airport chef at Foynes flying boat base.

  • One shot of Whiskey
  • Black coffee, preferably expresso
  • Sugar
  • Double cream

A lovely drink, but so easy to get wrong.  The secret is to only use fresh cream of a certain thickness.  Start by adding one shot of whiskey and sugar to the bottom.  Stir, and add coffee until the mug is two thirds full.  Now the clever bit.  Take a cool, clean teaspoon and place the tip against the inside of the glass just above the coffee  Make sure the hollow of the spoon is facing upwards.  Now slowly and carefully add the cream to the spoon.  Allow it to 'pool up' in the spoon and then over flow into the coffee gently.  This way it should float.  Decorate with a little shaved chocolate or coffee beans. 

Hot Orange

Here is a simple one:

  • One shot of Cointreau, Grand Marnier or Triple Sec
  • Hot water
  • Slice of Orange
  • Cloves and Sugar

Add one measure of Cointreau to a glass mug, one teaspoon of white sugar, and hot water.  Stir well.  Add one full slice; or wheel, as us bar types like to call it.  Press four cloves in a cross shape into the zest of the orange.  Drop it into the drink and serve.

Irish Milk Punch

Now here is a family favourite.  It is good for getting the kids to sleep on Christmas Eve, I am told.

For one person, you need a sauce pan and the following:

  • 200 ml full fat milk
  • 50 ml Baileys
  • 20 ml Irish Whiskey
  • One teaspoon of brown sugar
  • Cinnamon and grated nutmeg

Heat the milk slowly in a pan, until it is simmering.  Add the Baileys and Whiskey.  Stir, and add the brown sugar.  Pour it carefully into a glass mug.  Add a cinnamon stick to stir and grate  a little nutmeg on top, and serve.  It is always a favourite with the ladies. [Is this true? - the Ed]

Hot Grog

An old dark rum drink back from the days of Sir John Mills standing on the bridge of a destroyer in the arctic winter.

  • One measure of dark rum, or I prefer Captain Morgan's spiced
  • Hot water and sugar
  • Juice of half a lime.
  • Two pieces of lime quarters
  • One small piece of ginger

But, my best, and by far most popular drink was always Mulled Wine, made to my own specifications which you can find here.

By chef Nick Gilmartin who can be contacted on @Nick1975 or find out more here. 

Cocktail Maker & Shaker: Antony, Rose Villa Tavern


By Rickie J, Editor.

In the first of a series, I’ve tracked down Antony, who creates the potions for the old style boozer-esque, Rose Villa Tavern in JQ.

What or who got you into cocktails?

I started in the industry as a bar back, seeing the bartenders creating these mystical concoctions and the guests enjoying them and sharing special moments over these drinks really amazed me. My managers at the time Carl Finn and Matt Burke started to give me research to do on various drinks and it was when I realised the history and  processes behind the liquid/s that really sparked the passion.

Which are the easiest to make?

Antony felt this depended on where you work. ‘At the Rose Villa Tavern, we sling out porn star martinis and Bounty's like they're going out of fashion so the bartenders can make them with their eyes closed. Whereas over at the Jekyll and Hyde ‘they will do the same with their sweetie jars and so on’.

Which are the hardest?

The hardest to make are when you first start to create your own cocktails, making sure the flavours are balanced and measurements are perfect. The name is one of the hardest, I always struggle with this. The first things that come into my head are ridiculous so it has to be pulled back to something that can be put onto a menu for people to see. [I see a Brum Faves competition coming here!- Ed]

What are your predictions for the future?

Bartending has recently come out of quite a pretentious phase where everything has to be an artisan product, the oldest spirit you can find, served in a one of a kind vintage vessel.

With cocktails becoming more accessible to the people on the other side of the bar, I think it is/will become a lot more fun and it will push bartenders to use simpler ingredients to make amazing cocktails.

What’s your favourite to drink?

My favourite drink is a Blanco 100% Agave tequila, the finest spirit (in my eyes) ever made. My favourite cocktail is a Sazerac; this was one of the first cocktails that I learnt the history of and it sparked my love for the bar. Not many places will have it on their menu but any bartender that can make a good one is worth their weight in gold.

Where in the world have you had a great cocktail experience?

Boadas in Barcelona. It's a small dimly-lit room covered in pictures of the bar from the 1030's till the present and a big oak bar. Two bartenders in tuxedos are mixing drinks with no menu. What really got me was the elder lady sitting at the end of the bar without a drink in front of a picture of a Dandy looking gentleman.

We later found out that the gent in the picture had opened the bar and the lady sitting at the bar was his daughter. The entire place was draped in history and it was then that I realised how experiences shared in a bar or restaurant will last a lifetime.

If you could live in any era for its cocktails, when & where would that be?

Now, given the interest in Ant has in the history of cocktails and the story about the bar in Barcelona, I thought Antony may want to have lived in a bygone era of cocktails. But his answer surprised me!

Right now. Every bartender you talk to is excited about a new product or has just made their own infusion or learnt about a forgotten cocktail. The things that are available to us now means we can progress a lot further than ever before with help from the brands, the ingredients, the knowledge, the competitions etc. It's an exciting time for bars and bartenders.

Rose Villa Tavern.  Phone 0121 236 710 or Tweet @RoseVillaTavern   172 Warstone Lane, Hockley, Birmingham, B18 6JW

Take a look at the website here.

With thanks to Antony and Rose Villa Tavern for the photos.

Got a favourite cocktail bar you'd like featured. Contacts on @BrumFaves or comment below.

Easter Cocktails

Our Easter Bunny (AKA: cocktail reporter is back with her discoveries for Easter cocktails in Birmingham. Taylah tells us there's more to Easter than eggs and bunnies!

Chocolate cocktails are popular all year round and with Easter just around the corner, Birmingham’s best cocktail bars have set to work creating even more devilishly indulgent Easter specials for us!

Alvar Bar in Hotel La Tour are bringing us some bubbly with their Elderflower Royale, an exciting mix of elderflower vodka, sugar syrup, lime juice and, of course, champagne! You’re probably going to fall in love with this indulgently delicious Creme Egg cocktail too...but fear not, they’ve shared their recipe with us so you can make it again at home too!

Crème Egg

  • 20ml Black Rum
  • 15ml Madeira
  • 10ml Coffee Liqueur
  • 40ml Cream
  • 2 drops of Chocolate Bitters
  • 10ml Chocolate liqueur

Place all ingredients in a shaker, strain into a martini glass. Drizzle the chocolate liqueur over the top and garnish with a chocolate button.

The Bitters ‘n' Twisted group have launched an exciting Easter Cocktail Hunt for April too – customers buy a cocktail at 4 different venues (collecting a stamp for each one they purchase), and at the 5th and final venue they can get a free cocktail! A free cocktail from one of Birmingham’s best cocktail’s a no-brainer!! Each venue has created 2 or 3 quirky Easter specials for the occasion.

Look forward to delicious delights like Eggselent – Mozart chocolate, Kinder Egg sugar syrup, Chambord, Frangelico and Cahaca – from Bodega, White Rabbit – Monkey Shoulder, Amaretto, white chocolate syrup, milk and cream – from New Inn, and Raspberry Ripple – Absolut Raspberri, Haymans Old Tom Gin, Apple Juice,  Lemon Juice, Fresh Raspberries & Butterscotch Schnapps – from The Jekyll and Hyde.

It's not just at Easter that you can get your chocolate cocktail fix in Birmingham. Head over to Colmore Row and visit The Bureau for their delectable Chocolate Egg - Brugal Anejo rum, Frangelico hazelnut liqueur, caramel syrup & chocolate bitters shaken with a whole egg, then served straight up with grated 70% coco chocolate.

Then just a few doors away we have Chung Ying Central with their creative zodiac cocktail menu. For the year of the Rooster they’re serving up You Must Be Yolking – vanilla Stoli vodka, Baileys, milk and cream – which they’ve based loosely on a Cadbury’s Creme Egg...perfect for when you’ve ran out of Easter eggs!

By our cocktail specialist. Taylah Catlow. Contact via @taylahc25 or find out more on her blog.

Valentine's Day Cocktails in Birmingham

With Valentine's Day upon us, have you considered how to spend what they call the most romantic day of the year? And there's no better way to spend it than with an evening of cocktails, cocktails...and more cocktails!

Ginger's Bar has a special cocktail available over Valentines weekend with a Strawberry and Rose Caviar Bellini. This exciting creation is launching their latest venture into the use of spherification and molecular cocktail mixology at this popular bar!

Dine in Bodega's restaurant and order one of their three Valentines sharing cocktails. Love Shack - a treasure chest of fresh flavours with lemon, cucumber and strawberries, and an added kick from tequila and sparkling wine. Or order my personal favourite, Lady in Red, a deliciously fruity blend of summer fruits, citrus juices, cointreau, red wine and Brazilian spirit cachaca. Then head downstairs to Sugarloaf for latin music and a selection of £5 Valentines cocktails; You Had Me at Hello, Hold Me Like You Did By The Lake and Paint Me Like One of Your French Girls.

The Jekyll and Hyde are hosting an Eat Me Drink Me Valentine's Special of their infamous gin and food fusion menu. For only £35, guests receive a tutored gin and tonic tasty, 3 course meal, and entry into a couples special Family Fortunes style quiz. The winning pair gets to go behind the bar and make their own cocktail with one of their gin specialists, making for a memorable and unique evening!

Head over to Malmaison in The Mailbox where Brum Faves readers can take advantage of an exclusive offer; phone up on 0121 246 5030 to book a table for your party of two and quote "Birmingham Favourites" to receive a free Malentines cocktail*. Choose from Rose Petals and Dreams - Eristoff Vodka, Rose Petal Liqueur, Amaretto, Grenadine and double cream. Or go for a fruity explosion of flavour with Honeymoon in Caribbean - Sailor Jerry spiced rum, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao, lime juice, orange juice, passion fruit syrup and gomme.

By our cocktail specialist. Taylah Catlow. Contact via @taylahc25 or find out more on her blog.

*Based on minimum of 2 people for a special four course menu £49, Thursday to Sunday.

New Years Eve Cocktails

New Year's Eve is a big night in everyone's calendar, but some of us are left without plans after neglecting it for the whole of December whilst Christmas occupies our every thought. Cue a bottle of wine, pjs and the NYE countdown show to kick off the New Year! It sure is nice to have a quiet one sometimes but this year, why not pop out just to try some tantalising cocktails at one of Birmingham's best bars?
Ginger's Bar at Purnell’s Bistro is a glamorous, lively bar serving up quirky and original cocktails inspired by the 1930s. I love the sound of their Pink Panther cocktail - Blueberry Infused Gin, Orgeat, Lemon Juice and Pink Grapefruit - and the Old Fashioned Plum Daquiri - Appleton Estate V/X Rum, OVD Demerara Rum, Plum, Lime, Maple Syrup and Plum Bitters. If nothing on the menu takes your fancy, the professional bar staff can even make a bespoke cocktail for you. Looking for more than just cocktails? They are also offering a special 5 course meal with bellini from 6:30pm for £55 (find the menu here); paired with soulful, jazz music and they’re delicious cocktails, you're guaranteed a New Year’s Eve you’ll never forget!

For another taste of sophistication, head over to Alvar Bar at Hotel La Tour. Serving up classic cocktails such as Cosmopolitan, Daquiri, and Vodka Martini to name a few, and with prices ranging from £6.50-£8, you’ll be able to see the New Year in with style. Reserve a VIP area for £20 per person and receive complimentary nibbles, or for £85 you can dine in their Aalto Restaurant with a delicious six course meal and champagne on arrival. Entertainment is being provided by singer Adam Chandler, as well as a disco to dance your way through to midnight. [Editor's note: home of the Wilson Espresso, named after Brum Fave's very own cinema geek, Tim Wilson. Ask for it!]

If you fancy a change and want to head out of the city centre, why not go to The Rose Villa Tavern in the Jewellery Quarter? From 8pm they’re hosting a night of music, dancing and cocktails. With no entry fee all night (a rarity on New Year’s Eve!), this is the perfect night out as it leaves more money to spend on their delicious cocktails. Play it safe with a classic Mojito, try the interesting sounding Gypsy Rose Lee, or pick a selection of their quirky Shot-Tails (I like the sound of the Peanut Butter Jelly and Jam Doughnuts ones!). As an added bonus, they’re giving away a free glass of their NYE punch to anyone who wearing a tash, silly hat or crazy glasses too! Also serving food until 8pm, get here early to sample something from their new American Diner style menu, which features tasty sounding burgers and hot dogs with various tempting toppings (pulled pork is always a winner!).

If you want to start the celebrations early, then head over to The Jekyll and Hyde from 5pm for their exciting and quirky New Year's Eve Eat Me Drink Me High Tea, featuring gin tasting and gin-inspired tea party food. Alternatively, visit from 8pm for their Gin Parlour Style celebrations. Further information can be found here.

Wishing you a very happy new year!

By Taylah Catlow who can be contacted by my twitter @taylahc25 and on her blog.

Christmas Cocktails in Birmingham

With just a week to go until the big day, Christmas festivities are well and truly underway. And what better way to join in on the celebrations than with some Christmas themed cocktails at one of the many cocktail bars we have here in Birmingham?

On the 18th and 19th Island Bar are hosting "What Would Beyonce Do?", a night of stand-up comedy from Luisa Omielan, with tickets at only £10 on the door or £8 in advance. Personally I can't think of a better combination than cocktails and comedy, and I think it's guaranteed to be a fantastic sell-out night! More details and ticket info on the Island Bar website.

If you can't make this, definitely visit Island Bar over the festive period for some delicious cocktails. I can recommend their Pina Colada and Aloha cocktails which are available from their upstairs Tiki Bar on Friday and Saturday nights, making it the perfect way to start the weekend.

Over in the Colmore Business District we have the popular gin parlour The Jekyll and Hyde. Stay downstairs in Mr Hyde's Main Bar for cocktails in sweet jars (their Love Heart cocktail is to die for!), sharing cocktails in mini bathtubs, and a selection of cocktails at only £4 between 4-7pm and all day Saturday. Or head upstairs to Dr Jekyll's Gin Parlour for gin cocktails and the exciting Eat Me Drink Me Gin and Food Fusion menu. I'll be heading here before Christmas to try out their festive menu which includes Hot Buttered Rum and Gingle Bells cocktail, both flavoured with apple juice, maple syrup, butter and festive spices, and a Figgy Pudding cocktail of pear vodka, pomegranate liqueur, cranberry juice, plum bitters and fig syrup. These seasonal flavours are guaranteed to take you back to your favourite Christmas memories!

Visit Bodega on Bennett's Hill and try out one of their seasonal offerings like the Fruta Festiva special for only £5 - a delicious blend of popular Christmas flavours with cinnamon, cherry, almond, orange, Olmeca Blanco tequila, apple juice and cranberry juice. And if none of the cocktails take your fancy, they're also serving up Peruvian Mulled Wine; get it here instead of the Christmas Market if you can stay out of the cold, plus you won't have to pay a deposit for your glass either!! For more info, check out their Festive menu. 

Ditch your normal Christmas Eve pub trip and head over to the Jewellery Quarter to The Church Inn who are hosting "Quizmas Eve" - a festive filled night of cocktails and a pub quiz starting at 8:30pm, and at only £1 to enter it's the perfect way to spend Christmas Eve. Have the night off from cooking too and get there early to sample their Southern American themed food menu. 

With so many venues to choose from, a Christmas cocktail bar crawl is the perfect way to celebrate the festive season with friends, family and work colleagues this year!

By Taylah Catlow - who can be contacted via Twitter @taylahc25 and on her blog

Photos: Brum Faves except 'Love Heart', Taylah Catlow.

Welcome to the Birmingham Beer Bash

Beer Bash collage People have funny ideas about beery get togethers in this country. Sure, Oktoberfest in Munich has an aura of frothy fun and kitsch camaraderie that doesn’t require an obsessive interest in beer but here an entirely different image has lodged itself in the general public’s perception.  Mention beer festivals to the man on the Clapham omnibus and images of men with Darwinesque facial hair quaffing jugs of murky fluid present themselves.

This is somewhat unfair as for many years Birmingham has held an increasingly successful beer festival organised by CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) which many, including me, have found to be great fun. But, in my not so humble opinion, there was room for a different approach which would complement rather than replace this event.  Apparently I wasn’t  the only person to think this but 10 guys and gals who met largely on social media shockingly decided to do something rather than just moan.

Hence the Birmingham Beer Bash. What’s so different about this you ask? Well the world of beer has changed beyond all recognition recently with new processes and talented enthusiasts producing beers that can’t be recognised by CAMRA because they are “keg” rather than “cask” but are light years from the flavourless beers that CAMRA have fought so long against. The Birmingham Beer Bash on 26th/27th July in Digbeth was designed to introduce people to interesting keg and bottled beers (sometimes known as craft beers) as well as interesting real ales that do not often make their way to Birmingham.

A range of food is also available from funky street food to fine dining. If you are interested in the techniques used to create the beers that are tickling your taste buds there are a number of talks and tasting sessions. If you just want to try new beers you can (possibly for the first time on this scale locally) enjoy a beer with a friend without worrying whether they like cask, keg, bottled, bitter, lager etc. Just enjoy yourself.

I haven’t listed individual attractions here because they are in the program.  Just know that bars, pubs and people in Brum are fully participating in the spirit of the event with some putting on their own events to add to the fun. From "A Moveable Feast" to "Zombie Walk" there seems little doubt that Birmingham is the place to be this weekend.

Why am I writing this? I am not an organiser of the Beer Bash. I am one of those guys who loves to drink traditional real ale in traditional pubs. Why did I volunteer to help the Beer Bash?

I did so because I like both cask ale and keg beer.  I did so because I like interesting food. I did so because I think this will give Birmingham a boost. I did so because I think it will encourage even more people to the Birmingham Beer Festival later in the year.

But mainly……..

I did it because it’s going to be fun.

Birmingham Beer Bash runs from Friday 26th to Saturday 27th July 2013. Click here for more info.

Contact “Numbers” Mike Ward on Twitter or see him at Birmingham Beer Bash!