If you follow my Instagram feed, you will know that I’m partial to a good cocktail. So, the Birmingham Cocktail weekend is one of the highlights of my year. A £10.00 entry fee gets you a bracelet that entitles you to a signature cocktail for £4 at several dozen bars and restaurants across the city, over the weekend. You also get a booklet which has a list and a map of all participating venues. There are also several events spread across the weekend as well, most of them being a cocktail masterclass of one form or another.
This year, 36 venues took part in the Birmingham Cocktail Weekend. There was no way we could try all 36 signature cocktails, but we managed a fair few. Here’s review of the 16 we tried – a good, the bad and the ugly.
Gaucho’s signature cocktail was called Still Ashamed – A gin, blood orange, rosemary and champagne concoction to start us off. Being straight opposite Hotel du vin where everyone collected their wristbands, Gaucho was quite busy. The cocktail tasted nice, but they had pre-prepared the base of the drink, which meant we didn’t really get to see what went in or how it was made.
Scores: Drink: 5, Venue: 5
A vodka, lime, lemonade and pear concoction (and no idea what it was called). It was very busy, so we perched up outside. The drink left much to be desired. The alcohol was very overdone.
Scores: Drink: 3, Venue: 4
Chun Ying Central Bar and Restaurant
Pear-fect Summer with grey goose pear vodka, vanilla schnapps, vanilla, lime and apple. A fruity and refreshing drink. Venue wasn’t half bad either – they also had a small plate food deal, so you could have some nibbles to go with your drink.
Scores: Drink: 5, Venue: 6
Buffalo & Rye
Jim’s Double Marathon with Jim Bean Double Oak whiskey, milk, caramel, hazelnut and chocolate. Easily one of the best cocktails from the weekend. Deliciously creamy with an extra kick from the Whiskey. It’s not the largest venue, so we were very lucky to find a place by the window to enjoy our drinks and people-watch.
Scores: Drink: 8, Venu: 7
Hotel du Vin
Espresso Martini with caramel, courvoisier cognac, galliano and coffee. This is the where everyone collects their wristband, so it’s busy. But there’s a lovely atrium with lots of natural light, live music (a bit too loud for my liking), and free makeup trials.
Scores: Drink: 8, Venue: 6
The Zealander with Bols Genever gin, Poire William, Rhubarb Litters, Elderflower and apple. Marmalade is a bar/restaurant at Birmingham’s famous REP theatre. It’s a nice enough venue, with plenty of seats, both inside and out. The drink is quite refreshing, but nothing really special.
Scores: Drink 6, Venue 7
Rather unplanned, but we stumbled across a Bols Genever masterclass at Marmalade. We learnt a lot about the history of Bols Genever – a drink that is a mix between a whiskey and a gin (if such a thing was possible). It suited their tagline well – “A gin made like a whiskey, a whiskey made like gin”. Best of all, you are supposed to drink it with a pint of beer on the side, so what’s not to love?
Scores: Drink: 6, Venue: 7
Dragon’s Breath with old spice rum, apple juice, strawberry, lime juice, dry ice and fire. This was the best cocktail experience over the weekend. The bartenders were great and put on a great show for all the customers I’m a great believer that part of he fun of having a cocktail is seeing how its made, and clearly, the bar staff here believed it too. The cocktail was a slightly too “syrupy” for my taste, but it was still very good.
Scores: Drink: 9, Venue: 10
Pushkar Cocktail Bar and Dining
Love on the rocks with pear brandy, amaretto, maraschino syrup, lemon juice and egg white garnished with pear cooked in red wine and a cherry. The cocktail was nice and refreshing, and the staff were great. It’s a great venue, with a glass atrium, unfortunately, we were there straight after seeing the fire breathers in Siamais,so this one felt a bit flat, but through no fault of their own.
Scores: Drink: 5, Venue: 7
Rub Smokehouse & Bar
Iceman with no idea what’s in it. It was served in tall glass, with a load of ice and looked blue and purple. It tasted like cough syrup, and that’s all I’m going to say about it. It was loud, busy and there was practically no customer service. Such as shame as they served one of the best concoctions last year.
Scores: Drink: 3, Venue: 2
Flamenco with La titana Manzanilla, Jerez Sherry Wine, Maraschino liquor, Grand marnier, fresh lemon juice, fresh pineapple, celery and cucumber, sugar cane syrup, saline solution – This one won the price for the longest ingredients list. Despite the long list, the drink was surprisingly cool and crisp with lots of subtle flavours. The venue didn’t keep to the same standard though – the service was pretty slow.
Scores: Drink: 7, Venue: 3
The Edwardian Tearooms – Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Edwardian Sunset with Vodka, grenadine, pineapple, lime, cherry. The drink was ok, but it was late in the day and it felt like they were dredging the barrels. But this is a great venue, and I love coming into the museum late at night. Only downside was we were too late to catch the Jazz (it was supposed to finish by 10.00 p.m., but had finished half an hour early).
Scores: Drink: 7, Venue: 7 (point knocked off for early finish to the Jazz)
Harvey Nichols Bar
Earl’s gin cure with earl grey syrup, gin and a fizzy top-up. An excellent venue – laid back, comfy chairs, great service, not too busy (it was a Sunday afternoon). Extra point for free nibbles. The drink is subtle and light. High Scores all around.
Scores: Drink 7, Venue 8
Ginger Monkey with monkey whiskey and ginger beer. It’s a nice enough drink, but I’m not a big fan of ginger beer. Nice venue, but nothing to write home about.
Scores: Drink: 6, Venue: 6
Malberry madness with pimms and elder flower. You know how you get cocktails that looks great, but taste complete different to how you were expecting? Well this was it. It was probably one of the best looking drinks of the weekend, but tasted rather chemical. venue was good – lots of space, light & airy, comfy chairs and live music.
Scores: Drink: 7, Venue: 7
Be At One
Cocoa in Acapulco with ice cream, cocoa, khalua, ice, vodka and coco pops (yes, really!) Another contender for the top price of the weekend. The venue is underground (literally) and it has quite a “clubby” atmosphere.
Scores: Drink 8, Venue 7
Without a doubt, Siamais won the weekend, with their Dragon’s Breath cocktail – fire and ice display, cool venue and great staff. The Runners-up were Buffalo and Rye (with Jim’s Double Marathon) and Be At One (Cocoa in Acapulco) who also had really great drinks.
The wooden spoon award (aka last place) goes to Rub Smokehouse and Bar with their mystery drink which left much to be desired.
I love the cocktail weekend as introduces me to many new bars and restaurants across the city that I would otherwise not visit. All in all, it was a great weekend, and I will look forward to next years!