Sunday, 25 November 2012

Whiskey Tasting Night - The Violet Hour, West Didsbury

As many of my readership can attest, this is a lady who likes the odd tipple, and there's no tipple this lady likes more than Woodford bourbon (well, maybe some champers, but that's no surprise is it?).

So when good friend and the man with the BEST job in the world mentioned he would be conducting a Woodford/American whiskey tasting night at The Violet Hour in West Didsbury, how could I not pop along and show him my support by eagerly listening to his wisdom and tasting ALL the drinks he made. What a great friend I am hey?

The Violet Hour - wonderful photography from Carl Sukonik/The Vain Photography

Premise of the night was very simple, Tom Vernon, the American Whiskey Ambassador for Bacardi Brown Foreman would introduce three of his brands; Gentleman Jack, Woodford and Jack Single Barrel by giving us a (large) measure of each to taste/savour/down. Then we'd get a classic cocktail made from each (and be shown how to make them too - now I'm going to look like a PRO at Christmas) and plenty of history, anecdotes and tasting notes along the way.

Not all these drinks were mine... (are you sure? - ed)

We were first introduced to Gentleman Jack, a Tennessee whiskey, NOT a bourbon; this is Jack Daniels given the posh treatment - gently mellowed in charred oak barrels for two years then re-mellowed through a unique charcoal filtering process (did you know the Jack Daniels distillery is the ONLY distiller with their own cooper - ie. they make ALL their own barrels? (See I was listening/not getting too pissed. Really. Promise.). Indeed it was pretty smooth, with that oakiness as a slight warm burn on the back of the throat and a good mouthful of stone fruits as well.

Gentleman Jack was given the whiskey sour treatment - very simply just whiskey (obviously), mixed with sugars, bitters, the sharp bite of lemon and some egg white to give you a nice creamy mouth feel (oi! I'm talking about booze you rude people!). See the bottom of the blog post to make your own whiskey sour.

Tom doing his thang - again thanks to the amazing Carl Sukonik/The Vain Photography

Next drink was my favourite EVER - a Woodford. Even without Tom's spiel I can tell you that this bourbon is a far more punchy and layered little number as it contains much more rye than the Gentleman Jack (18% compared to Gentleman's 8% - ok, I didn't know the percentages until I got Tom's informative chat). Woodford is full of toffee and maple notes (that's why it makes such a good caramel for morning pancakes!) with some peppery, anise flavours to really perk it up at the end. Even though it's more punchy, it has less of an aggressive nose/throat than the Gentleman Jack due to the aging processes it goes through.

The Woodford was turned in to one of my top ten favourite cocktails; the quintessential prohibition drink that's gone through a massive resurgence lately, the stately and sophisticated (and darn right boozey) Manhattan. The story goes it was created at the Manhattan club for Winston Churchill's mother - how it was when she was pregnant and in France, no one knows, it's been lost in the mists of time...

Woodford Manhattan and terrible photo

The last whiskey of the night was the Jack Single Barrel - that's the super posh stuff that Jack Daniel's makes. As it says on the tin (ok bottle), this is a single barrel bottling; each batch is created from ONE single barrel (approx 250 bottles). This whiskey has oodles of flavour and a much higher abv (45%!) thanks to it being stored in the Angel's Roost - the top of the warehouse where the temperature differences are more pronounced, thus meaning the whiskey has had more interaction with the wood; the whiskey sucking in and absorbing all those charred oaky tannins and being softened by its interaction with the wood.

Each batch of Jack Single Barrel differs from the each other depending on what time of year it was made, where it has been stored in the warehouse and what the weather has been like whilst it's been in the barrel (yes, even little nuances like that make a whole lot of difference); each batch will have different tasting notes, different characteristics and different complexities - this batch was silky soft and mellow with burnt toffee and charcoal notes coming through on the finish. A smooth, complex and extremely exquisite drink, poo poohing those toffee noses who look down on American Whiskey as a second rate drink - and this little tipple nearly, ever so nearly knocked Woodford down from its lofty perch in my esteem (don't tell Woodford though...).

For the Single Barrel a very special, simple drink (that actually takes a little time and quite a bit of care to make properly) that can actually claim to be one of my very favourites and one of the very first cocktails ever created in them good ol' days; an Old Fashioned (yeah that one in Madmen. No I haven't watched Madmen. Yes I know I'm probably missing out. Thanks.) - whiskey, sugar syrup, bitters and a little twist of orange. Tom's version = perfection.

Thanks to Dan (left) and Tom for a wonderful, fun evening

The Violet Hour is a perfect little hideaway that has recently opened on Burton Road in West Didsbury - whilst I lived there (yonks ago whilst at Uni - not telling you how long that was), it had always been a derelict butcher shop, a broken down blot on the blossoming Burton Road scene. Thankfully owner/manager Dan had a vision to create a bustling little bar with a great selection of quality drinks and (soon to come) warming stews and creative nibbles (think home made pork scratching and gourmet popcorn, yum) - the pared back brick work and warm lighting creating a friendly, welcoming space - if you like a proper drink, this is the place to go.

So how much did supporting my friend (er don't you mean filling your boots with a ton of booze? - ed) cost? Pretty reasonable actually - for three (large) tasting measures, three exceptionally created cocktails (Tom is pretty skillful in that area) and more canapes than I could actually eat, I only had to shell out £15. I think it was more than worth it and will be booking myself and anyone who will come with me (and who wouldn't? Booze and food and ME hey?) on to the next spirit night The Violet Hour hosts (apparently there will be lots - check their Twitter and Facebook for more info/before they all sell out!).

All eagerly listening to Tom in the lovely surroundings of The Violet Hour -
again from Carl Sukonik/The Vain Photography (who has a brilliant eye, check him out!)

The Violet Hour, 236 Burton Road, West Didsbury, Manchester M20 - Facebook - Twitter - 0161 434 9521

Ps Thanks to Carl Sukonik of The Vain Photography for letting me use his beautifully shot photos and for sparing you any more of my out of focus/blurry attempts. Check out his website and twitter for more info about how you can book this highly talented/lovely chap.

How to make a Whiskey Sour like Tom Vernon aka the jammiest man in the world

60ml Gentleman Jack
2 tsp sugar
20ml fresh lemon (and no, it is NOT acceptable to use the stuff in a bottle. EVER.)
Bitters to taste (get creative, there's a wide variety of bitters out there)
Egg white from one egg (save the yolk for your hangover cure the next morning...)
Cocktail shaker
Lowball glass with ice cubes in
Cheeky grin - optional

1. Pop all the ingredients bar the bitters in a cocktail shaker and shake about a bit dry ie. NOT with ice (don't just shake the shaker with nothing in, that's not how you make a cocktail).

2. Whilst shaking, regale people with anecdotes/facts about whiskey you have learnt from this blog - or in Tom's version, with amazing tales from having the best job in the world where you just get to talk a lot about whiskey, drink a lot of whiskey and fly out to America every three minutes (not that I'm jealous or anything).

3. Pour in to a low ball/old fashioned glass (the little short, squat ones) over ice and shake some bitters in over the top - you can prep the glasses by sugaring the rims if you want to be ultra professional.

4. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel and serve with a winning smile. Lapping up praise - optional."> alt="The Violet Hour on Urbanspoon" src="" style="border:none;padding:0px;width:130px;height:36px" />

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Sneak Preview - Miracle on High Street - Northern Quarter, Manchester

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas – well it is at 100 High Street in Manchester's Northern Quarter; where festive bar with food, Miracle has popped up; spreading seasonal cheer, warming your cockles and trying to get you through the dark days/nights until Father Christmas actually arrives.

With fairy lights twinkling their festive messages, walls clad in wood to warm your soul and food so hearty I’m sure it beats when placed in front of you; Miracle is attempting to take the seasonal emphasis off the Manchester markets/Spinningfields and bring some joy to the Northern Quarter.

Yeah and you knows it - crafty craft work by the audacious Crass Stitch

Primarily a bar that does food, Miracle is accessed through Socio Rehab and is a sister bar to Almost Famous and Keko Moku. Following in the footsteps of its family brand, Miracle concentrates on quirky cocktails and, like Famous and Home Sweet Home, easy but well thought out food that has been designed to be similar but different enough to the other establishments.

The food at Miracle is a cross between quirky takes on festive food (Christmas dinner in bap anyone? Replete with sprouts, roasties and cranberry sauce…) and hearty wintry fare - they have a list of eight stews on at all times and a chowder so thick its viscosity is being investigated by material physicists.

The Miracle Sandwich groans under the weight of the filling; out bursts plenty of buttery turkey (they slow cook it so it’s rich and moist), roast potatoes and bacon cooked sprouts with a lovely bitter edge from the slightly burnt edges – served up with pigs in blankets, it’s a meal in a bun.

Miracle sandwich, sprouts and all

Pork and cider stew is served in a bread bowl – big hunks of sweet pork and offset by the sweetly sour cider, the lid of the bowl a great tool for dipping and for ferrying the food to your mouth. Beef and ale stew on the other hand is served in a half pint glass with a bread lid (see what they did there?) – the beef could have done with slightly more cooking and the wholegrain with the beef and ale made it slightly too sweet and cloying for my tastes; still a lovely warming little pot to line your stomach for the vast quantities of cocktails they turn out here.

Pork and cider in a nifty bowl you can eat

As a sister bar to Famous and Home Sweet Home, there’s the signature sweet potato/potato fries you find on both menus (guess it makes ordering stock easier/cheaper) – this time jazzed up with a good dose of pepper/festive seasoning and a smattering of that moist turkey. And it wouldn't be a Christmas theme place is they didn't offer pigs in blankets... (so they do).

The aforementioned cocktails is where Miracle has put most of their creative effort; they're dressed up like fancy little presents and taste as sweet as the season – the Apres Ski tasting exactly like a melted mint vienetta and taking me back (happily) to sitting at my Dad’s kitchen table circa 1992. The Berry Merry Xmas is a big mouthy hit of berries and booze that’ll warm you up and put hairs on your chest before you step out in the cold weather (bit too fruity for me) and the Christmas in New York is one that really split the group - dark, chocolate stout with bourbon and a vanilla ice cream float; far too bitter and needed a sweeter/more creamy ice cream in there, but I'm a non-stout lover so that verdict should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Stout and ice-cream - acquired taste me thinks

My bugbear at Miracle is the service; basically it's a do it yourself thing - you decide on what you want to eat, go to the kitchen to order and go back to get it; great for saving on the wage bill, but I'm a grumpy lazy bones who likes to be waited on hand and foot (just saying). However the bar staff and the kitchen staff are very friendly, so a tick to them there.

Miracle isn’t Almost Famous; it’s her quieter, friendlier, more homely sister. If it was an everyday place, open every day of the year, then I'm sure I'd tire of it pretty quickly - however it's here for only one season, it's a happy little pop up that's trying to bring creativity and cheer to the Christmas menu, offering a great alternative to the flabby turkey and dull Christmas puddings on offer across the rest of the city.

And when can you try this out? This THURSDAY (22nd Nov) is the big grand opening. Which makes tonight CHRISTMAS EVE! And an opening couldn't happen without PRESENTS - the first 50 people through the door tomorrow night receive free sliders and the first 100 get a free drink. Looks like Father Christmas has come early. Check out the Twitter for opening times.

Price for one Miracle sandwich, three stews, one gobble gobble (turkey) fries, one pigs in blanket, one pudding and four cocktails (drinks £7 each) - £63.50

Food - 7/10 - for Christmas food it's pretty good
Atmosphere - 9/10
Service - 6/10 full marks to bar and kitchen, but I had to get up off my lazy arse and serve myself
Value for money - 7/10 big portions and small prices make this unusual in the Christmas rip of schemes (however the cocktails are a little pricey, try just drinking off the main bar to save cash!)

Total - 29/40

Go again - yes as it's a fun and quirky place that's full of Christmas cheer and a bit of an exciting alternative to the usual festive offerings

Miracle, Access through Socio Rehab, 100 High Street, Manchester M1 4HP - Twitter

Please note I was comped my meal here but am under no obligation to write anything nice.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Belvedere Vodka Trail, The Liqourists - Manchester

Booze, booze, booze – lots of booze on the blog lately and this post is no exception (and the next post might not be either…). But how can I resist from imparting to you my latest shenanigans with those professional booze hounds, The Liquorists, when it was a night out like no other?

Limiting itself to just one brand this time, Belvedere Vodka, the spirit trail started at the gloriously upmarket Lowry Hotel; we sipped Belvedere Pure (their premium vodka) amongst sumptuously dressed guests as we watched the lights ripple on the Irwell below. We tasted the brand’s signature cocktail, The Zephyr, a mouth puckering contrast of sharp grapefruit mellowed out with sweet almond syrup and ate delicate cubes of softly wobbling passion fruit jelly.

Classic, simple, sophisticated - Belvedere Pure at The Lowry

On to The Liquorists’ now eponymous headquarters, 22 Redbank; this time to sip the red peppery, spicy notes of Belvedere Bloody Mary. Made by macerating each different ingredient into the spirit so the actual essences are included (only premium brands do this, most only use flavourings) – this little shot was a fiery explosion of heady flavours that left you glowing all over.

To match the Bloody Mary vodka, what did The Liquorists do (apparently contrary to the advice of the brand), they made a Bloody Mary with it. Pretty good as far as Bloody Mary’s go; but it should be as Jody (of The Liquorists) used to own a bar that only specialised in Bloody Marys. To accompany these fiery drinks we ate platters of olives and chorizo, the salty food pairing perfectly with the savoury drinks.

Bloody Mary in a Bloody Mary - does that make it a Double Bloody Mary Squared?

Next stop Kosmonaut to sample the Belvedere Citrus – the brand uses both orange and lemon in this maceration to create a more rounded drink with layers of refreshing, perfumed flavour – this was my favourite of all the flavoured vodkas we tasted. Kosmonaut’s cheeky food pairing surmounted to the very posh and heady heights of Mr Kipling lemon fingers – well he does make exceedingly good cakes; it was good to see that they had put more thought in to the cocktail, The Belvedere Traingle; basically a rhubarb and custard in a glass. Belvedere Citrus mixed with rhubarb liquor, grenadine, clementine juice and egg white – creamy, sweet, vanilla, childhood memories in a glass.

Penultimate stop on the trail and very suitable for this upmarket jaunt through this premium brand, was champagne bar Epernay. Unlike the Citrus Belvedere, the Pink Grapefruit maceration we drank here only uses pink grapefruit to create as true a likeness to the fruit as possible – Belvedere have certainly got it right; this vodka has that same heady, floral, sharp sweetness as the fruit itself.

Staff handed round tiny squares of Black Forest gateaux with pink grapefruit vodka cream for us to daintily nibble whilst sipping the Hemingway Royale they created with Moet champagne (of course), pink grapefruit Belvedere (well of course) and kir soaked cherries. Decadent, delightful and playfully light, this cocktail was my favourite of the lot (well, this lady does have expensive tastes…).

Before you make insinuations, these weren't all mine...

On to our final destination, we landed on the slopes at Ski Club, Manchester’s newest winter bar that’s popped up at Spinningfields, bringing the style and sophistication of the winter playgrounds of the rich and famous to Manchester’s…er…sodden streets. The last vodka was the Belvedere Unfiltered – a heady, musky, almost after-sex bedroom smell to the nose and a rich, heavy warmth in the mouth.

Unfortunately the cocktail and food pairing at Ski Club didn’t match up to the brand or the rest of the (as per usual) faultless tour – the Ski Club’s take on a mojito was far too dominated by rosemary and sugar, basically like licking a Sunday roast created by someone who’s over-Jamied a lamb joint by stuffing a whole rosemary plant up its jacksie. The cheese and meat platters were good (but it’s hard to fuck up food that you take out of packets), but the accompanying fondue was claggy – the pots they are using are warmed by three small tealights meaning the cheese is not at the right temperature (plus it could have done with some extra garlic if I’m being picky).

Fon-don't at Ski Club (nice 70s arty shot to go with the old-skool ski club theme)

However by this time we were merry and warm so this little downer didn’t detract once again from an excellent, fun and fact filled night from The Liqourists. Raise your glass to many more!
Booking is EASY - just click HERE and see what other wonderful trails The Liquorists have got to tantalise your tastebuds with.

Ps I was comped this spirit trail, but I wasn't under any obligation to write anything nice about it - however I had a brilliant time and still think the trails are one of the best after-work activities you can get up to in Manchester AND for a very reasonable price too. 

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Tequila Trail - The Liquorists, Manchester

Tequila, it makes you happy? Not really - if like me and 99.7% of the UK population, your only tequila experiences are the usual cheap shots on a night out/lime/salt/floor; then no, tequila does not make me, you or anyone, bar cleaning product manufacturers, happy.

The Liquorists, Manchester self-styled sauce specialists do not agree with my above statement/experinces; they believe that tequila can be as good a sipping drink as a first rate scotch and as sophisticated as a high-end vodka. I did not believe them when they started spouting this poppycock - that was until I joined them for their latest spirit session, The Tequila Trail.

Starting at 22 Redbank, The Liquorists' now not so secret headquarter, Tom and Jody welcomed us warmly and in true Liquorists style, started handing out the first drinks along with a bucket full of information on the world of REAL tequila (you can read some of the facts in another article I wrote HERE).

To start off the evening we were given a Jose Cuervo; but hang on! Stop pulling those faces from grim recollections of running to the club toilets - this was a Traditional ie the good version they've only just started shipping to the UK. Made from 100% blue agave (this is important in ALL tequilas, otherwise what you're drinking is basically some good tequila with a bunch of cheap spirit alcohol mixed in - so beware of labels with the word mixto on them) and rested from 3-12 months in wooden barrels; it was a softer, sweeter drink than I remembered any tequila being, with toffee and vanilla notes and it actually tasted alright (well, pretty damn good to be honest).

And to dispel then myths around margaritas (NOT frozen, NOT blended, NOT with salt all around the rim), Jody flexed his drinks mixing skills and served us all a bang on margarita alongside plenty of food to line our stomachs before the rest of the tequila hit it (VERY WISE) - oh and as this is a food blog I suppose you want to know what we ate? Crispy fish tacos with a rich/piquant lobster sauce, crispy nachos with lashings of guacamole/salsa/sour cream/cheese and charred, salty, delicious corn on the cob - arriba!!

The premise of a spirit trail is to not only show off the best examples of each spirit, but to introduce you to the best drinking dens that Manchester has to offer. The Tequila Trail was no different; we hopped from great bar to excellent bar, with reserved tables and drinks awaiting as we did. Where did we go?

1. 22 Redbank - you know the story.

2. Apotheca - atmospheric, moody and a veritable potion palace; here we sampled the beautifully toffee-ish vanilla sweetness of the Don Julio Reposado; the cocktail at Apotheca was an exact taste match of a solero, otherwise known as the mango/passion fruit margarita.

3. Socio Rehab - a sophisticated stalwart of the Northern Quarter cocktail scene; out came the peppery, green, agave tasting El Jimador Blanco (unaged, so no softening in wooden barrels) and a Palemro with Ting.

4. Hula - tiki time was replaced by tequila time as we sipped another blanco, the Plata Judura, this time brewed using natural yeasts from the air; again very fresh, but with a lot more coffee and vanilla notes mixed in with that peppery green industrialness. Our cocktail pairing was a Tommy's margarita - very famous apparently, but I still preferred Jody's one at 22 Redbank.

5. Last stop was at Northern Quarter newbie, Kosomonaut for the best tequila (in  my eyes) of the night. The Tapiteo anejo is aged for over a year in wood - soft, silky, smooth with a spicy, muskiness reminiscent of a victorian dresser - The Liquorists are right, a great tequila can be a great sipper - I'd consider this over ice on a night out.

And with that we drifted off in to the night (or in my case the last train home) and yes, finally, the saying 'Tequila makes you happy' really did ring true.

The Liqourists spirit trails happen pretty often and range from about £30-40,  which is bloody cheap if you consider you get five shots, five cocktails, five food pairings, reserved tables, history/information/geeky facts about the drinks AND a full meal. Couldn't replicate it anywhere other than Weatherspoons and the only facts you learn there is how many guys Sharon copped off with last Saturday and why Amy's got a bruise on her arse.

Booking is EASY - just click HERE and see what other wonderful trails The Liquorists have got to tantalise your tastebuds with.

The Liqourists,, Twitter

Ps Photos soon, not got them here.

Pps I was comped this spirit trail, but I wasn't under any obligation to write anything nice about it - however I had a brilliant time and still think the trails are one of the best after-work activities you can get up to in Manchester AND for a very reasonable price too. Oh and Tom and Jody are lovely chaps too, so that makes it super good.