Midlands Whisky Festival

After discovering I like whisky earlier this year, I’ve been on a mission to learn more about it. After assuming I wasn’t a fan, an evening with The Birmingham Whisky Club taught me to appreciate the spirit, and I’ve slowly been exploring different brands and discovering what I like. When my friends at East Village  asked if I’d like to go along to the Midlands Whisky Festival I nearly bit their hands off in my rush to say yes.

Midlands Whisky Festival

Glenfiddich

Held in The Studio in Birmingham, the Midlands Whisky Festival was host to a huge array of exhibitors, masterclasses and whisky fans. Spread over two floors, there was lots to explore. Your ticket included a tasting glass, tasting drams from each exhibitor, and a token for a ‘dream dram’ which was a larger taster of a rather more special whisky.

Penderyn

Welsh whisky

I already know I like Penderyn whisky, and I’m always loyal to a Welsh brand, so when I realised they were there, I made a beeline for their stand. Made in the Brecon Beacons, Penderyn was the first distillery in Wales in over a century and their whisky is now sold around the world.

I worked my way through a few of the drams on offer, and as always was impressed with how clean Penderyn‘s range tastes. I especially liked Madeira from the Gold range, which is finished in Madeira wine casks. With notes of toffee on the nose, the taste is crisp and sweet, with a background of vanilla. Myth from the Dragon range is easy to drink too, with flavours of mixed fruits. The packaging of the Dragon range is beautiful too, with a large dragon emblazoned across the boxes. These would be an attractive addition to anyone’s alcohol cupboard.

Mackmyra Whisky

I was delighted to spot Mackmyra. I tried their Svensk Rök at the Whisky Club tasting that started me on whisky, and it was one of my stand outs of the night, so I was keen to try more from them. Made in Sweden, Mackmyra is made with beautiful, clear water, as you’d expect from a Swedish drink. Their rep took us through the core range, starting with Brukswhisky, which is quite light, with flavours of spicy toffee. Next, we tried Svensk Ek, which is smooth and caramelly, and I think maybe my favourite of the batch. The Svensk Rök went down just as well as the first time. The peatiest of the range, this whisky is slightly smokier, but still with Mackmyra‘s signature cleanness and sweetness.

With so many whiskys to try, I was almost overwhelmed by choice. I wanted to try as many as I could, without ending up an absolute mess. With so much to try, I think this festival is ideal whether you’re a whisky expert or a total beginner like me, as each brand’s rep was knowledgeable and generous with the taster drams, so you could either find something new to you, or figure out what your tastes are.

I may or may not be already looking forward to next year.

I was invited to attend the festival by East Village. All opinions are honest and my own. I was not required to write a blog post. 

Taster Evening at the Ginga Ninja’s Noodle Shack

A new pop-up arriving on the scene in Birmingham is always exciting. We like our food here in Brum, and we like it even more if it’s got an air of being a secret.

The newest pop-up on the scene is The Ginga Ninja’s Noodle ShackIn fact, it’s so new, it’s still having taster evenings. The first taster was an intimate affair held at the home of the Ginga Ninja himself. For a second trial run, the small team took over the kitchen at Digbeth’s Mockingbird Cinema and Kitchen.

Ginga Ninja's Noodle Shack

Mike from the Ginga Ninja is actually a friend of mine, so when he asked for willing volunteers to come along, taste some noodles and give some feedback, there was no way I was missing out. Dave and I arrived to find Mockingbird full of people, but after a battle to the death for a table, we were ready to get our noodle on.

In these early stages, there are only two options; pork or tofu. We went for pork and two steaming bowls of ramen arrived.

Noodle pop-up

I was immediately struck by how colourful it looked in the bowl, with bright strips of the different vegetables, resting in a pile of gorgeous hand-made noodles and home-made broth. The pork looked delicious, in beautiful big pieces. Armed with my chopsticks, I tucked in.

Ramen pop-up

It tasted as good as it looked, with gorgeous deep flavour from the broth. The pork was juicy, and full of flavour. It was a great texture too; firm enough to grip in the chopsticks, but soft enough to get a clean bite through it, without struggling between sticks and teeth! All the veg was in a great size for chopstick eating too, even for the chopstick challenged like me. The egg was soft, and very slightly runny, just how I like it.

Ramen and Noodles

All in all, I was very impressed. With a bowl full of comforting noodles, rich broth and fresh flavours, how could I not be? Personally, I’d have liked just a dash more soy sauce, and maybe some chilli, but Mike assures me that next time, there’ll be a sauce station available so you can add in as much soy sauce as you like and enough hot sauce to melt your face off.

For a first public outing, The Ginga Ninja’s Noodle Shack is already knocking the socks off plenty of well established noodle houses. Currently they are only on Facebook, so make sure you give them a like so you’re in the know for their next appearance. I hear rumour that next time there may be dumplings…

As stated in the post, Mike of Ginga Ninja’s Noodle Shack is a friend of mine, but I was asked for my honest opinion. The evening was ‘pay what you feel’, and we did pay. I was not obliged to write a blog post. All pictures, words and opinions are honest and my own. 

The Meeting Place, with Jack Daniel’s

This September, Jack Daniel’s has been bringing a taste of Tennessee to the UK, with top secret pop-up event, The Meeting Place, across the country. To get in, you had to head to a participating venue, buy a Jack Daniel’s drink, and post an entry form into a postbox. Lucky winners would get entry to the secret location of the party. I managed to get myself onto the guest list for the Birmingham event, at the Rainbow Venues.

Jack Daniels

From up the street, we could hear classic American tunes thumping, and walked into the Rainbow to find it had been given a makeover to look like the bars and honky-tonks of Tennessee. Barrels for tables, packing crates, lots of wood and Jack Daniel’s posters covered the space.

Taste of Tennessee

The Meeting Place

I’m actually quite sad this was just a pop-up, as the atmosphere was relaxed, and cool. The DJ was playing some classic tracks, and all very much to my taste, with lots of indie rock. According to Dave, who has spent time in the real country bars in America, this pop-up was actually pretty spot on. Someone needs to open a permanent one of these for sure!

Whiskey Cocktails

Jack Daniels pop-up

We headed to the bar for some drinks. I tried the Red Dog Smash, which had Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7, Benedictine, lemon juice, apricot jam and Angostura Bitters. It was very strong, which I how I like my cocktails, and with a nice mix of sweetness from the jam, and some sour from the lemon. I don’t think the jam had been mixed in as well as it could have been, and the huge amount of ice made it set a little, and I kept getting chunks of jam caught in the straw. Despite this, it was very enjoyable. Dave had an Apple Jack ( Jack Daniel’s Old No.7 and apple juice) which is a favourite of his. I thought it tasted too much like apple juice and not enough like whiskey, but Dave was happy and enjoyed his choice.

For our second round, I tried a Frozen Lynchburg Lemonade (Jack Daniel’s Old No.7, triple sec, fresh lemon, lemonade) which was like an excellent boozy slushie. It was strong, and sour, and basically perfect for me. The frozen twist was nice too, as the bar was pretty warm. An excellent summer drink. Dave chose the  Tennessee Cooler (Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, apple juice and ginger ale) which we both liked a lot. It had a gentle kick of ginger, but was well balanced with sweetness from the fruit juice and honey.

Low 'n' Slow

We needed something to soak up the whiskey, and luckily Jack Daniel’s had invited along two of Birmingham’s finest to feed us; Low ‘N’ Slow and Flying Cows. Dave is crazy for american barbecue, so I knew I had to take him to see the fabulous Andy at Low ‘N’ Slow. Andy suggested we order one of each dish he was serving that night, and share. It was a great idea. The ribs were gorgeous, even for me who can usually take or leave ribs. Dave loves rib, so he devoured most of these. The meat was tender and just fell off the bone, and was complemented well by the rich sauce, which had some good kick to it. The pulled pork burger was equally gorgeous, with a huge pile of juicy pork and tangy slaw. One of the things I like best about Low ‘N” Slow is that they have actually thought about the fact that you’re probably going to eat the food standing up. The burger is a sensible size, so you can hold it with one hand and not lose most of the filling back into the box. This is surprisingly rare for a street food burger!

Honky-tonk

Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper Tennessee experience without some live music. Performing on the night were The Americas, a West Midlands based rock & roll group, and Broken Witt Rebels, who play blues and rock. We caught The Americas and we could quickly see why they’re causing such a storm on the music scene lately. Tipped for greatness by BBC Introducing‘s Jack ParkerGigslutz and many more, the band are high energy performers with a bit of a 70s feel. Look out for them gigging around Birmingham, and you’re definitely in for a good night.

After my night in Tennessee, I definitely feel like a proper ‘country’ bar in Birmingham would a brilliant permanent fixture. In the mean time, I’ll be following Low ‘N’ Slow around and sipping on some whiskey cocktails.

I was given a media pass with a plus one for this event. Our food and drinks were complementary but I was not obliged to write a blog post. All words, photos and opinions are honest and my own.