Sunday, 16 February 2014

Dogs 'n' Dough, Manchester

Carefully coiffured males sit cheek to cheek, Gosling-esque arms emerging from their tight V-neck tees, not a trace of five o'clock shadow in sight. Removed from the constraints of their daily lives, these men are here to indulge, to submit themselves to their inner desires - free from judgment and guilt. They speak not of their time here above ground: these men have Tyler Durden's well known rules ingrained into their souls. 

Only, this isn't Fight Club. Nor is it a coming-out story, masquerading as a soft porn webzine.

This, my friends, is Carb Club.

...or at least that's what it felt a little like. Dogs 'n' Dough, an underground, side-street bar and diner, for some unknown reason, appears to be most heavily frequented by preened young men; metrosexuality personified. In my cinematic daydreaming, I came to the conclusion that these fellas must be here to feast as part of a secret society. Gym fiends by day, carb connoisseurs by night.

Whilst these flippant notions are yet to be confirmed, if such outfits do exist, Dogs 'n' Dough would be the meeting venue of choice. The menu, once short but sweet, has now taken a Hulk-like approach to the humble hot dog. Intending to keep punters coming back for more, there's now near-on twenty variations of the things. Personally, I'm a purist - but we happily took a gamble on the Philly Cheese Steak version. It came loaded with peppers, pieces of beef and cheese sauce. The sausage itself is one of the best frankfurter-style ones I've tasted - and that, for me, is why I'll keep it naked next time. I want to taste that meat, not cover it up. If, however, you're somewhat more adventurous than I, then you'll likely be jizzing all over your seat when you see the creations coming out of this kitchen.

'Nuff said on the dogs. Let's not forget the reasoning behind the rest of this joint's name. The dough. No, the staff don't bring out plates of cash - man, what a concept that would be! - but pizzas served straight outta the box, takeaway style. I'll precis this with the fact that over the last few months, I've been treated to pizza cooked in a homemade pizza oven by a man on a mission to perfect the humble slice (a.k.a Bailey of Good Gobble Blog). So, I've eaten a lot of damn good pizza, and sadly, this stuff didn't quite deliver. 

Somewhere, there was a lack of seasoning: hard to work out whether it was the sauce or the base. Another couple of minutes in the oven wouldn't have hurt either. This wasn't a traditional style pizza, and nor, I suppose, is it trying to be. It's not quite the Americanised version either though. Toppings were fine - Jamie chose the Caribbean Dream. I'd like to see how their Margherita compares next time. See: the purist in me pops out, yet again.

Ron Burgundy's the gent on the right. 
The BBQ beans were tasty, although I'm not sure they were homemade. The coleslaw definitely was, and I could eat theirs by the bucket, though a touch less salt here might have my made my liver feel a little happier.

One part of the menu these guys have completed nailed is their cocktails. I was gleeful at spotting the return of an old favourite (from their Corridor days), the Matinee. Unfortunately, they were out of one of the ingredients; no complaints here as I'll happily work my way through this menu. Favourites were the Miss Kitty (rhubarb, lemon, butterscotch), and the Ron Burgundy (Johnny Walker Red, peach bitters, apricot brandy, cinnamon). Yes, it did go down, down, down into our bellies. There's also a decent selection of beers, and the Kona rep was in to give us a full run-through. Their pale ale was my fave - and at less than 6% shouldn't leave you too shit faced. A careful consideration for beers these days.

Dogs 'n' Dough serve food 'til 11pm every night, except Sundays (when it's 'til 9), and have pitched the tone of their offerings just right for punters who fancy a late night bite to eat. Whilst I'm not a massive fan of their pizzas, I seem to be in somewhat of a silo, as others were mighty happy chowing down on these mammoth offerings all night. Hey, you can't please everyone: besides, the dogs 'n' drink are more than enough to keep me going back.

Props to the team for having my favourite looking bar - and menu - in Manchester. These guys know design.

Disclaimer: yup, we were invited for a freebie. Nope, this didn't make me say anything different than if I'd been paying. And I said it to their faces anywayz. Besides, this place is such good value (all pizzas and dogs under a tenner and cocktails at £4.50 in happy hour) that you should make your mind up on it for yourself.

Dogs n Dough on Urbanspoon

Friday, 1 November 2013

My Picks for The Skinny's Northwest Food and Drink Survey (with GIFs)

As some of you may know, The Skinny Northwest is running their first ever food and drink survey this year. 

We're hoping that it will become something of an annual tradition, not quite as big as Christmas but bigger than National Bath Safety Month. What can I say, we're nothing if not dreamers.  

As the mag's food and drink editor I thought it best to lead by example/drum up votes in as un-cringeworthy fashion as possible. So, here are a few of my picks. With GIFs. Because everything is better with GIFs.

You can find the survey form here: and it'd be great if you could vote too, rather than just stare blankly at the screen. I know Russel Brand says it's not cool to vote but in opposite land it totally is. So, yeah.

Best Pub

The Gaslamp, because the beer selection, the staff, and the setting make me do this inside:

Best Local Brewery

Blackjack, because I like supporting the little guys:

Best Cafe

Caffeine & Co. because their coffee is as smooth as this pervert:

Best Newcomer

Some Place, because when I first walked in I wanted to do this to the owners:

Best Food/Drink Shop

Beer Moth, because their beer selection makes me go insane:

Best Place...When Hungover

Go Falafel, an unusual choice, I know, but they feed when I feel like this: 

Best When... In a Rush

Panchjo's, because, well, they'll feed you tasty things when time is of the essence:

Best Place...For a First Date

Berry & Rye, because it's the bar equivalent of doing this:

Well, that was fun wasn't it? And it's always good to end with a bit of Cage.

I hope that's given you some inspiration. Now, go vote! Or we're sending this woman to get you:

Only kidding!


Thursday, 22 August 2013

Juke Joint Bars at Black Jack Brewtap

Do you like beer? Do you like your mind to be blown by the sheer choice of beer on offer? And for your mind to continue to be blown when you see the quality of beer and the mad handmade set up Juke Joint bars have got going on? If you answered yes to these three questions, then read on (make sure you put a helmet on, in case your mind actually blows - the helmet will ensure it is held in place).

Seating area accompanied by excellent DJs
You've heard of pop-up restaurants, right? (I'm sure Dr Oetker's explained them to you). Now, here's the um, next phenomena: pop-up bars. Not quite the same premise as the pop-up restaurant, but the clever boys over at Juke Joint Bar have created transportable craft beer on tap. Generally appearing at events such as Levenshulme Food & Drink market, Trove Foods and um, Brighton (that's the kind of city that's an event in itself, right?), the rentable bar is making a move to central Manchester for a few special weekends. The Juke Joint Bar, run by Jon and Joe - once of the Gas Lamp/Wahlbar and the Beagle - revolves around transportable Jockey Boxes (devised by the fellas themselves), and are always filled with an awesome selection of beer when curated by these guys. They recently took over Black Jack brewery (where their office is based) for a weekend of Brew Tap fun, accompanied by food from the Moocher. We didn't actually try any of the food but their salt beef was apparently good enough even for vegan Jon - that's got to be saying something, surely?!

Now, for the beer. There was quite a selection, and that's not an understatement. No really, look >>>

Apologies for the blur - I may have had my second shot of 'tea vodka' by then.

In the interests of fairness, we tried as many beers as our livers could handle. If you enjoyed feeling sophisticated at IMBC, drinking beer in thirds, you can do this here too, meaning you get to sample a much greater variety than you would in your local boozer. As a less experienced beer drinker than Jamie, it was also a good opportunity for me to delve further into the craft beer world. I'm not particularly knowledgeable about brewing, but I am a keen craft beer drinker. I generally go for porters or stouts if I can handle something heavy, or a
decent malty pale ale when I'm drinking er, heavily. Amongst others, ones that stand out from the night include the Black Jack Alumni, Redchurch's Hackney Gold, Weird Beard's Black Perle and the Shoreditch Triangle. It's not all about the beer here though: there's also a carefully-chosen selection of spirits and um, apple juice. I really wanted to try some of the latter but given the already exemplary selection of beers on offer, it was difficult to turn one of them down in exchange for something non-alcoholic.

Unfortunately Jamie and I can't make Juke Joint's next event at Black Jack, but I whole-heartedly recommend it to those who are still searching for bank holiday weekend plans. Open Friday from 5pm, more or less all the way through to Sunday (I say more or less, those boys do need to sleep!), is there anything better than to sit on a seat (made by Jon and Joe themselves), drinking an excellent selection of craft beers listening to tunes that make you want to move your feet? I THINK NOT. Do it. (OH and if you like craft beer, watch out for an upcoming article in the Skinny Northwest by Jamie. It's interesting. Really. He didn't pay me to say that. And vote in their food and drink survey please. He did pay me to say that. Not really.)

Friday 22nd - Sunday 24th August
Black Jack Brewery (in the yard!)
36 Gould Street, Manchester
M4 4RN

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Gincident 2013, by The Liquorists

Awesome photograph taken by the talented  Pete Sheppard of Tone Photographer

The notion of a 'booze cruise' first entered my consciousness at the tender age of thirteen, on a family holiday in the Greek islands. Having previously developed a taste for melon flavoured 20/20, it probably would have been right up my street, had my parents been reckless enough to allow me out of their sight long enough to get cast away. Fortunately the days of teenage holidays with parents are long gone, my penchant for alcopops has developed into a full-blown love affair with good quality spirits, and the concept of a 'booze cruise' has a brand new meaning, thanks to the Liquorists 'Gincident'...
Messa-GIN a bottle. CHORTLE.

By no means seasoned Liquorist trailers, we did once before experience the delights of copious amounts of educational booze on the Ceylon Arrack trail. Though a fun-filled evening, the hopping from bar to bar left us feeling older than our years, and so the idea of a nice long sit down accompanied by gin delights left us experiencing sheer delight that we could both booze and wear slippers.

As soon as we stepped on board the good ship Liquorists, a very fine G&T was thrust into our hands. The boozy tour guides impressed upon us the importance of the Fever Tree tonic. None of that Schweppes shit here, ladies and gents, only the finest on one of these ol' trails. It is actually pretty damn good, and when I'm feeling a little flush I splash out on the good stuff. If it's good enough for Ferran Adria, it's good enough for me. Oh and the G in that tree was Martin Miller's. He does hotels too. Gin and hotels? OF COURSE.

Cured salmon and cucumber. Saved me from a hangover.
We were eased in gently to a night of gin, ensuring we had a good ol' feed. All of the food was served 'sharing style', which was surprisingly tidy considering we were on a floating vehicle, and was also bloody delicious. The best dish of the night was a juniper-cured salmon, served with a delectable cucumber and dill salad. It was so good, the braver-than-I Good Gobble stole a portion from the next table for me. Thanks guys! We also devoured posh chicken wings and a couscous dish served with ham hock, which universally appeared to be the best couscous dish anyone around our table had ever eaten.Whilst it's certainly not about the food on a Liquorists trail, it's good to know it's a whole lot more than an afterthought, and we were ready for our boozing completely sated.

For the uninitiated, the Gincident cruise takes place on a barge, meandering around Manchester's canals. Floating on the water, the cocktails - ya know, the reason why we were here! - are a tasty accompaniment or distraction to the weather out there, so it's worth a trip come rain or shine. We were lucky to be on board on one of the nicest days of the year. OH YEAH, THE COCKTAILS...

Hogarth's Fizz
First up was Hogarth's Fizz. IT WERE REET GOOD. Sorry, that must have been the um, Northern sailor in me. (No, no, not Alan). Something akin to a gin fizz, using Plymouth gin, it was given the Liquorists treatment with an addition of camomile syrup. Now I'm more used to drinking the earth apple (I totally didn't find out that's its other name from Wikipedia. Nope. Not me) before beddy-bos, so I wasn't sure how it was going to slip down in a gin cocktail. The taste, however, was reasonably subtle, and this fella proved to be one of my favourites of the night.

Next up was the um, wittily named Message G-In A Bottle. These guys, they don't just know booze ya know, they know WORDS TOO. And are obvz massive Police fans. Winning all round really. They'd gone to a fair amount of effort with this one, making me feel like the poshest hobo there ever was, drinking out of my specially branded paper bag. It didn't even taste like White Lightning - extra points! Sincerely, it tasted pretty awesome - they'd gone to great lengths to create their own ginger beer, if my memory serves me correctly, mixed with more of the hotelier's gin and a little taste of the Orient with a whisper of Jasmine tea. They don't do things by halves, these boys.

La Floraison D'Etre
Other very drinkable delights came in the form of a Sitting in an English Garden - essentially a better version of here's-one-we-made-earlier using Bloom Gin, with added strawberry liqueur. They'd also got their hands on an even better version of Fever Tree's tonic - this one with elderflower. Basically my favourite edible flower, so I drank this in double quick time...... leaving me not quite so forthcoming when it came to the Blossom Will Be. A pretty little number, using G'Vine gin - but perhaps the addition of white wine didn't sit so well in my delicate-as-a-flower tummy. That was fine though as my table partners happily indulged in extras.

The last cocktail of the night, and the one I'd most been looking forward to, having heard that Jamie Jones - one of the Liquorists moonlighters - had pretty much been crowned the KING OF GIN for was La Floraison D'Etre. G'Vine Floraison - as opposed to their Nouaison used in their earlier cocktail - is mixed with egg white, lemon, olive oil and pink peppercorns. The G'Vine products are a French-style gin; they are therefore made with grape spirit and each of the two have distinctly different flavours. The one in question here offering a more 'floral' and, I suppose, wine-like quality to it, marrying beautifully with the spice from the pepper and the unctuous oil. I expect the cocktail we were served up on the night wasn't quite the same recipe as that which won Jamie Jones the gin crown, but it was a well-balanced drink that was worth the wait.

We were invited on the trail and thus drank for free. Gin can't buy my love though it can buy Jamie's (that's my other half not the gin king), so in the interests of fairness I was tasked with writing up this booze cruise. At £55, it might not sound 'cheap', but I reckon it's bloody good value: five expertly mixed cocktails, a G&T (or two!), food to line the tummy and a tour of the world-renowned (ahem) Manchester canals. Thank God I never did embark upon one of those Ouzo-filled boat trips as a naive teen: good things do come to those who wait...

Go on, book on...who could say no to that jacket? Clearly not the gin king.
The Liquorists have got loads more of these Gincident trips planned. You can book on here!

All photos provided by Tone Photographer (he's alright innee?!).

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Hemingway Bar, Prague

Manhattan at Hemingway Bar
I love booze. There, I've said it - that's the first step, right? Jamie loves it too. We're probably doing to die eating cat food because we've spent all our money on Gin Mare and Rip Van Winkle bourbon. Not a bad way to go, I suppose, as long as Heston comes up with a pet food range for Waitrose in the next thirty years. So, we've frequented the majority of Manchester's cocktail bars and now we're moving on to the Continent.

In our experience, upmarket cocktails bars in Europe differ from bars here. There's few places which offer table service, although Proof and Epernay are exceptions, though neither of those are quite as intimate as the places we've visited when abroad. There's nowhere quite like the hostess-seated, Green Door in Berlin, the ring-for-entry art deco space where Miles Davis once played, L'Archiduc in Brussels, or the too-cool-for-menus, El Gimlet in Barcelona. Fortunately, Berry and Rye - a stone's throw away over in Liverpool - is more akin to our favourite holiday haunts.

Maybe it's just the holiday feeling that adds a certain je ne sais quois to the aforementioned bars, and I certainly mean no insult to the places that are serving some damn good drinks here in Manchester. Maybe I just go all pretentious as soon as I'm drinking in another country and want table service ALL THE TIME, certainly no standing and a bartender who looks like he's walked off a 1930s film set. God, I'm demanding, aren't I?

Courtesy of the Hemingway Bar website (it actually looks better than his in real life)

One of the places we found on holiday in Prague which ticked all the boxes was Hemingway Bar. We loved it so much, we managed to squeeze in three trips in our four night stay, and certainly worked our way through a hefty portion of the menu. I knew I'd love it as soon as I read the 'bar rules' on the menu online; some way find them a little arrogant, but having worked as a bartender for a number of years, they're exactly what I like to see when I walk into a place - I'm just not sure if others take as much notice of them.

Pistachio & Blackcurrant Cosmo - with pistachio foam!
From the attentive and friendly service - we had the same waiter on two of the three nights who was lovely, and had recently started working there after his old place of work flooded! - to the attention to detail in the drinks, we found the place hard to fault. Hardened booze-hound Jamie found some of the drinks too 'watered down' for his English palate, but on the most part they were a delight, even the cocktail which included English mustard!

As I say, we tried a few cocktails over the three days, and learnt they mixed a mean Manhattan and even did justice to some more typically 'girlie' drinks, such as their Pistachio & Blackcurrant Cosmopolitan. If you enjoy proper cocktails, a spot of table service and even a good ol' shake at your table, Hemingway Bar is worth a trip (or three!) if you're visiting Prague.

Hemingway Bar Praha
Karolíny Světlé 26
Praha 1

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Proof's 'Liquid Brunch'

Oysters: hangover-cure in a half-shell

Brunch. While there's some debate as to the origins of this portmanteau, there can be no debate that it's one of the most overlooked of mealtimes. Originally, brunch was a cure for 'Saturday night carousers'; something not as heavy as a full-on a Sunday roast for the hungover hordes. Though there was no shortage of boozehounds back then, there's just plain more of us now, waking up at the weekend with throbbing heads and rumbling stomachs, looking for the ideal brunch spot. But, where to go? Well, if you live in Chorlton or its environs (hell, even further afield - it's worth the journey) then Proof have stepped up to plate with their Liquid Brunch.

Beet 'n' Bloody
A drawback of most places that offer brunch is the lack of decent liquid refreshment. Sure, you've got your coffee and your fruit juices (maybe, a Bloody Mary at a push and a side of scowl from the bartender) but for those who like to treat their hangovers with more of the devil drink, the options are few and far between. But not at Proof. Thanks to the crack cocktail team, you can get back on the wagon in style with a selection of no less than six brunch-inspired concoctions. From the Margarita-based Holy Guacamole and a twist on the classic Bloody Mary, Best 'n' Bloody, there's something for all manner of ailment. So you don't have to listen to me prattle on about the merits of each one and list their ingredients, I've kindly added a copy of the menu below. Suffice it to say, that Proof have been mixing some of the best drinks in Manchester for years now, and their Liquid Brunch doesn't disappoint.

And it's not all liquid. They serve up three different bagels that will please meat-eaters, pescatarians and vegetarians alike. If you're brave enough, they also do a platter of oysters with all the trimmings. They're keeping it local too with bagels coming from the ever-popular Barbikan and oysters coming from the guys at Out of the Blue. If that doesn't tempt you, the price most certainly will. With a cocktail and a bagel costing just a tenner, or two cocktails for 12 quid, you won't feel to guilty about loosening those purse strings again after a heavy night.

We were guests of Proof and between each member of the group we managed to sip and scoff our way through the entire menu. Pairing a bacon and roasted tomato bagel with a souped-up Bloody Mary is a must; the Holy Guacamole with, you guessed it, homemade guacamole was a surprise hit; and if you like something less savoury the Brunch Martini is a sophisticated alternative. 

Liquid Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday from 12-4pm.

30a Manchester Road
M21 9PH

The menu: get browsing

Monday, 8 July 2013

Recipe: our English Garden Martini

We'd just booked a holiday and the next pay day seemed like a lifetime away. Sainsbury's sent an e-mail asking whether anyone would like a free bottle of gin to write about their 'perfect serve'. As supermarket spirits increasingly overtake well-known industry producers in the International Spirits Challenge awards, it seemed like now was a good time to sell-out and accept a product freebie...

Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Blackfriars Gin  recently won 'gold' in the aforementioned awards, flying past renowned brand names such as Hendrick's, BLOOM, Bombay Sapphire, and even Gin Mare (Jamie's personal fave). Whilst we're yet to try it in a classic Martini, which I suppose is one of the best tests of taste, the cocktail I did make it in was bloody delicious. So here's my 'perfect serve', ideal for the spate of super sunny weather we're currently having...

Whilst the gin was perfectly quaffable in a standard G&T, I wanted to do something a bit different with it, and so decided to create a cold infusion with cucumber. Using the same quantities of cucumber and gin (I used 200g and 200ml - any amount will work, but as this was the first time I was to make it, I wanted to check that it was drinkable first!). Next time, I'm likely to use a full bottle...

Firstly, you'll want to peel your cucumber and chop the hell out of the slippery green thing. Add the same amount of liquid and get whizzing with a hand blender: you'll want a vessel with high sides so you don't give yourself a surprise face mask. Once blended, you'll refrigerate this mixture for a number of hours - the longer the better. (Heston suggests 16).

We were being a bit fancy pants though and popped ours in one of our vacuum seal tubs - which meant that after just a couple of hours, the cucumber flavour had really penetrated the gin. Once the gin has infused for the proposed amount of time, it will need to be fine-strained to remove the cucumber mush! (I reckon someone cleverer than I could turn this mush into some sort of gin-infused cucumber granita...)

This is a little bit time-consuming, but unless you want a cucumber smoothie, totally necessary! I then decided to use this cucumber-infused gin in a taken on the modern-classic 'English Garden Martini'. I cannot reiterate how refreshing this cucumber gin is - it's actually dangerously drinkable... I would thoroughly recommend making a huge vat of this for barbecues this summer. This is most definitely my 'perfect serve' and the gin-aficionado that is Jamie even said that it was one of the best gin martinis he's ever had. High praise indeed! We loved this one so much that we're considering serving it at our next supper club...

English Garden Martini

50ml     Taste the Difference Blackfriar's Gin infused with cucumber
75ml     Cloudy apple juice
12.5ml  Lime juice
7ml       Elderflower cordial
7 - 10   Mint leaves

1. Gently bruise mint leaves with muddler (or rolling pin)
2. Squeeze lime juice into glass part of cocktail shaker
3. Add remaining ingredients and fill glass with ice
3. Ensure top part of cocktail shaker is tightly fitted and SHAKE! 
4. Double strain (with hawthorne and double mesh strainer)
5. Garnish with mint leaf and enjoy!

This post used a complimentary bottle of gin, as provided by Sainsbury's. We were honestly pleased with the quality of the product and as the gin usually retails at £16.50 for a 70cl bottle, think it's a bit of a bargain too!

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Apotheca, Northern Quarter

Salted Caramel & Orange Rum Old Fashioned

It hardly seems a day goes by when a new bar hasn't just opened or a pop-up hasn't launched in the once-trendy, now over-saturated area of the Northern Quarter. Don't get me wrong: there's still lots of places I like in the area, it's just that I prefer not to have to wait in a queue of twenty-five people to get into a bar that used to be a lot less pretentious.

We recently reviewed Apotheca on Thomas Street for the website Social and Cocktail - and fortunately found out it's something of a pretence-free haven. To find out more about what we drank and thought, read our review here.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Beer vs. Wine: tell me what's your flava

Some beers

"That'll be six pounds please."

"What? Six pounds! For a bottle of beer? What's it made out of? Gold?"

"No, sir. The bottle is made of recycled glass. Oh, you mean the beer? No, not gold, actually, I mean hypothetically if it were it'd be worth about seventeen thousand pounds and be guaranteed to cause your insides irreparable damage. This is, of course, assuming that you have such a large amount of disposable cash to hand."

"Do you know what, I'll have a bottle of Peroni."

Of course, I'd never be that condescending, never mind erudite. Though as a manager of a bar specialising in craft beer, the above response has certainly crossed my mind more than a few times. However, it serves to illustrate a relatively new phenomenon: the explosion of the beer scene and the subsequent flooding of the British market with 'craft' beer has meant consumers are being asked to cough up a lot of dough for their precious beer. Even if it's brewed up the road. However, charge someone £15 for a bottle of wine and they rarely bat an eyelid; charge them £6 for a bottle of beer and they look at you like you'd just claimed Margaret Thatcher was the best thing that ever happened to British politics (too soon?).

'It's all about the ABV!' some of you might cry. That's Alcohol By Volume, basically a measurement of how strong an alcoholic drink is. But surely it's more than that? After all, sink three pints of, say, Jaipur at 5.9%, we'd hope you've got change from 15 bob and you'll have just passed the 10 unit mark; conversely, shell out £15 on a bottle of wine at 13.5% and guess what? You've had just over 10 units. So if it's about booze for your buck, then that's put a logical bullet in the argument.

So, why do people baulk at paying £6 for a 500ml bottle of beer but don't fear £15 for 750ml of the most average mass-produced house wine? The existing preconception seems to be: beer should be cheap, yet wine is somehow worthy of the extra markup (those elusive extra units of alcohol aside). Perhaps it's due the cultural significance we attach to it and its colourful history - the great wine plague of the 1800s, the fact that bottles of Mouton Rothschild can sell for thousands, and it's not like you'd hose someone down with a can of Fosters to celebrate (well, they might do Down Under).

But to believe this is to be a traditionalist, which I am certainly not. Beer has been brewed for far longer than wine and some brave authors have even speculated that the advancement of civilization was due to our thirst for this most primitive of alcohols. Beer can also be a good deal more complex than most give it credit for. I won't go as far as Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at Brooklyn, who says that "wine has but one ingredient - grapes". But I know what he's getting at. With beer you have the malted barley (or other grain), the hops and the yeast, the varieties and quantities of which can be changed to make almost endless combinations. That's before we get to the roasting of the malts and the degrees of darkness. It certainly seems like, if anything, there's a lot more control over the flavour that can be achieved.

Wine, of course, has the elusive quality of 'terroir' - the idea that the land imparts a unique quality to wine, the special combination of soil, climate and geography. But when you take into account the story that some of the world's greatest wine critics thought that white wine dyed red was red wine (try saying that five times fast!) then you'd forgive me for being a bit skeptical about anyone's ability to identify something as esoteric as 'terroir'. To be honest, I'm a little prejudiced against wine because of the snobbery that exists about it and the absurd value some people attach to it. I can only hope beer doesn't go the same way.

So, like all great diplomats, I'm going to open a bottle of claret, pour a pint of ale, and go sit on the fence. Anyone who has tried a lot of beer and wine (I've also had the pleasure of working in a region specific wine shop in Paris) knows they are both extremely diverse and can conjure up all sorts of flavours and sensations. If you're drinking them on their own, then it's down to personal preference. When it comes to pairing with food, then beer can give wine a serious run for its money. But that's a story for another day. And I'm feeling rather sleepy from this beer and wine combination...

What do you think? Is the price of wine justified, where the cost of beer isn't? Or should we get rid of old habits, and swap our Burgundy for a Brooklyn?

Great places to pick up a bottle (of either!):
The Beer Moth, 70 Tib Street, Northern Quarter - the name says it all
Tiny's Tipple, Wilbraham Road, Chorlton - has a great selection of both sides of the fence
Reserve Wines, Burton Road, West Didsbury - great selection of wines & a carefully selected fridge of beers & ales

Monday, 11 March 2013

The Liquorists: Ceylon Arrack Trail

My experience of a Liquorists trail can be summed up in the following three bullet points:
  1. I haven't drunk like this since university 
  2. 25 minutes to drink a Sazerac and a glass of punch is not enough
  3. Capping off the night with a rum Old Fashioned and a Martini is just plain stupid
The last is my own bittersweet fault and I only partly blame The Liquorists. Nobody had a gun to my head, forcing me to drink the copious amounts of booze but it seemed in the 'spirit' of things, if you'll pardon the pun. (Five bars) x (a cocktail and a shot of punch) = this quote by Ernest Hemingway: “Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”

Now, before you think - "Hold On! He's not selling this very well!" - I did have a great time. I'd simply advise booking the following day (NB: read week) off work unless you're blessed with an immunity to hangovers. Of course, as an advocate of responsible drinking, I know there is no need to drink everything that is put in front of you but it doesn't seem financially sound not to (although I should mention that this perhaps isn't a logical argument in this case, as we were guests of the kind folks at the Liquorists).

For those who haven't heard of The Liquorists, they are Tom Sneesby and Jody Monteith, a pair of vastly experienced bartenders turned consultants who run among other things the Manchester Spirit and Cocktail Trails. They take a spirit and teach you about it in the best way possible: drinking it in various concoctions. It's an upmarket, informative pub-crawl if you will, which they run from their headquarters/bar/venue/studio at 22 Redbank in the Green Quarter. Imagine a kind of boozy Bat-cave.

The bartenders' Bat-cave.
For this particular trail we had the company of Jody and the spirit in question was Ceylon Arrack. Now, I'd like to qualify that I too am a bartender albeit it one with much less experience but a great deal of curiosity; and I can't remember the last time I tried a spirit that was completely new to me. And I'm guessing that, with the exception of the 'trailblazers' and a select few, not many of you will have ever heard of this mysterious drink.

Ceylon Arrack has a great story behind it and Jody, being a great teacher and a passionate orator, conveyed its heritage to us over the course of the night. It is a spirit distilled from the sap of the coconut flower and comes from Sri Lanka where the 'toddy tappers' climb coconut trees, make holes in them and collect the milky sap which is also used to make palm sugar and coconut syrup. We were shown pictures of these daredevils 'tight-roping' between the enormous palms. The distillate of the fermented sap is then aged for a short period in Sri Lankan 'Hamilla' wood to mellow it.

Ceylon Arrack takes a little bit of flavour from the wood and bears a slight resemblance to a bourbon or cognac on the nose. It also has the floral, green qualities from the sap but its finish is predominantly sweet, almost caramelized, coconut. Thus it sits well with other flavours that like coconut, especially lime, pineapple, and ginger. These flavour combinations made up a lot of the shots of punch if I'm not mistaken.

The Sazerrack at Hula
It is beyond the scope of this post (and my hazy memory) to describe all the cocktails we had, suffice to say that you can mix it with ginger beer, a dash of bitters and a slice of orange as Jody did; or treat it more like a bourbon and make a Sazerac out of it like the guys at Hula with their Sazerrack (see what they did there?). We were also treated to cocktails at Northern Quarter stalwart Apotheca and newcomer The Whiskey Jar, ending up in Epernay. Transport was provided where necessary and we were given a nice Sri Lankan curry before embarking on the crawl as well as snacks at each bar, most noteworthy of which was Epernay's cheese and meat selection.

Um, something with beer in it at the Whiskey Jar. No idea what it was called.
I reckon with The Liquorists at the helm you're always going to be guaranteed a drink-fuelled night with the right balance of education, entertainment and socialising. Put a group of strangers together and there's always an element of awkwardness at the start which quickly dissipates after several drinks. This being organized fun after all, the only qualm I have is that the night could have started a little earlier to allow a bit more time in each bar as there were times went things felt a little rushed. I do nonetheless acknowledge the restrictions on time and the difficulty of herding a load of tipsy sheep from pen to pen!

After all this talk of booze, I feel I should leave you with a sobering thought. A cursory glance at an article on the Sri Lankan 'toddy tappers' will tell you that their art is dwindling one. The younger generation are put off by the risk, the hard labour and the poor wages (750 rupees/£3.80 for 100 litres of sap). Many of the ageing toddy tapper population have no one to follow in their footsteps. So it remains to be seen whether the manufacture of Ceylon Arrack will become an industrialized process and lose most of its heritage in the process. Let's hope not.

In the interests of transparency, I'll mention again that we were guests of the Liquorists, but like drinking those last cocktails, no-one has forced us into writing anything nice.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Berry & Rye, Liverpool

1920s America: terrible racism, organized crime, and a brief post-war recession aside, I sometimes like to think I’d have enjoyed living in the USA during the Prohibition era. Imagine a time when the humdrum activity of going to a bar was charged with the excitement of illegality; a time when the mere act of raising a pint to your lips was tantamount to ‘sticking it to the man’; a time when bars were secretive, underground and un-signposted.

Nostalgia can of course be a terrible thing. Let’s make one thing clear - the booze would have been dire, knocked up by your neighbour in the same bathtub in which he washed his dog or, worse still, the poisonous “canned heat” made from roughly filtering Sterno, a type of jellied alcohol-based fuel. I very much doubt a good Manhattan would have been easy to come by.

So we come to Berry and Rye, a bar which casts its eye back to the speakeasies of the Roaring Twenties for its aesthetic; but has living, breathing 21st century bartenders with a plentiful supply of excellent spirits and formidable cocktail knowledge. No need to worry about the rising membership of the Ku Klux Clan or why all the good writers are emigrating to Europe, just sit back and enjoy the atmosphere

If this weren't such a great bar, I’d be loath to recommend it, lest its obscurity be compromised in the least of ways. But it is that good: a breath of fresh air, the kind of bar I own in my dreams, the kind of bar you can normally visit only after buying a ticket to Berlin or Barcelona.

So, it’s a Thursday night in Liverpool, Anna and I, braced against the biting wind, wander down Berry Street past the legion of Chinese takeaways and fried-chicken shops looking for a number. We approach an unassuming black doorway behind which we can faintly hear some sign of life. Is this it? I open the door, breast-stroke through the heavy black curtain, and feel like I've stepped back in time. Well, except for the fashion.

Anna goes to the bar to ask for menu only to find out there isn't one: surely, a good omen. So we take a seat in an intimate booth, the waiter brings over some water, perches beside us and asks us what we’d like to drink. Anna is in the mood for whiskey and I for gin, so after some querying and several suggestions we settle one a Volstead Act and a Martinez.

The former, named after the piece of legislation that established prohibition, is a blend of bourbon, sweet vermouth, white cacao, and bitters. The latter is a classic cocktail of gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino and, usually, orange bitters; if you like a Negroni then the omission of the bitter Campari for the nutty, floral, cherry notes of maraschino. Both were smooth and expertly mixed.

With drinks ordered, we could soak up the sights and sounds: the place is moodily lit by exposed-filament bulbs, rail-road lanterns and candles which give the place an old-timey feel, as do the antique photographs and the tunes playing over the speakers. Then the piano keys begin to tinkle a jazz standard and we both sense that our dinner plans have just been cancelled. Not that we particularly want to stave off hunger, but the prospect of going outside, back to reality, has immediately become abhorrent.

So we order another round with the able assistance of our waiter. I fancy a dirty Martini and am nudged in the direction of Chase gin, a British gin made exclusively from apples which are fermented into cider then distilled into vodka. The usual flavourings of juniper and coriander are apparent with some more unique characteristics of hops and bramley apples. It’s a full-bodied crisp gin which stands up well to the salty olive brine. Anna chooses a Sazerac, a drink guaranteed to intoxicate the most hardened booze-hound. Rinse and coat a glass with Absinthe, then stir bitters, cognac and bourbon over ice, then strain into aforementioned glass. Needless to say, we took our time over these.

Forgive me if I slip into 1920s parlance for a brief moment. On accounts of being ‘spifflicated’ as we were, we were all ‘goofy’ and there was no chance we’d be ‘getting our wiggle on’ soon so we decided to order some more of that ‘giggle water’. To cap off the night, Anna ordered another Volstead Act and I went for what I think the waiter called a Holland, being that it was made from Dutch gin or Jenever. I didn't have the wherewithal to ask which Jenever and am struggling to recall the ingredients; however, it tasted in my mind like a gin old-fashioned, with the Jenever imparting a malty, creamy mouth-feel. I’m sure I will find out more on my next visit.

This place is low-profile on the Liverpool bar scene so I can only imagine how well-known it is in Manchester. Now the secret's out.

Berry & Rye
48 Berry Street
L1 4JQ

Tuesday, 26 February 2013


A spate of engagements (all food and drink related naturally!) has recently meant a brief hiatus from blog posting.

When I say engagements I mean hangovers. After the Liquorists Ceylon Arrack trail and The Drunken Butcher's supper club (posts to follow), I could have taken a good shot at sousing herrings in my own stomach. Ergo, writing was not at the top of my priority list

The first was one of many visits to Gorilla and this time we'd set our phasers to 'review'. That's the first and last attempt at referencing Star Trek.

Nothing before had given me the impression that they would disappoint and indeed Gorilla is up there with Kosmonaut as one of our favourite new bars.

To find out more about what we thought take a look at our review over at Social & Cocktail.

Though the review here focuses on their drinks selection, I can heartily also recommend the burger, sticky chicken wings & halloumi (the latter two an absolute steal!).

54-58 Whitworth Street, Manchester
M1 5WW
0161 407 0301

Friday, 8 February 2013

Épernay Champagne bar

Despite having worked within hospitality in Manchester for a combined total of nigh on 14 years, both Jamie and I have - somehow - managed to totally bypass Épernay. I think this is in part due to my false belief that it was associated with a Birmingham bar of the same name, where I once had the er, pleasure of having an interview with the most socially awkward manager I've ever met. Fortunately, our wrongs have now been righted, and we visited last Thursday for a lovely evening of champagne & cocktails.

To find out more about what we thought take a look at our review over at Social & Cocktail.

Épernay Champagne bar

Unit 1A, The Great Northern Towers
Watson Street, Manchester, M3 4EE
0161 834 8802

Thursday, 17 January 2013


Tequila has a bad rep.

And I’ll freely admit that until recently I was among its detractors. I’m betting most people’s impressions of tequila are associated with the cheap stuff reserved for shooting - the stuff that leaves a foul taste in your mouth, even if you omit the obligatory salt and lime. I, for one, not so fondly remember drinking far more tequila than any 15-year-old should, looking deeply into my then girlfriend’s eyes and promptly throwing up all over her lap. The experience put me off this Mexican spirit for the next decade; but now all that’s changed.
5 years ago if you’d scanned the back bars of the better-stocked establishments in town, I can guarantee there would have only been a limited selection of tequila. Fast-forward to the present day and more and more tequila is making its way across the ocean as consumers outside of Mexico and America are realizing how deliciously sophisticated this spirit can be. The aged tequilas easily rival single malts, cognacs and bourbons in their complexity and flavour profiles.
Tequila is made from the hearts of the cactus-like blue agave plant and produced in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. The agave hearts, which can weigh as much as 45kg, are steamed then mashed with water before being fermented. The resulting liquid is distilled and bottled or aged for various lengths of time as you will see below. When aging tequila, producers might use barrels that once contained bourbon, wine or scotch in order to impart different flavours to the base spirit. Combine these flavours with the distinctive agave taste of tequila and you’ve got a very diverse product, which sits comfortably between ‘white’ and ‘brown’ spirits.   
So what should you look out for when choosing tequila? Look out for 100% agave or agave azul on the label (although this isn’t necessarily a signifier of quality, take Jose Cuervo Tradicional for example). In the UK, you’ll usually only encounter three types of 100% agave tequila:

Blanco – usually bottle immediately after distillation or aged for less than 2 months and clear to straw-coloured in appearance.

Reposado – aged for at least 2 months but no longer than a year in primarily oak barrels giving a darker appearance and a smoother more developed flavour.

Anejo – Aged for over a year but no more than 3 in small oak barrels giving an amazingly complex dark brown spirit.

There also exist extra anejo tequilas which tend to be rare and prohibitively expensive. Blanco tequila has a distinctive flavour with light aromas of charcoal, flowers and vanilla. It takes on bolder characteristics as it matures and, depending on the types of barrel it’s aged in, can resemble a fine, unctuous white wine or a bold, fruity cognac.     

So if you want to break free from the salt, lime, and shots here are my recommendations:

3 Straight-sippers
If you glimpse these behind the bar, order one of these straight up if you can take it, or on the rocks if you want to soften the blow.
El Jimador Reposado
Tapatio Reposado
Don Juilo Anejo

3 Cocktails in the city
Beginner: for the tequila initiate, why not try Sandinista’s ‘Zapatista’. This is a tequila-based take on an espresso martini using Patron silver and Patron XO Cafe. The tequila is subtle enough that a newcomer won’t be put off but holds its own against the coffee background.

Intermediate: wanna go a bit further? Try Corridor’s take on a ‘Fool’s Gold’. I’m not sure if it’s still on the menu but I can testify that the bar staff will happily make you one...or three. This is not lengthened as much as the Zapatista so expect more tequila but balanced harmoniously with chocolate and orange (or at least that’s what I get!).

Advanced: if you can handle a real tequila hit then opt for The Gaslamp’s Margarita. The classic combination of tequila, cointreau (or other orange liqueur) and lime is lifted by using a very good reposado tequila and increasing the level of booziness. If you like this, you’ll be hooked!