Clambering down the stairs of the Iron Stag, wrestling with a scarf, gloves and enormous coat from the cold, some scotch is exactly what you’re craving.
From one of the most Northern points of the nation comes Wolfburn, non-chill filtered Highland whiskies revived by the banks of the Wolf Burn, inspired by the sea-wolf, revived after many years of inactivity.
Gareth sits us down at Hoxton’s Iron Stag, restaurant above and cosy, dark bar below. By candlelight we sip the American Oak matured single malt, the Wolfburn Northland. On the nose, lightly briny and malty, with shiny of smoke carried on the air – but still rich with fruit. The whisky opens with honey roasted nuts, leading to floral and orchard fruits with hints of raisin, ending on a finish of seductive smoke. I suppose I’m starting with my favourite of the three, a peaty yet balanced dram.
Next, for the sweeter palates, the Aurora. A combo of ex-bourbon and Oloroso Sherry casks create this smooth, almost syrupy whisky. The nose gives us pecans and cocoa, the flavour smooth and subtle in comparison to the Northland. The signature nuttiness cascades with currant fruits and vanilla, with a sherried spice finish.
And finally, the Morven ends the evening with a peatier dram. A smoky nose if vanilla and oak precedes a palate of smoky vanilla, rich malt and honey, ending on a peppery and caramelly hint of ginger and sweetness. Beautiful.
Wolfburn is a fairly recent distillery, but their core range displays an instinct toward versatility and variety while still maintaining a core of Wolfburn flavours of nuttiness and light smoke, leaving us waiting to see what they have in store for us in future.
So, after an all-nighter of working on my Bites Here and There conference lecture, what a relief it was collapse onto my bed at the Edgbaston Boutique Hotel. Massive room in a Grade II listed building, gorgeously done in black and gold Art Deco, extending from the theme that dominates the hotel yet contrasting against the Victorian architecture. After a long shower, you know full well I raided room service to find out:
Room. Service. Cocktails.
I can imagine you also already know full well the 15 GBP half-bottle of Moet & Chandon champagne in the fridge accompanied me into the free-standing Victorian bathtub in the middle of room soaked with Elemis Lavender bath oils, along with the room serve Smokey Old Bastard cocktail.
And once one’s had their fill of Sevdaliza’s ISON, turning on the TV to find Diana Rigg announcing she wants ‘Cersei to know it was her’ made for a fantastic pre-birthday treat to turn a bedroom into a pseudosauna after a few hours in the bath.
So, outside the superb boutique hotel experience, what do we
have to say about the bar?
The first night’s cocktail was probably my favourite of my weekend in Birmingham (alongside the Oaxaca at 18/81). The Smokey Old Bastard mixes Aberlour A’Bunadh whisky, Ardbeg 10 yr, Pedro Ximinez sherry and Maple.
Now you know I love it already. The A’Bunadh powers through gorgeously. A classic sherry-heavy whisky, the Oloroso butts impart those orange and Xmas spices notes to the nose. The palate is indulgent, and wintery – dark chocolate, cherries, lots of dry fruit and warm spice. Being cask strength, the finish is powerful and lasting, bittersweet and spicy. A favourite. Adore this whisky.
The Ardbeg 10, refusing to be outdone, cuts through the sweetness of the Aberlour, maple and PX sherry with a machete of citrus and smoke, and refuses to be ignored. Balancing the sweetness of the cocktail perfectly, the Smokey Old Bastard is beautifully balanced between spicy smoke and sweet, deep sherry, nutty, chocolatey goodness.
We’ve all dated this guy before and kind of regret dumping
The next day is a blur of trains and conferences, but I’m back to see a dear friend at the Edgbaston bar – now I get to enjoy the venue as it should be. Black and gold décor with our wonderful hosts, manager Tommy and bartender Matt who are absolute delights to spend an evening with and wizards behind the bar. This isn’t counting the quiet library bar in the next room, or the golden basement bar.
She orders the Strawberry Vale, and I love to see cocktail return to a simplicity that works. Hendrick’s gin, cucumber, prosecco and fresh strawberries. Vanilla that normally cowers bursts through, encouraged by the strawberry – cucumber trails in on the tails of the prosecco.
Finally, a question I repeatedly asked myself in the 10-hour chore that was Lord of the Rings, Who Wants To Go To Mordor Anyway?
Sacred gin mixed in with Lagavulin 16 yr whisky, Campari,
fresh lemon and a waste-fruit tepache. The sweetened ferment provides a
powerful sour tropical flavour that dominates the cocktail, but still saves
some modesty to allow the peat and brine of the Lagavulin 16 in, accompanied on
arm by the bitter Campari.
This drink is a fascinating experience for the adventurous
drinker, but for the novice the strong flavours might be a bit of a challenge.
Between the immaculate service and delightful company, the spectacular drinks and wonderful surrounds, one can see why the Edgbaston has won its awards. And with the superb rooms upstairs, this three-bar venue is worth the stay – the alum of the excellent bars of Birmingham graduating from their stations at the Edgbaston is a testament to the hotel’s originality and talent behind the bar. If you do anything in Birmingham, come down to the Edgbaston with a Smokey Old Bastard on hand.