Quirky, Independent and well crafted. Everything a true Birmingham bar needs to be
This is Sam,
Sam is the man behind The Vanguard, a new cocktail bar in the Jewellery Quarter that sits above 1000 Trades, whilst they are separate businesses they have a mutual understanding that allows you to move freely between each one and ensures there is no repetition or duplication in their menus.
I had seen a couple of posts about The Vanguard online and read a few articles that mentioned it too so I was keen to go and have a look, especially as it is so close to home. There are two types of cocktail bar in my mind, the ‘loud, crowded, dayglo, night out’ ones and the ‘laid back, sip your fancy drink and imagine yourself as part of the English gentry’ type. Personally, I am a fan of the later and will always pick somewhere more relaxed that focuses on service above somewhere that puts sparklers in my drink. Cocktails can be so hit and miss so I think finding the right place to enjoy them is essential and the Jewellery Quarter is becoming an ever exciting place to be.
Anyway, one of the first things that struck me was the setting, beautiful old panelled windows, bare walls and minimal decor. Nothing fussy or in your face yet still a nice mix of elegant and industrial, a particularly nice touch are the large tables that were made Sam and his Dad- I like venues with stories and this is the kind of place that feels very homely you could bring your dog and put your feet up and still feel welcomed (yes- it’s dog friendly!). I also liked that much of the drinks on display had come from Sam’s own collection at home, it’s always interesting to see what other people keep on hand for good/bad days!
We started off chatting with Sam about his experience in the drinks industry (which is vast), his love of brandy (I’m not a fan but he has plans for a large selection) and then got cracking with a mead tasting session. I have to be honest at this point and say that at no point in my life have I ever considered mead to be something I would like, but I’m always willing to try something new. We had 3 different types of Mead although there are 11 on offer with more to come. I was interested to find out that it’s the largest selection to be served in a UK bar and that producers now approach Sam for advice and input on their products as he is such an expert in what is certainly a specialist field. Whilst there are currently no set rules around what does or does not constitute a ‘real’ mead this is something he is working on. Certainly I didn’t know much about it and assumed it was flavoured wine so was interested to find out more.
From Wikipedia: Mead (/miːd/; archaic and dialectal meath or meathe, from Old English medu) is an alcoholic beverage created by fermenting honey with water, sometimes with various fruits, spices, grains, or hops. The alcoholic content ranges from about 3.5% ABV to more than 20%. The defining characteristic of mead is that the majority of the beverage’s fermentable sugar is derived from honey. It may be still, carbonated, or naturally sparkling; dry, semi-sweet, or sweet.
Also, we talked about bees and how their environment influences the flavour- I like bees and the idea of giving them a better environment that also leads to a good tasting drinks really pleases me. I hadn’t given much thought to the way in which honey obtains his flavour.
The first drink we tried was a still mead of 11% abv. This was made by Lyme Bay which you probably will have seen in before as they do flavoured wines in a distinctive bottle (they stock them at The Midland) This is normally served as it comes but in the summer this would taste great over ice, of the 3 we tried this had the most pronounced flavour, it’s an aromatic ‘garden mead’ that carries the sweetness of honey with an unexpected finish of fresh mint. I really enjoyed it, easy to drink, not overly sweet and an interesting new flavour to get excited about.
We followed this up with the Yore sparkling mead (4%) which is often considered a good introduction to the drink (note, its made by the same people as the one above but in fancier, bar friendly packaging) I wasn’t as keen on this although I do think it is better presented from a point of sale perspective and I wouldn’t mind trying another sparkling version. I couldn’t quite place it but I found a slightly bitter aftertaste lingered in my mouth and it lacked some of the freshness of our first drink.
Our final taster came from a meadery called Gosnells, they have a couple of varieties available and their branding is akin to that seen on a lot of craft ales at the moment. We tried the Citra Sea (5.5%) version which made from sea water, lemon peel, tarragon and Citra Hops. I can see this easily gaining a lot of popularity given its sweet and salty flavour (salted caramel has had its day after all..) and as someone who doesn’t like beer or ales a mead is a nice alternative to some of the über cool drinks that seem to be available at the moment but are just too bitter for my overindulged taste buds. So impressed with finding a ‘new drink’ that I liked I did enquire as to whether there are any plans for tasting sessions or flights as I think this would be a great introduction for people like myself who may have been wary so hopefully this is something that may happen in the future.
Sam has an interest in some of the more unusual drinks so we got to taste Fernet Menta – some discussion ensued about the taste of the original Branca version which sounded like rocket fuel mixed with cough syrup but seemingly has a cult following. Having never tried it before, I’m glad my introduction came in the lighter more menthol version. It has a complicated mix of herbs and spices but with a distinctive dark chocolate, minty edge that tastes like an alcoholic after-eight. The thick, viscous texture makes it an ideal post dinner liqueur.
Before heading off, we each had a cocktail to finish things off, there is an emphasis on simple serves without unnecessary fuss which means the ordering process is efficient and drinks arrive at the table in a very efficient manner. I also liked that the drinks themselves come with limited descriptions which encourages you to try things based on flavour rather than preconceived ideas based on what spirits you would normally order.
My choice (and there was never any question as to what I would have) was the Cherry Pi, a combination of cherry, chocolate, spiced wine and walnut. Based on a Martinez it is a combination of gin, sweet vermouth, bitters and cherry it has a deep flavour but without too much sweetness from the cherry and a soft spicy scent.
Jordan chose ‘The Wonder Emporium’ (cool name!) which has a wintry feel from dark berry fruits including sloe . We didn’t get chance to ask which spirits went into it but it was a fresh, easy drinker with a lot of depth.
With cocktail glasses emptied we headed off to Peels for dinner, The Vanguard is certainly the kind of bar we will head back to- the idea of being able to move easily up from 1000 Trades for a languid evening with a good soundtrack is an appealing one and we have plans to take a few friends mead tasting already.
Many, many thanks to Brumderland for the invite and making me get out to meet other bloggers for the very first time.
Independent Birmingham Members will be pleased to know that discounts are now available at The Vanguard
The Vanguard – upstairs at 1000 Trades
16 Frederick St, Birmingham B1 3HE
Disclaimer: I was invited to The Vanguard for a blogging event and drinks were complimentary but with no obligation to review.