Good friend of The Birmingham Whisky Club and bar manager extraordinaire, Jacob Clarke, gives us his recommendations for the best whisky-filled locations to ring in the new year:
To truly enter the mindset of the Brummy Whisk(e)y lover, I decided to approach this article as any method actor would. Seated comfortably in my leather arm chair, a large Blanton’s Gold in hand, whilst lighting a Montecristo No.2 that I have long-saved for a special occasion. I would like to say this is true and that I am actually this classy. But for those of you who know me, you are far more likely to believe I am sat in the kitchen, half-way through a bottle of Bells and rolling the last of my Golden Virginia… with the cat staring at me.
I am by no means the most knowledgeable bar tender in the world of whisk(e)y, but I have always been keen to try something new. After enjoying a seven-year long career (and suffering a seven-year long hangover) in hospitality in Birmingham, I have witnessed this city evolve from a few pubs and cocktail bars, with a few rare spirits, to a thriving, innovative drinks scene. From dive-bars to high-end bars, from gastro pubs to pop-ups, more and more venues are stocking hard-to-find whiskies. With this article, I hope to shed at least a little bit of insight into where to go to spend this coming New Year’s Eve – somewhere warm, comfortable and, most importantly, stocked full of amazing whisk(e)y!
So, here are my top picks of a variety of styles of venue to visit:
The Gastro Pub – The Plough, Harborne
I have recently had the pleasure of getting to know Adam, the owner, and the management team from The Plough as they have been frequent visitors to the bar I am currently running in the city. They are truly a wonderful bunch who, in my eyes, are leading Birmingham in the right direction for what a Gastro Pub can truly do. My most recent visit consisted of me and my girlfriend getting on the wrong bus in the opposite direction near Harborne (I swear it wasn’t my fault) and we walked for what felt like forever in the freezing cold, seeking salvation. Naturally, we gravitated towards the nearest pub and The Plough, quite literally, provided us with shelter from the storm. With a cosy, heated area out the back (and warm blankets to boot) we both just felt like we were home. What’s more, is the incredible, ever-changing array of whisky and whiskey that they have to offer. From your favourite house scotch, to lesser-known, high-quality Japanese whiskies, they have something for everyone here.
The House Favourite: Pappy Van Winkle
My Favourite: Cotswolds Single Malt
NYE Opening Times: 8pm-2am, £25 Ticket
The Cocktail Bar – Rofuto, Birmingham
For those of you who haven’t had the joy of visiting this bar yet, you are truly missing out. Boasting possibly the best skyline view of the city, and authentic Pan-Asian cuisine, it is the epitome of class. My most memorable experience of this bar is drinking copious amounts of whisky and champagne on this year’s Valentine’s Day… and totally not embarrassing myself (I’m sorry Lee). Recently, when viewing the bar with slightly more sober eyes, I noticed that Anthony, the General Manager, has chosen a variety of Japanese whiskies for the bar, and what an incredible selection he’s decided on. If style, sophistication and raw, sexual magnetism is for you this year, head to Rofuto and it will not disappoint.
The House Favourite: Suntory Hibiki 17yo
My Favourite: Nikka From The Barrel
NYE Opening Times: 7pm-2am, 5 Course Feasting Menu, Ticketed Event @ £75 per head
The Pub – The Anchor, Digbeth
I may appear a little biased as I spent a year managing this pub, but I assure you it is well-worth a visit. I spent many years learning from the owner, Julian Rose-Gibbs, and what initially made me want to work for this man was his knowledge of whisky. Years ago, we would sit down at the end of a long Saturday night shift, grab the nearest thing to drink and de-compress from the night’s events. I always valued these seemingly insignificant conversations, because within them I would always find something new. A selling-point on bourbon, a flavour profile, but most importantly an interesting story. The first thing you may notice when walking into the Anchor is the surprisingly vast selection of whisky on the shelf. The usual suspects aside, you will clock one or two hard-to-find’s kicking around on the back bar. The man knows his stuff and you will be well looked-after if you head to Digbeth to see him at the end of December.
The House Favourite: Connemara Irish Peated
My Favourite: Paul John Brilliance
NYE Opening Times: 12pm-2am
Special Mention – Bar Humbug, The Jewellery Quarter
Located where Two Cats Kitchen once was, Bar Humbug isn’t afraid to say what we’re all thinking… ‘Christmas sucks, let’s get drunk’. This pop-up bar is headed up from the guys at The Wilderness, and the one and only James Bowker, embodying the spirit of ‘Anti-Christmas’. The exposed brick work, low-lighting and drinks presentation perfectly blends style and comfort for this cold December. Having known James for well over a few years now, I know his knowledge of whisky is second-to-none and the care and comfort of his guests come above all else. So, if you like drinks being thrown, premium service and your wife being seduced by his pale blue eyes, head down to see James this Christmas and you will be dazzled by a night you’ll never forget.
The House Favourite: Johnny Walker Blue Label
My Favourite: Balvenie 21yo
NYE Opening Times: 14 Course Meal, including Cocktails and Champagne @ £150 per head.