The world's best G&T?

BIRMINGHAM → LONDON → MEXICO CITY

Little known fact: there's an Olympics for bartenders. Okay there isn't — but there is World Class — the Individual Medley of the cocktail world. And there's just one bar in the country with two finalists in June's UK shake-off. The Edgbaston is that bar, and these are the drinks, and the master mixers that made it so.
In the besparkled basement of 18 Highfield Road, James Bowker and Tommy Matthews are pumped. Riding higher than a tetherless kite, they've made it through blind-tastings, timed-challenges and beaten every bartender in the UK — bar nine who progressed with them — to be in with a significant chance at the global finals, in Mexico City. To get to the semis each was required to create a drink that ticked the ‘future trends’ box. Think high-tech twists and creations that have the ability to play to emotional connections. Naturally, each spent hours creating three linked cocktails. Tommy (pictured, above) used multiple flavour profiles to make whisky more approachable to people who might usually drink white spirits.
Using sous-vide, distillation and social media, Lighter (pictured, above), was the middle-pick in the trio that got Tommy through and is essentially a wildly preened Old Fashioned. Much of the preening comes through the homemade bitters and syrup Tommy created for the competition, using purple shisho, sakura tea, calendula and a load of other bits you'll basically need to Google. Speaking to the tech element of the 'future' theme, Tommy made an Instagram account which explains everything. Something that was worth the effort — the judges broke their own rules and after the live announcements appeared to be at an end, put Tommy through as the eleventh UK finalist. Cue bear hugs.
This won't be James' first final, having made it to the very latter stages of the UK competition last year. So the pressure to do at least as well as he had in 2016 was intense. Focussing on the emotional side of the brief, James created Mother, Lover, Child — a menu of drinks speaking to connections with the critical relationships in our lives. Mother (pictured, being made), is essentially a G&T — the drink he first enjoyed with his mum as an adult, after she would finish gardening for the day. At its base is Tanqueray No. Ten, which James absolutely advocates as the best classic gin on the market. It's a deceptively simple looking drink but suffice to say, James spent nine months perfecting one element of it (the violet leaf bitters) and it's served with a spritz of aroma — including fresh cut grass, a nod to the smell James recalls.  
The next round took place at what James described as "basically The Bridge from Star Trek" (also known as the development centre for distilling giants Diageo). Every wall was lit with projections and there were three doors, each leading to a different unknown challenge. The task Tommy found the most brain-zapping was a twelve strong, blind-folded tasting of indigenous Mexican ingredients, including items from pasilla chillies to Mexican oregano oil (as opposed to the regular stuff — apparently they're very different). Strictly timed, by the final ingredient there was no part of his tastebuds he could trust.
Part of a wider test for James was a vodka tasting where participants were required to identify both the exact brand and base product for each drop. When you consider that vodka has to be distilled to 96%, that leaves 4% of the drink from which to differentiate essentially a variety of grains — so choosing between wheat, spelt and rye. Yeah, he's got a decent palate. 

The UK World Class finals take place in London in June. What James and Tommy know is that three days of challenges following a minimal brief and severe lack of sleep awaits. What Tommy thinks he knows is that James is going to take top spot, and progress to the global finals in Mexico City. "I can't think of a reason James won't win — this is his time." No pressure then, Mr Bowker.

Though not on the menu, you can order Mother and Lighter if you ask nicely.

A PINT OF SCIENCE...


Across more than 100 cities globally, pints and science are being consumed, from May 15 to 17. In Brum you can get your cerebral matter round fifteen novice friendly events, including an evening on Forensic Linguistics and how it helps to ID the author of texts — particularly in criminal investigations. Led by Professor Grant and Dr Grieve, hear how their work has been used both to help solve historic crimes and more recent murder investigations. CSI your way to The Gunmakers' Arms on May 15, tickets are £4.

...AND A PACKET OF LITERATURE?


In one entirely awesome city, on a single day, the only literary festival held in the back garden of a pub is coming to one of our pre-eminent examples of outdoor drinking — the Prince of Wales. PowWow Festival of Writing brings together writers, agents and publishers for a day of discussions, networking and Q&As. This year's programme includes Joanne Harris of Chocolat velvetiness and The Guardian's Children's Fiction Prize winner for 2016, Alex Wheatle, who'll be chatting about the trilogy which attracted the award. May 7, tickets

CHEESE AND CHABLIS? LOVELY JUBBLY


If anyone tells you you've grated too much Parmesan on your pasta, put them firmly in Coventry. You don't need that kind of judgment in your life. What you do need is Cheval Blanc's new cheese menu. Yep, that's an entire carte devoted to one, wondrous thing and wines by the glass that are going to elevate that thing into audible appreciation territory. When we stopped by it was handsome bartender-slash-superhero Rory's favourite — unpasteurised cow's milk called Waterloo — that sung. Soft and mild, its distinctive yellow colour is due to the natural carotene in the Guernsey milk which makes up the buttery beaut. Boasting just the one thing in common with that unfortunate dog they killed off in Downton, the Oxford Isis was another firm fave. It's £12 for five cheeses, with which you get a splendid range of crackers and quince sort of things.

FILM OF THE WEEK: MINDHORN


There’s a degree of familiarity to Mindhorn – luckily, it’s funny enough to get away with it. That also means it's easy to describe, as anyone with a passing familiarity with The Mighty Boosh or Toast of London will know what they’re in for. The Boosh’s Julian Barratt co-writes and stars as Richard Thorncroft, a washed-up actor who played a bionic cop in the Eighties. Naturally, he’s offered the chance at redemption by hunting down a madman who’s convinced Thorncroft and the eponymous Mindhorn are one and the same. Problem is, Thorncroft has alienated pretty much everyone in his life. It all feels a bit Partridge-esque – Coogan even cameos – and the tone is far from ground-breaking, but there’s only one thing a comedy needs to do – make you laugh. And this does it in spades. Times & trailer
 

OKA EDGBASTON
IS NOW OPEN


We hear things. Things we'd sorely like to tell you but for a range of ethical and journalistic reasons, cannot. And a number of them relate to a certain Edgbaston Village — which shows no signs of slowing up on openings. But a newbie we absolutely can talk about is OKA, what with the lifestyle brand's first Midlands store being fully open and all. A lot like the houses you keep meaning to live in, the three-floors of lovely moves from countrified, to terrace party, to industrial city living — like the Ellington Hanging Lamps (£155, pictured) we're 100% coveting. In Antique Black the piece is inspired by the hanging lanterns of 1920s Parisian jazz clubs, and we like. This is the sort of place where you're actively invited to sit on sofas, chairs and whatever else you can find. Maybe even overhear something we can't yet divulge?
Venue: The Boat Inn, Lichfield, WS14 0BU; website
Choice: Venison (£19.95) Chooser: Head chef

In dining terms if Birmingham were the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros — and essentially it is — then North of the city would be North of the Wall. Bleak. Desolate. Emphatically not worth the journey. Step forward local chef Liam Dillon who, in years past, has been cutting his culinary teeth at Story (of best restaurant in the UK fame) and Noma (of best restaurant in the world fame). Sort of acceptable CV, then. The result? Bold, ballsy cooking including pig's head and burnt apple, fried guinea fowl thigh with quail’s egg, pigeon with dandelion, langoustine in a tongue-bathingly blissful bisque and a venison dish that deserves a plinth in Victoria Square. The depth of flavour in this deer was deeper than a Barry White scuba dive, and the meat's sidekick — a yeasted cauliflower — might sound off-putting, but it was nothing short of show-stopping. Liam Dillon might be serving some pub classics to sate the Boat Inn's old-guard, but mine the menu for the most daring dishes. Trust us, there's gold in them there hills. 
 
  • The Butchers Social's first supper club is on May 25. And it's a joint affair with Purity Ales. Harvey & Brockless British Charcuterie will be matched with wines and ales, so you'll like it
  • Tickets for Gorillaz at the Barclaycard Arena go on sale tomorrow (May 5) at 9am. Set reminders
  • Find out what the blithering hell spider steak is and then eat it, courtesy of Baked In Brick's Quarter Horse Coffee pop-up
  • Pick up headphones and an MP3 player on your way into the Barber Institute for their new listen-alongable music-meets-art exhibition
  • Vivid Projects' Dot.Art season launches May 6 and explores the internet as a medium for art from the 1990s through to the present day. Expect weirdness and geekery in equal measure
  • Get all sneaky and peeky at the Hippodrome this evening, where the lot of you are invited to their free season taster. If you're speedy enough to snaffle a seat that is
"Cheese is milk's leap toward immortality." - Clifton Fadiman
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WORDS: Tom CullenKaty Drohan, Andrew Lowry
IMAGERY: Tom Bird (The Edgbaston)

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