A view from the city: Birmingham

Hamish Smith speaks to founder of Smultronstalle, Rob Wood

IF YOU GOOGLE the words ‘Birmingham cocktail bars’ the results are not pretty – a long, familiar list of branded bars that would leave any true cocktail lover as cold as a blended Strawberry Daiquiri. In reality, however, on arrival at our great city there are a few highly polished diamonds in the rough – that is, provided you look past the obvious high street chains. Spread out around the city in locations of opportunity is a new breed of bar, the kind of bar that those aforementioned cocktail lovers search out with truffle pig precision.

Historically, Birmingham has been awash with bars that churn out the same old Mojitos, Margaritas and ‘Martinis’ (any flavoured cocktail served in 10oz V-shaped glasses) but hidden away behind discreet doors, lurking up an unassuming set of stairs or even within a museum you are likely to find some of the best drinks in the city.

Small venues now dominate the creative cocktail scene, opened by ex-bartenders who love their (often adopted) city just as much their own hometown. This small but perfectly manicured collection of well-tailored bars is paving the way for the future generation of drinkers. Birmingham is once again a force to be reckoned with, still carving firsts into the bedrock of the UK’s drinking culture and winning national awards and competitions left, right and centre.

It is impossible to talk about cocktails specifically in Birmingham without mentioning both Island Bar and Jekyll & Hyde, opened in 2007 and 2009 respectively and both still open. Some would argue that Jekyll & Hyde was the UK’s first modern gin palace, setting a precedent for hundreds of Victoriana-themed venues across Europe, not to mention the now ubiquitous ‘gin bar’.

So when you visit our beloved city, please, please please, construct a plan, make bookings and explore some of the best our city has to offer. The trendy Jewellery Quarter is home to a handful of fabulous independent bars, namely 40 St Paul’s, our resident award-laden gin bar masquerading as a neighbourhood haunt. Stocking 160 gins from all over the globe, this is a must-visit. New kid on the block, The Vanguard, offers mead as a specialisation but really focuses on fun, creative cocktails using all spirits. Just down the road you shall find Birmingham Whisky Club. I don’t have to tell you what is going on here but whether you’re a whisky fan or not you should definitely visit this bastion of whiskies from all over the known world.

Heading into the city centre, you can find great drinks with creative flair at Gingers Bar and searching out Bourne & Co for well made classic cocktails in a dark and cosy atmosphere is definitely worthwhile. If you yearn for ice-cold craft beer then do yourself a favour and track down Tilt, three floors of awesome beer sold by passionate beer nerds with a secret lurking below their feet. Among the madness of pinball machines and phenomenal beer lies Europe’s only bar serving multi-course cocktail tasting menus. Smultronstalle is owned and operated by myself and my partner and delivers a tasting menu of cocktails that blur the line between drinks, art and food. If super-swanky hotel bars are your particular penchant then we have The Edgbaston Hotel. Unsurprisingly nestled in the streets of Edgbaston, this is a temple of Art Deco and creatively driven bartenders with all the gadgets one expects of the post-modern cocktail bar.