Davenports. that’s a name a lot of Brummies will remember (and a hell of a lot wont…). For nearly two centuries until the late 1980’s Davenports was the brewery of Birmingham, just off Broad Street, and their ‘Beer at Home’ slogan was known across the country.
It’s great to see the name come back (alongside sister brand Dares), with a planned 6 venues across Birmingham & The Black Country. The closest of which to me is The Bulls Head, just off Broad Street itself.
People may remember this pub as The City Tavern, but it’s been converted into a beautiful traditional pub, with plenty of classic features and nods to the history of the Davenports name across the venue.
Anyway, back on subject. The reason for this evening’s visit was an invite from Gerard, the Manager, who had invited myself and a colleague down for a bourbon or four in the company of Bulleit and Buffalo Trace Bourbon.
Before that, time for Mint Julep (mint leaf, bourbon (Buffalo Trace), sugar syrup, and crushed ice), a nice, clean and simple palate cleanser to prep the taste-buds, whilst we ensconced ourselves at the rear of the bar.
Out hosts for the evening were Gavin Jones and Matt East, covering Bulleit and Buffalo Trace bourbons respectively. and taking us on a journey through how Bourbon came to be, the rules around producing and the distinctiveness of each of the bourbons for tasting.
First up we were told both tales of how Ireland and Scotland both claim to have invented the oaky spirit. The Irish claiming to have learned it via the spice road and the distilling of perfume for men, whilst the Scots claim to have made it via accidentally fermenting grain in horse saddlebags. Whoever made it first is lost in the annals of history and much grumbling.
We then learnt about its birth in the US with the frontiersmen making moonshine through to the categories we know today. We also learned their varied categories of whisk(e)y such as Rye (at least 51% rye), Malt (at least 51% malted barley), Bourbon (at least 51% corn / maize), and Corn (at least 80% corn / maize), with bourbon and corn both requiring virgin oak barrels.
Our first neat drop of the evening was Bulleit Bourbon (65% corn 28% rye, 4% malted barley). revived in 1987, by Thomas E. Bulleit, Jr. Inspired by his great-great-grandfather Augustus Bulleit, who made a high-rye whiskey between 1830-1860. It has a high Rye content compared to most bourbons, allowing for a spicier finish than most bourbons, there was heady wood-smoke and peppery to begin then descending into an almost marmalade flavour, a very agreeable drop.
Next to taste, the Buffalo Trace, a Kentucky straight bourbon, and a well regarded, well rounded one at that. It’s aged 8 years, a rarity for a US bourbon, and rigorously checked by 14 tasters at the distillery (what a great job to have). The flavour could be described as smooth, and went down like velvet.
As we were mid way through it was time for a food breather:
Our sharing platter had spicy lamb burgers, bourbon glazed chicken wings, asian slaw and sweet potato fries. The lamb burgers were absolutely delicious, made with the same meat as their lamb koftas. The wings were slathered in a rich, sticky glaze and were deliciously tender inside. They were served with a refreshing mint and cucumber dip which i couldn’t stop dipping the crunchy (yes actually crunchy for a change) Sweet Potato Fries. It was a great sampler of their street food inspired menu , one which I’ll be back to revisit.
Back to the whisk(e)y. Our next dram was a Bulleit Rye. This ‘frontier’ whiskey is made with a 95% rye and 5% malted barley mash, and a winner of many gold medals. This whiskey pulled no punches in flavour,. deceptively soft to begin with it hits with an exceptionally oaky flavour and descends into a toffee / caramel flavour.
Our final neat whisk(e)y of the evening was an Eagle Rare, a premium blend from Buffalo Trace, aged 10 years, from carefully selected barrels. A very very complex, enigmatic and expressive flavour which I struggled to pull any individual notes out of, but overall, slightly sweet and spicy.
To round out the night we had a Buffalo Trace Old Fashioned, one of the most classic of whisk(e)y cocktails, and one that will earn your the wrath of many a bartender on a busy night if ordered in great quantities. Muddled in bitters and that zesty orange citrus burst, always a lovely way to take your whisk(e)y.
Post all this lovely Bourbon, Gerard was nice enough to have a sneaky peek at the upstairs suite, in the final touches currently. It’ll be hosting live music and relaxed dining and looks to be a gem of a location, and one I’ll be revisiting, I mean it’s almost a local…
Where: The Bulls Head, 38 Bishopsgate Street, Birmingham, B15 1EJ