My second post in a row outside the ring road, shocking isn’t it?
But I heard the golden words “Rob Wood” and “Cocktail Menu”, especially when it’s at The Plough too. All three boxes ticked, I grabbed Wifey and we hightailed it out of the city centre to the plush surroundings of Harborne.
For those who’ve visited The Plough, the bar gets busy quickly especially when it’s Taco Wednesday or Chicken Wing Sunday. So their concept was this:
“Fast cocktails but highest quality possible, How can we make the best cocktails we can as fast as we can, quickly?”.
And who better to assist than Cocktail Master Rob Wood, who also consults on the side as well as running his own bar, Smultronstalle.
We went upstairs to their private rooms aka “Next Door at The Plough” with a few other bloggers and invited guests to see what the man himself had come up with…
And the answer was Premix – somewhat of a dirty word in cocktails until recently.
Rob and The Plough’s view was it’s the best way to keep quality and consistency, whilst allowing for a fast moving bar without the usual pre-requisite “cocktail faff”. By doing the hard work ahead of time, it reduces the time customers spend standing at the bar and helps break down the snobbery barrier between bartender and customer.
This philosophy ended up in seven highball cocktails each with a spirit mixer.
Rob went on to explain that each drink is designed with four elements: primary, secondary & tertiary flavours plus a spirit group, with the depth of flavour coming from the sourcing of most appropriate ingredients for each drink.
First on the list was Raspberry and Hibiscus.
Made with Hibiscus flavoured vodka to begin with and added Creme de Framboises, it’s also an excuse for Rob to use his favourite cream soda, Soda Folk Cream Soda.
For the cocktail itself, there was rich raspberry which subsumed into the vanilla from cream soda, then onto the bitterness of hibiscus and to finish, the dryness of vodka.
Our second cocktail featured another creme, this time Creme de Cassis, to provide the blackcurrant. The gardenia (a member of the the coffee family of plants) was steeped directly with gin and then topped up with a Soda Siphon, which had been steeped with Oolong Tea. A crisp and refreshing drink which had the sweetness of blackcurrant, sufficiently dulled to an acceptable level.
Next another tea combination with Green Apple and Matcha Tea.
This exploited the lighter flavours from Matcha with the robustness of sharp green apple. It’s Willy’s Cider Apple Sours (and that one for some reason Chase keep quiet..) cut with Fino, the driest of sherries, and a dash of Matcha syrup. As there’s a lot of flavour going on, it’s topped up with Belu Mineral water. Sweet, sharp dry and with that dusky Matcha flavour all rolled into one.
Keeping in the Oriental theme, we then went to Japanese Plum and Cherry Blossom.
The tonic in this cocktail is Thomas Henry Cherry Blossom Tonic, a curious flavour which I’ve never tried before although I do like a Sakura flavoured Kit Kat from time to time when I can find one. For the Japanese Plum element, they used Shairume Ginjo Umeshu a Sake fortified with plums, in a similar process to sloe gin. To round off the drink, there is the addition of Jinzu Gin, a 40% gin distilled with sake. It was pretty much a G&T as far away from a G&T can possibly be, and I think it was very plummy drink, perfect for moving from late summer into autumn.
The next combo was a Rhubarb and Rosehip.
This was an experiment in how to make a Pimms Cup style drink unique to The Plough. And I’m glad as I personally detest a Pimms Cup.
Rob had put a touch of himself into the drink with the addition of Fitzpatricks Rhubarb and Rosehip cordial . A personal favourite from his childhood growing up in Lancashire, it originated from the last temperance bar in the UK (he also recommends the Sasparilla). To combat this beefy cordial, Rob countered the flavour with Slingsby Rhubarb Gin . With a touch of local Brummie about it (not that Slingsby would tell you that), he added some Rose Wine and topped up with Prosecco, the hottest wine since Pinot Grigio. It was the antithesis of a Pimms Cup and refreshing for a nice summer’s day in the garden.
Next was something a little more tropical with a hint of Japanese too, the Coconut & Ginger.
This was Koko Kanu a Jamacian rum with a strong coconut flavour, married together with Yuzushu. Yuzu fruit has a very complex, very acidic, very aromatic flavour, somewhere between a mandarin and a grapefruit if you will. The rum added roundness and sweetness to balance the citrus, with the topper up of Ginger Beer to finish which cuts the complexity whilst at the same time, the ginger not overpowering the other flavours, prefect for a chilly evening.
Our final drink of the night was an elderflower and grapefruit combination.
This was spicier than expected due to a pink peppercorn infused vodka bringing the heat (and the colour) to the mix, and mixed with a dash of pamplemousse (grapefruit) liqueur and topped up with Elderflower Presse. The fourth ingredient in this case was cucumber, which changes the texture and flavour of drink as it imparts its flavour throughout. It was really different every sip of the way down.
After all this imbibing, there was an impromptu Q&A with Rob Wood after the drinks. It was fascinating to hear his views on the revival of the cocktail scene in the UK and the issues that come with that, with very few genuine carers of the profession shared between a wealth of venues. It was incredible to hear the amount of detail and thought put into this menu of seven drinks with liquid densities, prep time, ease of creation and, most importantly flavour, all having a role to play.
We were that impressed and the consensus around the table is if The Plough wanted to make even more money, they should sell miniatures of the pre-mix at Christmas. I’m sure these would be welcome gifts all round.
Rob’s passion comes through and we could have listened for hours but alas, taxis waiting, it was time to head home and enjoy a fine, if chilly, autumnal evening.
Many thanks to the team at The Plough and Rob for a fascinating evening exploring alcohol in its many forms.
The list of highballs in full:
- RASPBERRY & HIBISCUS hibiscus vodka/framboise/cream soda
- BLACKCURRANT & GARDENIA gardenia gin/cassis/oolong soda
- GREEN APPLE & MATCHA apple liqueur/fino sherry/green tea soda
- JAPANESE PLUM & CHERRY BLOSSOM jinzu gin/umeshu/cherry blossom
- RHUBARB & ROSEHIP rhubarb gin/rose wine/rosehip/prosecco
- COCONUT & GINGER coconut rum/yuzu liqueur/root ginger beer
- ELDERFLOWER & PINK GRAPEFRUIT pink peppercorn vodka/pink grapefruit/elderflower
Where: The Plough, 21 High St, Birmingham B17 9NT
Who: The Plough, Rob Wood
Disclaimer: For this visit, I was a guest of therelationship.co and The Plough who provided all drink for Wifey and I. This provides no bias to the post. This blog is my own personal opinion and strives to provide an independent view, promoting, enjoying and reviewing the range of exciting food and venues in and around Birmingham.