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An Anti-Wine List I Once Made – Tasting Notes: Hint Of Sarcasm

So, I’m not a wine guy. I’ve a sweet tooth, I’ve had some Reislings that I’ve liked and the odd dessert wine, but that’s it. I can’t even go near red… bad experience (haven’t we all??) in my brief uni days. So back when I was managing White’s Tavern, the usual deal was, the company that we signed a deal with to be our wine distributor, would design the wine list. They’d also cover the cost of printing, which for someone like me (no clue about wine and stingy as fuck), was perfect! They get some professional sommelier to write the tasting notes and job’s a good’un. We’d been at this for a few years and I gradually grew sick of the pretentious tasting notes – just guff after guff after guff. I’m sure they genuinely did reflect an accurate description of the wine at hand, but my issue was mainly the following: White’s Tavern is (one of) Belfast’s oldest pubs, it’s a traditional Irish bar – low ceiling, peat fire, great Guinness… for the same reason I never did a cocktail menu, I wasn’t keen on going mad with wines. If you’re a wine aficionado, there’s places you would go to first… This was reflected in the sales too, on the proper wine lists, before my kinda-joke-but-not-really wine list, we sold massively more 1/4 bottles of wine than regular bottles – again, in my experience, wine aficionados aren’t clamouring for a 187.5ml bottle of house plonk. So I thought ‘Fuck It’. I’m going to have fun with this, it’s going to be a bit of light entertainment. Most...

3 Great Crowdfunding Drinks Projects You Can Join

Crowdfunding… you know what it is by now, it’s been one of the biggest changes in the way the world does business in the 21st century. Got a good idea? Could take it to a bank and do the leg work, maybe even have a go at Dragon’s Den… or use a crowdfunding website and get the added benefit of testing if there’s a market for your product at the same time as raising capital. Superb! Locally, the success story of Brewbot, beer and technology wizards who combined to make an automated brewing system that can be controlled via an app and who have since gone on to open their own bar on Belfast’s Ormeau Road, these guys raised over $100,000. Brewbot units are popping up in some of the world’s leading technology companies for staff to use and many, many other places. This makes professional scale and consistency brewing possible for anyone! Here’s a list of some great crowdfunding projects ongoing in the drinks business The Stone Cup Made from metamorphic black marble, each cup is unique – these aren’t made, they’re crafted. Keeping your drink at a more sustained temperature, there’s a practical side to it… also, it looks AWESOME. You can just imagine sitting there with an Old Fashioned in your black marble stone cup, watching some fine documentary about prohibition! Alcohoot Edge A palm-sized bluetooth connected breathalyzer that uses police grade breath sensor technology to accurately track and measure your blood alcohol levels. According to the manufacturer, the Alcohoot Edge allows you to make safer and smarter decisions and also it can improve your health....

Returning Ornaments to Bars

I saw this story on Belfast Live where a drunken reveller stole an ornament from Sweet Afton in Belfast and it reminded me of a tale from my Whites Tavern days. Above the fireplace we had a stuffed animal… honestly, I don’t know if I could accurately say what animal it was… maybe a Stoat? We told people it was a Lagan Rat – the thing was huge. Somebody took it home with themselves after a drunken saturday night. The thing was gone for weeks! To be honest, things get stolen all the time… glassware, cutlery – random things. It just becomes another thing to deal with, but this Stoat was iconic to us. Tourists asked of it all the time, locals too – our wee Stoat. Then one morning I turned up to unlock the building and under the shutters was a thick envelope… no Stoat, but wait… Inside were pictures of the Stoat from locations all around Belfast and the wider area. Someone had taken it to the Castlereagh Hills, to Stormont (the bottom of the hill), Scrabo Tower, Samson & Goliath… even Belfast Zoo (which seemed a bit morbid to me…). How someone took the time and energy to do all this was incredible! It had a note attached that simple said, “We wanted to show him more of the world.” The Stoat never returned home… but we know that he saw more of Belfast than he ever would have from atop a soot covered...

2016 – NI Year of Food & Drink: The NI Cookbook

Earlier in the year I attended an event at St Georges Market promoting NI producers, both food and drink, I met James McIntosh – a local chap doing fantastically well as an ambassador for Aga cookers and by all accounts, big in China as a TV chef. James spoke at length about his love for what we have here in the province and he quite clearly has a passion for it. 2016 is to be the, “Northern Ireland year of food and drink,” promoting what we have here in NI both to locals and people abroad, we could and should try to become a destination holiday for foodies, why the hell not, look at what we have! James McIntosh is putting together the NI Cookbook where local farmers, artisan producers, brewers, distillers, fishermen, butchers and the rest of the field (so to speak), can share their stories, have a light shone on their creations – both to be marketed at home and abroad. The Year of Food and Drink is something I will hopefully be writing about a lot over the coming year, and I expect I’ll spend a lot of that time reminding people of the ‘Drink’ element of this… Hopefully the local producers will come out of the year a league beyond that which they started in, already local success stories are getting traction elsewhere, Hannon’s Meats, Keen Nut Butter, Finnebrogue Venison, Hilden Brewery, Ruby Blue Liqueur to name but a few – who knows what brand leaders we’ll be talking about next December, but initiatives like McIntosh’s should contribute to that list being longer and longer....

Craft Distiller Profile: Hughes Craft Distillery

I’ve known of Hughes Craft Distillery for a few years now, there’s is a slow and steady growth – a growth borne naturally and through constant hard graft. In no way denigrating the NI Craft Beer scene, but there is a certain amount of “scene” about the industry – that is to say that merely by launching a Craft Beer brewery, you are bound to get a reasonable amount of attention and success, such is the en vogue nature of the sector. The Hughes’ have been labouring away at their liqueur business since mid 2010, practically historic in the local alcohol producing industry. I’ve tried their products, the whole range in fact – and they’re delicious (Okay, full disclosure – the Chili Liqueur blew the mouth off me, but I’m a coward when it comes to spice). Quite why they weren’t stocked EVERYWHERE in Northern Ireland has always eluded me. When local food brands are lauded and named on menus across the province, Ruby Blue was still in the process of “making it“. Over time though, Stuart and Barbara Hughes have kept at it and got their company in a position of real strength, as well as their range of real fruit, small batch spirits, they have added Ireland’s first Potato distilled Vodka – which surprised me, because as an Island, we love our spuds and we love our vodka, go figure. The gap was there though and the Hughes’ jumped through it. Now being widely stocked across the province, more and more people are understanding why Barbara and Stuart have continued making what they make, not just because...

Behind The Bar Tales: The Ninth: Bomb Scare Special

The date was December 20th 2013. I had been managing Whites Tavern for nearly 7 years at this point, recently though I had also taken up managing The Point Bar & Grill in Ballyhackamore. The last Friday before Christmas, in the bar/restaurant trade, is almost as mad as it gets. Most people have finished work that evening for the winter break and to celebrate, they hit the bars like a tonne of bricks. We were fully booked in both bars, I had only been managing The Point for 3 months and had a team in Whites who had survived many christmas seasons, so I decided to spend the working evening in Ballyhackamore. What could go wrong…? I saw on twitter that there was a bomb alert in Belfast City Centre. Just around the corner from Whites. So I did exactly what every non-sane person would do, I got in my car and drove towards it. I’m sure this is common practice for emergency services, journalists and the like, but it definitely doesn’t fall into the “job responsibilities” of bar management… at least not the advertised ones anyway. Here is a crappily drawn map – The red circle is Whites Tavern. The Black Square is the suspect device, the blue crosses are police barriers and the green arrow is the only open route to get to Whites. I had spoken with staff who said the police had advised them that they were safe and that we didn’t have to evacuate as it was far enough away from the premises, so the staff were valiantly battling on. I arrived and the...

Behind The Bar Tales: The Eighth – The Engagement

Saturday night after a busy shift, I’m sweeping the floors and I find a purse, in the purse are the usual stuff, some bank cards, store cards, receipts, money and an engagement ring. Quite an expensive looking engagement ring too… although to most men, I think all engagement rings look expensive. There’s no contact information other than linking the woman’s name with her Boot’s Advantage card, that kinda thing. In situations like this I normally give it a few days and then contact the banks and tell them the card has been found and could the contact the account holder and tell them where they can pick it up. I probably should report the cards as lost straight away, but I always think they might come in the next morning, at which point I’ll have cancelled their bank cards and will have to through that whole fuss of getting new cards. So I wait. Sunday morning and I’m in getting set up for the day, I get a phone call from a woman who says she was in the night before and she thinks she lost her purse in the bar, I ask her name and it checks out so I tell her yeah, it’s here, she can come and collect it at any point. A couple of hours pass and then the woman and a guy come in, introduce themselves, he is her fiancé and she was out for the night with some friends when she lost her purse. I hand over the purse and say “I checked it when I found it, it looks like there is...

Craft Beer Profile: Northbound Brewery

Northbound Brewery, based in Eglinton, Co. L’Derry started in 2012 when Martina and David Rogers returned after 9 years living in Australia. Living the Aussie dream in Bondi, David worked for a local brewery and went on to get (very) qualified in the field, one of only 12 people in 2012 globally who qualified as an Institute of Brewing and Distilling Master Brewer… David knows his stuff! When Martina and David relocated back to the shores of Enagh Lough just outside of Northern Ireland’s Second City, they were lucky enough to have Invest NI support them on a small pilot brewery, eventually upscaling to their own purpose build micro brewery in Campsie, which launched their beers to you, I and the rest of the general public in April 2015. Success has followed, just 4 months later and their beers are available across the island or Ireland with 2 distributors in the Republic of Ireland. You can try their brews at: Brewbot, Belfast GAP Wines, Belfast Kiwis Bar, Portrush Salty Dog, Bangor Across all of ROI. I asked David and Martina some questions to get a full understanding of their story, their passion, their brewery and their beers. Who is involved? The two of us at the beginning and the team has grown to include two more part time members of staff to help with increasing local demand and the requests for export. What made you start your own brewing business? Destiny and for the love of beer. We’re passionate about crafting natural beers that are unpasteurised and unfiltered and most importantly, full of flavour. We also had a desire...

Behind The Bar Tales: The Seventh – Celebs

The nature of running a touristy historic bar like White’s Tavern is that from time to time, you’re going to get celebrities coming in. I’m not a fame-chaser, it’s kinda interesting when you see someone you recognize from TV or film or sports but unless it’s someone I’m a fan of, or they’re in something I’m a fan of, it’s just anecdotal. Here’s a few celeb anecdotes from my time in White’s. John C. McGinley This guy, I’m a fan of! I’m a huge fan of Scrubs, I would regularly binge watch series for days on end, Dr. Cox was a bit of an idol (if you’re not used to my writing, I’m a big fan of sarcasm…). If you don’t recognise the name, you may know him from films like The Rock, Any Given Sunday or Wild Hogs. So, being the Scrubs fan that I am, I was standing serving away on a busy Saturday night shift, I spotted John C. McGinley standing at the end of the bar, chatting away to someone. Not gonna lie, i was a bit starstruck… I mean, this is DR COX! So I threw all queue etiquette out of the window and went to him next, I didn’t want another server getting to him first! I stood by him, this iconic actor from my favourite show, this king of sarcasm, he was talking away to someone and I didn’t want to be rude so I politely waited for him to finish his conversation. He must have spotted me standing there, he turned to me and said “hey man, you looking for me...

Behind The Bar Tales: The Sixth – The Baby Guinness

My first ever shift in a bar was in White’s Tavern, when I was over visiting Belfast on half-term. I’d done glass collecting in pubs before, I’d helped in kitchens as a KP, but I’d never served a drink in my life… I used to tell this story regularly to new bar staff, partly to let them know that everyone makes mistakes, partly so that I was in control of the story, instead of them hearing the story from somebody else that could paint it even worse than it was. It wasn’t a particularly busy shift, and after a couple of hours, the shift supervisor, let’s call him Wayne, went upstairs to sort something out, leaving me on the bar alone. A guy came up to the bar and ordered a round which included a Baby Guinness. I’d never heard of this before and thought “that’s a bit of an odd one… but ok, whatever.” So I grabbed a half pint glass, filled it 2/3 of the way up with Guinness and left it to settle. I got the rest of the order together and set it up for the guy. The customer then saw the half pint of Guinness waiting to be finished and said “I didn’t order that,” I said “you asked for a Baby Guinness,” he replied, “No, a Baby Guinness… a shot!” I thought “that’s even weirder… but I guess if that’s what he wants, then that’s what he wants…” So I grabbed a shot glass, cocked it at a 45 degree angle and poured about half a seconds worth of Guinness into the shot...

Behind The Bar Tales: The Fifth – The Rasta & The Goth

This one goes back about 8 years, to when I was working in a cocktail bar in Waterloo, London. It was one of the more challenging bar jobs I’ve had, I can do cocktails and enjoy the innovation but back then it was just a chore to me, it was mojito after mojito after mojito after mojito… It was relentless! Within the bar, I was the only native English speaker who worked there, the owner and a couple of staff were Indian and the bar manager and all of the other front of house staff were Eastern European, if there was a problem or a situation developing, I’d be shoved to the front because I had better language skills than the other staff. This was normally fine, having to explain to a customer why it is in fact NOT impossible for us to run out of mint and have to take the mojito off the menu for the evening. Occasionally though, it would be to talk a situation down from a point of conflict. Most issues can be talked out, but when the staff member intervening didn’t perhaps have the right words or understanding of the argument in question, it can be more difficult. Waterloo, for those that don’t know, is on the south bank of the Thames in London, there’s a lot of… I’m thinking of the nicest way to put this… let’s say “tough areas,” there are lots of gangs, there’s a lot of crime. On one busy weekend evening, balls-to-the-walls, the owner came to the bar and pointed out a guy who was clearly absolutely wasted,...