The Alchemist cocktail bar, one of a larger UK wide group, has been open in Birmingham for a few months now, and has been a busy hotspot in town since day one. I visited for the launch, but had otherwise not ventured back for fear of long waits at the bar. However, when I was invited down to try a drop-in cocktail masterclass, I figured this would be a good opportunity to see the Alchemist in action in a more relaxed, private setting. The idea of the drop-in masterclass is that groups of 1-4 can book on to a shared session with a maximum of 16 people altogether. On one hand, this could be ideal for couples or small groups of friends who want to make cocktails together but aren’t part of a large party – on the other, it could be an awkward session of strangers who are just waiting for it to get back to ‘their turn’. I visited last weekend to find out which would be more the case.
The masterclass took place in the basement bar, which is a luxurious setting of low lighting, lots of rose gold, and a high ceiling. There were 8 of us in total, and after our welcome drink (a gorgeous ‘peaches and cream’ cocktail that brought the summer indoors), the group dynamic was relaxed – so I crossed the awkward question off the list. Our bartender, Omari, helped create a light-hearted, fun feel, and was knowledgable and approachable throughout. I have a gripe with young cockey bartenders, of which there is no shortage in Birmingham, but I am pleased to say Omari was not one of them.
After our welcome drink and a short introduction to free-pouring, we were invited behind the bar in pairs to give it a go ourselves. We started with a Strawberry Cup, a fresh, summery concoction of fresh strawberry puree, vodka and ginger ale. It was great to put our free-pouring practice to the test, and, unlike some other cocktail masterclasses, helped teach us a bit about the actual skills needed to create the perfect cocktail behind a bar. The finished result was delicious, and the simple presentation suited the simple flavours of this refreshing drink.
Next up we created the ‘bounty’, a drink inspired by the chocolate and coconut combo. This one ended up getting a little sickly for me, but the initial few sips were certainly tasty. If you like coconut liqueur, in this case Koko Kanu, then definitely give this drink a try. The presentation involved rolling the glass in desiccated coconut, which is a technique I look forward to using again at home.
The class also included a sharing platter between each pair. We had the veggie platter, which was a great addition to the afternoon; a selection of veggie bites including nachos, salted edamame beans, and pakoras. The snacks also helped fill the time in which we weren’t making cocktails, as inevitably, you’re not as interested in other peoples’ turns when you don’t know them.
The final cocktail of the session was just one for us to watch and enjoy – ‘the colour changing one’. This theatrical drink, created with vodka, apple, soda and ‘magic’ is typical of the drama you can expect at the Alchemist. Don’t get me wrong, unless you’re too old for your own good, it’s always interesting to watch these concoctions being created – but I’m only won over if the taste isn’t compromised. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case here; a synthetic tasting cocktail that I couldn’t finish.
Overall, the drop-in masterclass at the Alchemist was good fun and certainly well run, with a good atmosphere and some great snacks to keep us happy. The price is £30pp, or £35pp with the food – above average for the city but not extortionate for 4 cocktails. My only concern is that 8 seemed like a good number for the time and the number of drinks made – the thought of having to wait for double the people to take their turn behind the bar makes me wonder if it would still work. I’d be interested to hear how these larger groups work out! Thanks to everyone at the Alchemist for having us!