Hester Lonergan discovers the hidden joys of non-Basics spirits
As readers may be aware, mid-September welcomes Manchester’s annual food festival. Dave at The Drinks Enthusiast decided, in conjunction with this fortnight of culinary heaven, to exhibit some of the finest alcoholic accompaniments around. Bar Elixir was the chosen venue for the event, a cool and intriguing establishment on Deansgate which is worth a visit on any occasion.
We arrived just after 1pm and were directed to the basement, where small crowds of customers stood at various tables, sampling spirits and talking to their vendors. We approached the nearest table, where a smiling woman from Penderyn kicked off our alcoholic adventure with two different Welsh whiskies, vodka, my trusty friend Mr. Gin, and a gorgeous cream liqueur completely non-reminiscent of Baileys.
Following more gin and vodka interspersed with rum, we moved onto an fascinating table where, after tasting some Calvados and claiming a rather fetching promotional hat, the vendor turned our attention to something we had never seen before: ‘Polugar’—familiarly termed ‘bread wine’—was rubbed into our hands to produce the unmistakable scent of freshly baked bread. The same doughy notes were apparent in the drinking, although sadly it smelled nicer than it tasted. We were then offered some incredible ‘Ron Prohibido’; a barrel left in a burnt down distillery was found five years after conventional distillation, producing a darkness of colour and tone unique for a non-spiced rum.
Continuing our alcoholic education, we were served absinthe with iced water from cut-glass chalices. As I informed the stockist of my lifelong aversion to aniseed, she cracked out a bottle of chocolate absinthe. At this point my lucidity had very much started slipping, so all I can say on the subject is that if you ever get the opportunity to taste, buy, or bathe in this stuff, then do not miss out.
By this point my words had started to slur and I thought I was the source of all knowledge. We sipped on three dreamy apéritif wines despite being far past an appropriate apéritif stage. We discussed the shameful drinking habits of the youth of today whilst knocking back crystal-clear rum. I tried to verify my improvised knowledge of Cognac by bringing out my horrific nasal French accent and namedropping anything vaguely Francophone I could remember.
We were enjoying ourselves so much that we decided to sit down. A couple of bowls of complimentary bar snacks later, and I was continuing to wax lyrical about philosophy and fine drinking. We attempted a round two, but it proved much less successful (and frankly, I don’t remember much).
Despite this, I learnt something interesting about American whisky distillation. I learnt that I still like tequila. We drank something very cherry flavoured and I got distracted by a baby (I don’t think it was drinking). Sibling gin—the final table—showed us the snazzy machine they use to distil their spirit and with that we were defeated.
Just about managing to remain upright, I returned to the first table to double check my opinion on that cream liqueur. Confidence restored, we hobbled up the stairs and out into the open. It had just turned 5:30pm, giving us just enough time to make a couple of expensive mistakes in a high-end footwear shop.
Elixir Tonics & Treats,
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