If Alchemy is a seemingly magical process of transformation, creation or combination then The Alchemist have truly embedded this philosophy into creating a wonderfully unique environment in which to enjoy their outstanding alcoholic elixirs.
Contained within the distinctive facade of The Grand Hotel and the 19th century streetscape of Colmore Row, The Alchemist stands framed by its delicately branded awnings and brilliantly hermetic logo. Through the glass frontage you are drawn to an amber warmth from within, set off by carefully placed low wattage bulbs creating a tangible sense of the magic and mood that awaits.-
The ground floor bar flaunts its imposing vaulted ceilings, providing the perfect setting for their distinctly dark artworks. The atmosphere is casually sophisticated, alluring and mysteriously attractive. There is a feel of discretion, quality and kudos.
Down a wide, tenebrous staircase exists a century old basement space named ‘The Lab’, providing the perfect laboratory for liquid experimentation. Upon entering you are drawn to a corner of the bar where a large mural, hand painted directly onto an old exposed brick wall stands. An alchemic artwork transmuting it’s bewitching backdrop to the surrounding areas of antique wooden paneling, copper top bar and delicately lit apothecary display cabinets.
Down a wide, tenebrous staircase exists a century old basement space named ‘The Lab’, providing the perfect laboratory for liquid experimentation.
The Lab is intimate yet airy with it’s high ceiling, made discernible by the six tier, metal rimmed, glass shelving display behind the bar. A true work of unique otherworldly craftsmanship, housing the extensive collection of potions and spirits used to create this establishment’s stand out cocktail prescriptions.
The drink menu is a work of art in itself, not only for it’s expertly created concoctions but also for it’s use of the periodic table style lettering system. You could try an Ardbeg 10yr, Chase marmalade vodka, lemon, ginger, burnt cinnamon and bonfires in a ‘Penicillin’ or call it ‘Pc’, you might go for a ‘Barrel Aged Corpse Reviver’ or ‘Bc’, with it’s Bombay Sapphire, Cointreau, Lillet, citrus, aniseed, oak and time.
With fifty four cocktails to choose from I had a battle to pick my first choice. I had at least four contending to be the first taste and they all my had mouth intrigued. The ‘Rhubarb and Custard Sour’ or ‘Rc’ took position, with it’s ingredients of Chase Rhubarb vodka, Licor 43 Vanilla, lemon and egg white, woven into a chunky riveted glass tumbler. The flavours all encountering each other at the same time, this was an ambrosial drink with the rhubarb just punching above the rest.
Whilst eyeing up my next selection the bar staff placed large Erlenmeyer flasks around the bar with enhanced cardice bubbling up and out, flowing onto the bar surface carrying delicate scents of botanicals. Once the liquid smoke spectacle had dissipated I ordered a ‘Mint Aero’ or ‘Ma’. Appleton Signature Rum, Briottet White Mint Liqueur, apple and chocolate. A malty masterpiece with the mint and chocolate so well balanced. The rum cuts through just enough to acknowledge it’s there but allows the rest of the ingredients to completely identify with the familiar taste of the chocolate bar that inspired it’s creation.
Whilst eyeing up my next selection the bar staff placed large Erlenmeyer flasks around the bar with enhanced cardice bubbling up and out, flowing onto the bar surface carrying delicate scents of botanicals.
There is a great quality to the flow of service behind the bar, like a really efficient organism, all staff a sum of it’s parts. However much blending, muddling, wizardry and alchemy is being created before you, it seems fluid and orchestrated, almost surreptitiously, adding a relaxed feel to the environment. You also start to notice the little touches around the room, like the use of black candles, taxidermy and mounted antlers. There is character here, something in the air..it’s not trying to grab your attention, it wants to reveal itself to you as you ease into the menu and listen to a soundtrack of 1970’s car chase themes, uplifting breaks and funky soul.
Sticking to rum before I taste some whiskey I next try a ‘Battenberg’ or ‘Bt’, again using the Appleton Signature Blend alongside Wray & Nephew, lime, pineapple, orange and the addition that sets it off, ‘almond air’. The idea here is to have separate taste zones; like a Battenberg cake has the marzipan, jam and sponge, this cocktail separates the liquid fruit and rum blend with a sweet and bubbly almond froth that sits on top. You take in the sweet nutty taste of the almonds, just before you drink in the deeply rummy fruit base. With strong citrus flavours this drink suitably cleanses me for my last choice.
I end my journey with their delicious take on a classic, ‘Smokey Old Fashioned’ or ‘s1’. Swapping the traditional brown sugar recipe with maple syrup, adding Jerry Thomas Bitters to the Woodford Reserve then enveloping the tumbler in smoke give this old favourite a beautifully sweet and smokey taste. Watching the bar man create the smoke with glass chemistry apparatus created a moment of slick and subtle theatre too.
The perfect place to escape the bustle of the busy financial district, the guys behind The Alchemist may not have created an elixir for life just yet, but they certainly know how to medicate you in just the right way..through very cleverly thought out and expertly made recipes of tastefully crafted intoxication, perfectly woven into an ambiance that is enticing and mystical.
Review by Ollie Lloyd for Grapevine Birmingham