Issue 429
View this email in your browser


"I thought it was going to be a record store," I say to Leo. "I thought it was going to be a sex shop," he replies sending us both into chortles.

We're stood inside Kong, the eye-catchingly fronted Stirchley spot sandwiched between a solicitors and upholsterers. You will have seen it in passing but you won't have seen it open — emblazoned with the face of the eponymous Eighth Wonder of the World it has had South Birmingham speculating about the goings inside since the spectacular outward-facing artwork was finished. But the shutters remained down. Remained down for months. And months. And months.

It's not going to be a sex shop and, if you listen really carefully, you can hear the sigh of relief from neighbouring Bournvillians, more so than you can Stirchleyites themselves. It's going to be bar and it's owned by the same superb team behind Stir Stores, a stone's throw away. It's also going to be the home, at least for the rest of 2022, of BeauFort Spirit, the makers of an award-winning gin who have made Birmingham their spiritual home. Leo Crabtree [below] is the owner and he's surveying the interior. "It's perfect," he says. "I love it. We're going to have fun here."
Leo's story is as old as time itself. You could set your watch by how standard it is. Guy moves to Birmingham for University, gets a job at a Halesowen amplifier manufacturer who make amps for Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, starts playing drums for The Prodigy, launches a moustache wax, concurs Europe with a fragrance range and launches a gin. Same old, same old.

It's that gin, as well as Leo's rum, that will be served at Kong starting tomorrow and running every Thursday, Friday and Saturday in December. You need to try this gin. You need to visit this venue. But let's back up a bit...
Leo paid his way through uni working part time jobs in the likes of Subway, Selly Oak, before settling and living in Moseley for ten years after his studies ended. The Village was technically his local but the Bulls Head is where you'd more likely find him. "I'd like to think I'm an honorary Brummie but I moved to London so I'd understand if I was disowned," he says with a smile. "I moved south during peak hipster-era. You know, when seemingly overnight everyone grew a moustache. I realised there were very few moustache waxes that appealed to the younger market so I set about making my own, starting out just sort of doing it in my kitchen and learning from there.

"Moustache wax, by its very nature, has to have a good fragrance, given it's applied right under the nose. I've always had an obsession with smoke so mine had those ideas. We sacked off the mo wax, started making fragrance, and it sort of took off," he says, downplaying it. "it garnered a kind of underground following — became a sort of cult brand." I'll interject here. It's now sold all over the world.
Smoke really is the big thing for Leo. The word perfume, in fact, is derived from the Latin per fumum, meaning 'by means of smoke' and his journey in the world of fine fragrance was informed by gunpowder notes, wood smoke, incense.

"I always need to have a project on the go. And when the fragrance side of things sort of grew its own legs, got up and walked away, I felt like I needed something new. Back in 2017 gin was, and still is, a huge thing and of course I was very much embedded in the world of alcohol with the fragrances, so I started to go down that path. But..." he pauses for a second. "I couldn't bring myself to launch yet another f*cking London Dry, you know? How many London Dry gins do we need? That wasn't going to work for the brand. But a really complex smoked gin? I hadn't heard of anyone doing that."
Leo began contacting distilleries. He gave them the 'smoky' brief and the responses started coming in. "They just didn't get it. They didn't get why anyone would want to make a smoked gin when clearly ginny gins were all the rage. Sweet or diluted gins, gins you'd slurry with tonic — tonic, one of the strongest flavoured mixers around. No. I didn't want to budge. My gut was telling me we had to make something different. Something that stood out. And then finally the call came in..."
The Black Country's own Langley Distillery loved what Leo was up to. They wanted to take it on for him. They "got" the vision and, hell, they had the pedigree, making as they do some of the planet's best and most fascinating gins. Founded in 1805 the distillery remains family owned. Originally a brewery, distillation started in 1902 as a result of the Victorian gin boom when local publicans clubbed together to purchase the brewery and install stills — including what is claimed to be the oldest working copper pot gin still in the country. Three underground spring fed rivers converge under the distillery and though the water's not pure enough to charge the stills, it is used to cool the condensing columns.

"It's mad over there," says Leo. "Have you been? Properly old school. I love it. I love making gin with them and I loved being back in the Midlands to do it. We must have gone through 20 iterations before it was perfect. A smoked overproof gin, 57% abv and ready to roll. A sipping gin, yeah, but also one that really shines in cocktails. There's nothing else like it anywhere, and that's exactly what I wanted from the outset. They really delivered."

The gin went on to be recognised as one of the top eight contemporary gins in the world by the prestigious International Wine and Spirits panel in 2020.
The Birmingham connection went further, as did the historical ties. Leo found AE Williams in Brum, the oldest family run pewtersmiths in the world, they've been doing their thing since 1799 and been doing it in Digbeth since 1840. The company's extraordinary past includes producing pewter tea sets for The Ritz when it opened in 1926. As Digbeth transformed into bars and restaurants, table tennis venues and crazy golf spots, AE Williams continued producing traditional domestic pewterware, producing pieces for palaces, cathedrals, stately homes and TV, film and theatre — including Harry Potter, Poldark, Les Mis and Game of Thrones. "I love what they do and their no bullshit approach. I asked them to cast the seals that decorate every bottle of BeauFort gin in solid pewter," says Leo. "Incredibly, they agreed."
Teaming up with Gavin Curtis, his old pal from his Subway days and one of the most highly respected people working in Birmingham hospitality today, the pair have set their sights on succeeding in Birmingham first. They were given an opportunity to keep working during swathes of lockdown by the Digbeth Dining Club crew, back when outdoor hospitality was the only option, and they received huge support from Stirchley venues from the get-go. "It just feels right to be in Birmingham," says Gavin, who helped make Eat Vietnam, a few doors down from Kong, the huge suburban success story it is today. "Brummies have discerning taste, but they're also open-minded. It's a perfect hotbed for BeauFort and Stirchley is an ideal place to make our home for what is, effectively, a launch of sorts.

"What we have here is the anti-gin" adds Gavin. "I've had people come to me in all of the places we've been doing samples across Brum and say "I just don't like gin." And within a sip they're converted. Whisky drinkers like it, amateur — and less amateur — mixologists love it. It's being poured in Atelier in the Jewellery Quarter, our rum is over at The Wilderness, we're in Loki and now we're in Stirchley with, for a limited period only, our own bar and it's going to be a blast. We're making Gimlets, we're making Negronis, we're making Martinis. We're rekindling people's love of gin. We're giving it a shot in the arm. We're pushing the story of gin on and we're doing it in Brum first. We wouldn't choose anywhere else."
The BeauFort Spirit pop-up is at Kong, 1402 Pershore Rd, B30 2XS (Dec 9 to 11, 15 to 17, 22 to 24 and 29 to 31) from 5pm. Follow on Instagram. They do gift boxes too!


Birmingham Contemporary Music Group have timed the launch of perhaps the coolest Brum-themed tote bag perfectly for Christmas. The design crops artfully in on Birmingham New Street Signal Box — the iconically weird building situated on the corner of Brunel Street and Navigation Street. This brutalist structure is grade II listed for its architectural value and is much-loved by some of the very best Brummies there are. Costing £10 (plus £1.50 postage) order before Dec 16.  


Keep scrollin' scrollin' scrollin' as angry US rap rockers Limp Bizkit didn't even come close to singing. Our friends at Independent Birmingham have blown any idea of us publishing a gift guide out of the water by compiling the definitive 2022 list of independent merch and goodies. From food to booze, homeware to art, jewellery to bath products, it's all there — literally everything — and at a colossal 175 items long it should come with a carpal tunnel syndrome warning. Whatever they're paying their researchers, it's not enough. Shop


Around this time of year central Birmingham can, and does, feel quite... you know... a lot. And although bonhomie turned up to 11 has its place, it's often good practice to offset the partying yang with some calming yin. Step forward one of the city's most soothing sensory spectacles — Ex Cathedra’s Christmas Music by Candlelight, which takes place at St Paul's Church, December 19 to 23.

Bring your own mince pies and flasks of mulled wine, and expect a warming tonic of a concert that's equal parts atmospheric and comforting. Once audiences have taken their seats, the lights go out and, upon the darkness comes the luminous sound of Birmingham’s world-class choir, Ex Cathedra, lit only by the candles in the singers’ hands. This trailer is well worth a nosey.
Traditional favourites (floor fillers like O Little Town of Bethlehem, Away in a Manger etc) are mixed with rarely heard and new pieces, plus some surprises. The Repertoire includes prodigiously talented 18-year-old Christopher Churcher’s carol, Before the Ice is in the Pools – winner of the Sir David Willcocks’ Carol Competition 2021 — and one of our favourite examples of nominative determinism, 2022.

Over the course of the evening, artistic director Jeffrey Skidmore’s programme of music and readings explores the wonder — and humour — of the season. “There is nothing quite like the impact of being immersed in choral music at this time of year, with singers surrounding the audience" he says. "We are particularly excited at the opportunity to use our performance spaces again in creative ways, something that has been so difficult over the last two years.”

As well as in the JQ the concert will also be performed in Kidderminster (tonight), Wolverhampton (Saturday) and Coventry Cathedral has already sold out (December 13). Birmingham's younger audiences would enjoy the Angels, Stars & Kings Family Christmas Concert, also at St Paul’s on December 21, and they're invited to come dressed as an angel, star or king. Or all three! Book


For the uninitiated, Okonimiyaki is like a Japanese omelette only you know how omelettes are typically dreadful? These will change your life. The best we've found in Brum is at Formosa Izakaya and good though it is, it's not quite... there? Step forward ramen pop-up crew, Koba-Ko, who will be slinging out Okonomiyaki at Kings Heath's The Juke on Saturday, December 10. Going Osaka-meets-Hiroshima style expect a batter made of shredded cabbage, grilled on a hot plate, topped with thinly sliced pork belly, Okonomi sauce — think a fruitier, naughtier version of HP — Japanese mayo, a dusting of seaweed and bonito fish flakes. There's a veggie version too (pictured). Pop-up runs midday to 8.30pm and you can book by direct messaging either Koba-Ko or The Juke, over on Instagram. More  


Off the beaten track and all the better for it, Birmingham Design Shop is part of the Jewellery Quarter's beautiful Jointworks building, on Albion Street. It opened its physical doors for business in June 2022 having traded online only for a number of years. Inside is an aesthetically sublime goldmine of design goodness housing around 400 products – a mixture of local talent and brands (think Provide, Quarter Horse coffee, Pickle Illustration, Jem Leem-Bruggen) and select favourites from further afield (Mr Bingo, Penco, WRAP, Ugmonk), plus a broad range of design and illustration books and magazines, children's picture books and stationery. The shop is open 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, just ding the bell and you’ll receive a warm welcome… the team might just make you a cuppa and give you a tour, too, if you like. Here's just a small snippet of what they have in store and online...

Birmingham Design Magazine 

What do you mean you've not got a copy of the inaugural issue of the annual Birmingham Design magazine? Its 110 pages are bursting with local talent and it even comes with a sticker sheet so you can create your own cover. £10

Imbue Moonshot Basketball

Brum's own conceptual genius and art rogue, Imbue, has dropped the coolest b-ball we've seen this side of the Fresh Prince (it even comes with its own pump). Titled the Moonshot it's a beautiful full size rock with embossed Imbue eye logo and all over moon surface print. This limited edition of 250 sold out quickly on his site, and there's only have a few left. £45

Liam Wong – After Dark 

Three years ago, hot off the launch of his incredibly successful first book TO:KY:OO, Liam Wong was in Brum talking about his transition from video game designer to cyberpunk style nighttime photographer. Now he’s back with After Dark, an intimate, one-of-a-kind photographic journey that documents his nocturnal wanderings through the world’s most captivating cities. £35

Wrapping Paper

You've sorted all your prezzies, now they've got to look the bee's knees. Sporting colourful and festive designs so beautiful that unwrapping them might feel a sin, you can buy per sheet in store, or in sets of 3 sheets online – delivered in a sturdy eco-friendly Toberlone-esque box. The Wrap Baubles (pictured) have been popular, and the Crispin Finn Shopper always raises a smile. From £2

Field Notes

Every creative's best friend, Field Notes are *the* must have smartly-designed, vintage-inspired pocket notebooks – lovingly produced in the good ol' US of A and from the brain of former Brum Design Fest speaker Aaron Draplin. Beware, once you've got one you'll be collecting for years. (From £10.95 for 3)

Amy Britton Harris Tweed Pencil Case

We really love these Harris Tweed products! They're beautifully made in Scotland and come in a wide range of colours and sizes. This slim pencil case is perfect for a variety of items and fits neatly into your bag. £25

BD Gift Card 

Sometimes the best gift you can give is one of choice. Not sure if your special someone already has that book or mag? Let them choose their own! These gift cards can be redeemed in-store and online. They'll be delivered digitally if you buy online or visit in-store for the physical card. More


Brum dining royalty and sensory visionary, Kaye Winwood, has devised a new vegetarian afternoon tea tasting experience and it looks about as incredible as we've come to expect from one of the city's finest food aficionados. Inspired by a walk around the Jewellery Quarter it will mark the first in a seasonal series called 'Taste the JQ' and it will be popping an upping at Kaye's Wonka-esque 10-seater dining room and food lab, GULP, on December 18. The extraordinary menu of courses includes Pink (pictured top right) which involves beetroot meringue, whipped goats cheese and beetroot powder; Mushrooms (left), which is a mushroom and chocolate brownie (crikey) and 28 Carat (bottom right) a carrot and orange pate de fruits. It's £45 per person and Kaye will map out her walk for you to emulate after your meal, if it's not still face-hurtingly cold by then. Book
Sweet mercy. Original Patty Men, Bonehead, Covered Wagon and Eat Vietnam all collab-ing with Kings Heath pizza stars Poli for one day only, December 22. Unreal scenes. 

Get another Xmas gift under your belt with our excellent (and exclusive to ICB readers) Buckt offer. Buckt have, for years, been sending Brummies five mystery tickets to activities across the city — every month for just £30 for two people. And we've got your first month for just £9.99. More

Tickets for comedian, Kevin Hart, at the Utilita Arena go on sale tomorrow at 10am here 

Stirchley's Birmingham Brewing Co still have tables of four available (£20 in total) for their screening of England v France on Saturday. The £5 a head fee includes a pint on arrival, while Crazi Jalfrezi will be on pots and pans for a little extra. Details

Longbridge-based street food nirvana Herbert's Yard are launching a Drink & Draw event on Monday, December 12. Hosted by Brum artist Flic, grab a wine and get guided through a series of drawing sessions in a cashj atmosphere. Food, if you want it, will be supplied by the Yard's new resident kitchen, Stripclub Street food. It’s 18 and overs with all art material supplied as part of the £11 fee. One drink is included, food is extra.

The Jewellery Quarter's Makers Market is today, 4.30pm to 7pm at St Paul's Church.
And, in the words of The West Wing's CJ Cregg, "that's a full lid"
WORDS: Tom Cullen
PHOTOS: Hank & Margot (Kong)

We will never share your email address. Ads and commercial offers are clearly marked. We sometimes run paid for Partnership Emails with selected affiliates. These will be marked as Partnership Emails at the top of the email.

I Choose Birmingham, 18 Great Western Arcade, Birmingham B2 5HU
Copyright © 2022 Birmingham Publishing Group Ltd, All rights reserved.

unsubscribe from this list    update subscription preferences 

"Okonomiyaki: the great geologic mass of carbs and cabbage and pork fat that would feel more at home on a stoner's coffee table than a Japanese tatami mat."

Matt Goulding, Deep Travels Through Japan's Food Culture

Subscribe free
Share Share
Tweet Tweet
Forward Forward