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Craft Gins and Crafty Kitchen Tips Beguile BBC Food Show Visitors

Birmingham was the setting for the summer 2019 iteration of the ever-popular BBC Good Food Show, the non-virtual version of one of the veteran British broadcaster's most enduring eating, drinking and cooking consumer programmes.

Photo: Eat of the moment: Celebrity chef Michel Roux welcomes visitors to the Birmingham BBC Good Food Show.
Eat of the moment: Celebrity chef Michel Roux welcomes visitors to the Birmingham BBC Good Food Show.
Photo: Eat of the moment: Celebrity chef Michel Roux welcomes visitors to the Birmingham BBC Good Food Show.
Eat of the moment: Celebrity chef Michel Roux welcomes visitors to the Birmingham BBC Good Food Show.

The recent BBC Good Food Show saw floods of apparently famished visitors pour through the doors of Birmingham's NEC, all keen to sample the tempting treats and bounteous beverages on offer within. In addition to the chance of picking up canny new culinary tips from one of the many celebrity chefs in attendance, showgoers also had a vast array of stands to negotiate their way around, with free tastings pretty much the order of the day.

One of the fastest-selling kitchen gadgets on offer at the show was the Thermapen, the latest food thermometer from West Sussex-based Electronic Temperature Instruments (ETI). Super-fast, the thermometer is said to be the preferred choice of many professional chefs as well as a countless amateur foodies and BBQ enthusiasts, with its price ranging from US$70 to $85 depending on the model.

Commenting on the popularity of the product, ETI Director Jason Webb said: "We've just had Richard Holden, the celebrity alfresco chef, demonstrating the Thermapen on BBQ flat iron steaks to amazing effect. Overall, there's phenomenal interest in it, both within the UK and from a number of overseas markets."

Another international sensation waiting to happen – apparently – was Clayton's Kola Tonic. Given that it was invented way back in 1880 by two brothers in southeast London, it's actually been quite a wait, although its manufacturers now seem confident that its time has finally come.

Currently produced in Barbados, the tonic is made from the West African Kola nut, an ingredient reputed to be both a mild stimulant and a trusted reliever of a number of ailments. While the tonic itself is assuredly non-alcoholic, Sales Manager Maureen Cottee and her team had a steady stream of visitors keen to try it out as a rum mixer. With distribution centred on the UK, the US and the Caribbean Islands, it retails for about $8 for a 375ml bottle.

One spirit avowedly not requiring a mixer was Glen Moray's Fired Oak single malt whisky. Launched at the event, this budget premium malt is currently available via the distiller's shop for $50 and will be rolled out to supermarkets for the seasonal trade.

Outlining its USP, National Accounts Manager Craig Buttery said: "It's finished in charred virgin American oak casks, with a taste like a sweet-shop in a glass." Given his line in smooth patter, the whisky is clearly on course for great things.

For gin connoisseurs, too, there was more than a tipple or two to be tasted. Catching the eye with its images of the Scottish Highland mountains, for instance, was Sandy Matheson's award-winning Granite North.

A hand-crafted small-batch gin inspired by the region's historic past, it incorporates a range of botanicals, including – rather off-puttingly – Grand Fir needles. It is currently only available online and via selected stockists at $50 per 70cl.

Another Scottish offering was Pilgrims gin, a small-batch spirit that again deploys an interesting mix of botanicals. Blended with Scottish spring water and finished with blackcurrant, it, too, is also only orderable online, this time at $50 per 70cl.

Photo: Hot pick: The Thermapen.
Hot pick: The Thermapen.
Photo: Hot pick: The Thermapen.
Hot pick: The Thermapen.
Photo: Clayton’s Kola Tonic: Nutty but nice.
Clayton's Kola Tonic: Nutty but nice.
Photo: Clayton’s Kola Tonic: Nutty but nice.
Clayton's Kola Tonic: Nutty but nice.

On a slightly larger scale was the simply titled Manchester Gin, produced at a six-year-old North of England-based distillery. Outlining the brand's current range, Business Development Executive Harry Yarwood said: "At the moment, we have four gins in the collection. While they all do well, our Signature gin has a real Manchester taste thanks to its incorporation of local dandelion and burdock roots.

"Although we only launched in 2013, the popularity of the Manchester brand has opened a number of retail doors for us. Judges seem to like the taste of Manchester too, as our Signature gin – which sells for about $45 – has already won four Gold international awards."

Despite the popularity of the Greater Mancunian gin, the busiest booth when it came to spirit sampling was undoubtedly that belonging to Signature Brands, a division of London-band LWC, the largest independent drinks distributor in the UK. This year, it had opted to showcase two of its ranges in particular – Agnes Arber Rhubarb Gin and Old J Rum.

Explaining the popularity of the latter – a collection of five rums, each with their own distinct flavour – Brands Development Manager Duncan Bryan said: "The recent explosion in demand for gin has created new interest in the spirits market. As a result, although rum has been around for hundreds of years, flavoured rum is sparking new interest. While growth in the dark-rum sector is up almost 9% year-on-year – which is pretty good – demand for Old J is up by more than 15%."

Although the brand is primarily targeted at the licensed trade, it is also available on a retail basis for $25 to $35 per 70cl bottle depending upon the flavour / ABV.

In terms of something to nibble alongside your tipple, the event had a real treat in store for visitors – Black Country: Pork Scratchings from the REAL Pork Crackling Co, pork rind pieces cooked in small batches. The company also offers a softer, twice-cooked product – Cracking Pork Crackling. Both are available as 24 75g bags for $35.

Staying with the traditional, a condiment that has been gracing tables for more than 250 years is Maille mustard in all its many guises. For 2019, the centrepiece of the Maille booth was its latest premium product – Black Truffle Mustard with Chablis White Wine Freshly Pumped.

Outlining its appeal, Sales Manager Debbie Martin said: "This is a fresh product, dispensed into three sizes of stoneware jars, all with exquisite ingredients. Priced about $40 for a 125g jar, it's a product for the gourmand and is now available internationally."

Despite the abiding Brexit sentiment, dipping your bread in oil is one European import that has been broadly embraced by the Brits. Having cottoned on to this particular trend, Adam Palmer, a Yorkshire family farmer, founded Charlie & Ivy's, which now manufactures six different flavours of cold-pressed, rapeseed dippers, typically retailing at $8 for a 200ml bottle. Apparently, they're proving to be a big success with competition judges and delicatessen vendors alike.

Something more traditionally anglophile came courtesy of Cole & Mason. For more than 100 years, the Hampshire-based company has been the market leader when it comes to salt and pepper mills. This year, the company opted to introduce some new products to its portfolio.

Detailing this bold move, Brand Lead Joe Brawn said: "We have carefully chosen some new consumables to be introduced on the back of our well-known brand, including infused oils and vinegars." Fancy.

Photo: It’s gin up north: Manchester spirits.
It's gin up north: Manchester spirits.
Photo: It’s gin up north: Manchester spirits.
It's gin up north: Manchester spirits.
Photo: A rum deal: Attractively-priced Old J.
A rum deal: Attractively-priced Old J.
Photo: A rum deal: Attractively-priced Old J.
A rum deal: Attractively-priced Old J.

The summer 2019 edition of the BBC Good Food Show took place from 15-18 June at the NEC in Birmingham.

David Wilkinson, Special Correspondent, Birmingham

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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