Review: The Bathtub Sessions Gin Festival

‘Could have been the whiskey, might have been the gin. Could have been three or four six-packs, I don’t know, but look at the mess I’m in’ – Irish Rovers

I’m always a little dubious when the word festival’ is added in front of anything and they seem to be popping up more and more; whiskey festivals, food festivals, chili festivals, and in my experience it’s always felt like an excuse to get a captive audience and over charge them.

I am however a fan of drinking gin with my friends in the sunshine so when a group of girls I don’t spend nearly enough time with thought it would be a good reason for us all to have a catch up (like we need an excuse) the £11 ticket price didn’t actually seem like that much of a rip off.

DSC_0412Thanks to Sam from www.northeastfamilyfun.co.uk for the image

It was a bonus that this particular gin festival was being held in the gorgeous Wylam Brewery in Exhibition park, which I’ve been a few times over the last few months and always had a great time. We were also extremely lucky with the weather when we went in second weekend in July so were able to spill out into the lawn and enjoy what little we get of the British summer.

The Bathtub Sessions advertise themselves as a Gin Festival with a twist (although to this day i’m not completely sure what the twist was). They have a bevy of distillers who have travelled from all over the country to give you their first hand experience of how they make their gin and allow you to sample their wares.

The £11 entry gave you your own commemorative gin glass and purchasing the gin is done on a token basis. Tokens are £5 each (so it’s essentially a fiver a drink). There were 4 or 5 different stand you could visit and props where it’s due, all the mixologists know their stuff, who knew there was so much to learn about gin!

One thing I do love about the festival atmosphere is it gives everyone some common ground and a talking point. Perhaps it was the weather or perhaps it was the gin but everyone just seemed to be mingling together asking each other what they were drinking and what recommendations they had – north east friendliness at its best!

We ended up have three drinks each; first I tried a gin and pink grapefruit mix from the Newcastle gin company which is based at Bealim House in Gallowgate. When you normally just live off lower end supermarket gins, trying something a little less mass produced is a real treat and this one was very smooth and tasted amazing with the grapefruit tonic. The second two I had I ordered off the menu we were provided with on arrival as a guide. I love anything fruity so had Boosma Dry Gin which is a ducth gin and served with indian tonic and fresh strawberries. The gin itself wasn’t infulsed with fruit but it did take on the flavour of the fresh fruit so was the perfect blend of still being about to taste the gin without it being sickly sweet.

I’m so pleased my last gin was my favourite though as it’s always a bit of a disappointment when you wish you’d just stuck with what you like. They didn’t have anything that was kiwi based (my second favourite fruit after strawberries) and was recommended an Italian lemon gin called Malfy which is made with the same lemons used to make Lemoncello (and I love Lemoncello). Served with Indian tonic and fresh lemon slices it was absolutely beautiful. It wasn’t too sharp or too sweet and the lemon flavour wasn’t too overbearing. It was like a gorgeous tasty alcoholic lemonade. I loved it so much that a bottle has gone straight on my birthday list!

We didn’t try any of the food but a friend of mine who went did and was less than impressed. The queue for one was massive so obviously they didn’t have enough staff on serving. It was also over priced (£19 for two people? – Ouch) and it was all just a mess of different things; lamb, noodles, and prawns you have to peel. Who serves prawns you have to peel as street food when you’ve nowhere to sit?!

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So Bathtub Sessions may have gone some way to restore my faith in the idea of a festival although I think certainly o the food front they need to up their gave and not rely on the captive audience. I must admit though this was very well run, it wasn’t over crowded (however had it been raining and everyone was inside this may have been a different story), the staff and mixologists were fantastic and you didn’t have to wait too long to get served.

Anywhere that introduces me to my new favourite gin can’t be all that bad in my eyes.

 

Felling

Felling station used to be owned by the Brandling Junction Railway but was taken over by metro and after a 2 year refurbishment reopened in 1981. Felling is one of the largest towns in Gateshead and known for producing a host of professional footballers, probably most famous being Newcastle United and pop chart worrier Chris Waddle, who was born in Felling in 1960.

Coming from Sunderland you leave the platform to the right, walk south east along Quarry Row and you’ll come to The Mallard pub literally 100 yards away from the platform. As far as WBM rules go, this ticks all the boxes so far!

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Considering it was 8pm on a Saturday night after payday we were surprised at how quiet it was. Apart from us there were probably only about another 5 or 6 people dotted around the spacious bar area. Inside, the decor is everything you’d expect from a northern working class pub with dark wood and upholstery reminiscent of a social club from the 1970s. I’m also not too sure there’s much need for a Gollywog doll behind the bar in 2017 however , I digress…

 

The staff were extremely friendly when we arrived and we had a good laugh with a regular at the bar about my sweatshirt. One of the things I’ve loved most about this tour so far is how warm and friendly everyone has been, which can turn the most intimidating of pubs into a wonderful place to spend a few hours.

Drinks wise we were’t in real ale land anymore Toto and the wine is served from a box under the bar. That said it was £4.80 for a 175ml glass and a pint of Coors so this is now officially my new favourite pub in the world! It’s a shame it was so quiet really and if it’s not busy on a Saturday evening it’s hard to see when it ever would be and as such how it can stay in business. Perhaps we were just unlucky with our timings on this occasion.

Contact:

Address: 10-12 Gosforth Street, Gateshead NE10 9LS
Tel: 0191 420 0285

Find out where else we’ve been on our metro adventure here

Billy Bootleggers, Newcastle

‘Whiskey will always be a part of my life’ Artie Lange

I’m sure that people who consider themselves to be real pub connoisseurs would want to burn me at the stake when I openly admit how much of a lover of a Wetherspoons I am. Cheap food, cheap wine and real ale, what’s not to love? The problem with Newcastle upon Tyne is that apart from the couple of Wetherspoons they have, and a sprinkling of decent authentic one of a kind pubs(Lady Greys, Split Chimp, Crowne Posada) it’s almost wall to wall swanky champagne bars where it takes an hour to get a cocktail and the only beer on tap is Stella.

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Another favourite pub of mine which is neither a Wetherspoons or a long standing staple of the the city is No28, which I visit frequently and was very honoured to be able to try out their Unlimited Prosecco offer before it was launched last summer. Imagine my joy when I found out that they were expanding and adding a sister underground Speakeasy.

 

Down at Billy Bootleggers, believe me when I say there’s nothing else like this place in Newcastle. A dive bar in the truest sense with its’s dark cubbyhole corners, Americana decor and bourbon whiskey by the jar. The graffiti filled walls when you walk in reminded me on CBGBs in New York (the original dive bar). So far this place is ticking all my boxes, if you pardon the phrase.  The best bar in Newcastle just got even better.

We finally visited at about 10pm on a Friday night and it was nicely busy but not so heaving that you couldn’t get moved. We sought advice from the barmaid as to what to drink as we were just looking for a nightcap before heading home. She recommended their flavoured whiskeys (at 3 for 10) so we went for Raspberry, Cranberry and Banana and they came in really cute little jam jars. Mixers were also available with them if we felt we needed them but they were tasty enough without. The Cranberry was definitely my favourite, I could have drank me a million and a half of those little glass beauties! They also brew their own secret recipe of Apple Pie Moonshine which will be the first thing I’m trying on my next visit.

The band who were playing at the time (who’s name escapes me – I blame the whiskey) were really good, not too loud that they were over bearing and playing a mixture of original material and stripped down covers all with an acoustic rockabilly feel.

The food and drinks menus are totally on brand and there are no bells and whistles. If your sipping whiskey and listening to an Americana version of Billy Jean, do you really want foi gras or hispter kale and kombucha? No, you want hot dogs (from £7) and wings (from £5) and fries (from £3.50) and stuff you can eat with your hands. They have an extensive cocktail menu if bourbon ain’t your thing, along with wine and beer too.

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Much like No28, I have a feeling Billy’s is going to be one of those places that I drag everyone along to for some enforced fun. It’s also probably the only place in the city that makes me wish there was no smoking ban; whiskey and cigars. So bluesy!

Billys is open daily from 5pm to 2am with live music at weekends.

Contact:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/billybootleggers/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BBootleggers

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bootleggersnewcastle/

 

 

Four Lane Ends

Back when we lived in Cramlington, Four Lane Ends was the closest metro to us, so anytime I didn’t feel like sitting on the Arriva 42 bus which seemed to go via Berwick to get into the centre of Newcastle, we would drive down to ride the rail. Like Haymarket and it’s one of the few stations on the network which has been granted ‘interchange’ status, which, from what i can tell basically means there’s also a newsagent and a bus station there.

 

An interchange that boasts almost 900,000 passengers flowing through the vacinity annually you expect there to be a pretty decent watering hole for at least half of those people right? Right!

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If you exit the interchange via the main doors and round the corner onto Front Street, in a couple of seconds you’ll stumble across The Benton Ale House. Now, with a names like that you’d probably be expecting a swanky pretentious hipster Brewdog knock off where you can play a game of ‘spot the man bun’ however, thankfully, the Benton Ale House is none of those things. It’s seemingly naming itself an ale house in the truest sense, a good old fashioned pub that does real ale (and a glass of wine for the ladies) at reasonable prices.

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The one thing that struck me most, was how massive it is inside compared to the size of the bar, which seems to sit slap bang in the middle of the pub with different sections circulating around it; a bar to the left, a lounge to the right, and a larger lounge round the back. There was live music on when we called in around tea time on a Sunday; a really good Beatles acoustic band incidentally, which only added to the atmosphere as from memory, it’s the only pub on the WAB Tour that’s had live music on. And I love a bit of live music.

 

They had a decent selection of real ales and lagers on tap (well, they are an ale house after all) and any regular reader will know that when it comes to my wine, i like it large and cold, of which this was both; i also quite like it when i get a choice of grape too, however I’ve never yet met a glass I didn’t like so this is less important. And for two pints, a large glass of wine and a lime & soda it was under a tenner.

On first glance I found the Benton Ale House a little intimidating; it looked from the outside a little too local for me, kind of ‘the juke box will stop playing as you walk in’ kind of local however, it’s proof you should ever judge a pub by it’s facade. I could have happily stayed all evening listening to the music and discussing the best Beatles song ever*

Contact:

Benton House Front Street, Newcastle upon Tyne NE7 7XE, 
*It’s She’s Leaving Home in case you were wondering
Find out where else we’ve been on our metro pub adventure here

Excalibur Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas

‘Las Vegas is the boiling pot of entertainment’ – Don Rickles

I’m lucky that throughout my travels in my adult life I’ve been able to visit Las Vegas 4 times now so by all accounts you could safely say I’ve ‘done’ Vegas. However when Meagan and I found out the lifelong childhood heroes The Backstreet Boys were doing a residency there, I knew I’d be heading over to the strip indulge in the craziness once again.

In previous trips I’ve stayed at the (now defunct) Sahara and the Stratosphere, both at the north end of the strip, which you usually find is the cheaper end. We almost booked into Circus Circus which always comes up the cheapest of all the big hotels in the strip, however the Trip Advisor reviews were putting me off and as lady luck would have it, Booking.com had a 40% discount on some better options so we plumped for the Excalibur.

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Visually, Excalibur has always been my second favourite hotel on the strip after New York New York; cheesy and tacky and built to look like a Disney ye olde English castle and the red and blue turrets stick out a mile off, but it’s Vegas, and unless you’re a millionnaire or won big and can afford to stay in somewhere a little more classy like the Bellagio, then you need to embrace the tacky.

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We booked a queen room, which came with two free buffets, for 4 nights which came out at about £250 each. The day we arrived I was sent an email with the option to check in remotely, this helped a ton as we ended up getting slightly delayed getting there so when we eventually did arrive, we were all checked in and all we needed to do was collect our keys.

 

The room (26126); which faced south so you could see the majority of the strip, was a decent size with two large queen beds, a TV and separate bathroom with toiletries. It was basic (no fridge for one) however spotlessly clean and in all honesty, for the amount of time you’re going to stay there, what more do you really need? The room was serviced and cleaned every day and once you’re up in your room and away from the chaos of the casino and strip downstairs it’s like a different world – so quiet and peaceful!

Throughout our stay we visited some of the newer hotels like The Cosmopolitan and Planet Hollywood, whilst in comparison they did make Excalibur look a little old and tired, they were all a bit too shiny, glitzy and trendy for me. I loved Excalibur’s old school feel, with it’s 1970s carpets and brighter lighting. Let’s be honest, we’re not in out 20s anymore and weren’t going to be strutting around in skimpy dresses and heels. The Excalibur was exactly the kind of vibe we were going for.

 

The entrance level is the extensive casino as you might expect along with a couple of bars, the front desk, guest services, Dicks Last Resort restaurant and Johnny Rockets burger joint (top tip: Johnny Rockets serves wine and beer which is a good couple of dollars cheaper tan the bars so if you want a drink to walk around with this might save you a few $$). Up one level is a food court which is where the buffet is as well and lots of other fast food type places, an Italian restaurant, Starbucks, Cinnabon etc. The level below the entrance level is where the Medieval tournament is held (this level is referred to as The Fun Dungeon – which just founds like a euphemism for something if you ask me!) and there’s also a Dairy Queen down there, just in case you haven’t have enough calories already!

 

Facilities wise, there’s everything you would expect. We were lucky with the weather and despite it being March, managed to spend an afternoon by the pool, which has plenty of facilitates for all; a kids pool with a water slide, and an adult only pool area (for an extra cost). Towels are free or you can use towels from your room. There’s a couple of pool bars where you can get wine, beer, spirits or cocktails in plastic cups (if you keep your cocktail cup you can get a refill for half price). There’s also a gym, which we did’t visit because you know we were on holiday but it looked a decent size and well equipped!

 

Location wise we couldn’t fault it, you’re right next door to some of the biggest hotels on the strip; New York New York is connected by a walk way and across the road is the MGM Grand which has a monorail station in if you wanted to go down to the other end of the strip without walking the 4 miles. To get to Planet Hollywood, where the concert was, it was about a 15 minute walk, but there’s so much going on along the way it really doesn’t feel like it. This means you’re an only 20 minute walk away from the fountain show at the Bellagio, which really is worth a watch!

I’m really struggling to find fault with anything about our stay, it was exactly what we needed for the perfect girls trip away, and I’d definitely go back, once I’ve paid off my massive Kate Spade credit card bill!

 

South Hylton

I’m not shy about admitting that anything south of Central Station if pretty much uncharted territory for the Newman clam and South Hylton is pretty much as far down the line as you can get. Still, at least it’s still on the airport line, which is direct from our dwelling in Bank Foot, so thank heavens for small mercies.

South Hylton station opened as part of the Sunderland extension in 2002. It is quite literally the end of the line and *fact fans* boasts the longest platform on the whole network (at 122m long). If you exit on the right, as, lets be honest you’re not going to be coming form the other direction are you? and turn right you’ll see the Jolly Potter on your right.

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It’s a reasonably sized pub which looks inviting enough from the outside, it was reasonably quiet when we visited with friends on a sunny Saturday afternoon however still got a warm welcome and took a seat in the spacious lounge near the pool table. Their website boasts that they were awarded CAMRA Potteries Pub of the Month in May 2016 however sadly, a member of our party was right when they said that they feared this end of the track would be a real ale desert, as the only beer available when we visited was Fosters or Carling.

That said the beer was cheap (£6 for 4 halfs) and the music on the juke box was good so not really a great deal to complain about. It’s not the the kind of place that will blow your socks off but how can you not view fondly a place where ‘Annie’s Jugs’ are only a tenner and you can get a ‘PRONstar Martini’?!

Contact:

Address:  Railway Terrace, City of Sunderland
Tel: 0191 534 4867
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thejollypotter

Find out where else we’ve been on our metro adventure here

Pick of the Year: 2002

2002

Dad’s ‘Pick of the Year’ tapes were always a firm family favourite where he would make a compilation cassette of his favourite songs form that year. He stopped in 1992 however, when music got a bit too modern for him. It’s something over the years I’ve tried to carry on, and did for a while but, no one listens to CDs anymore and they don’t have the same impact as mp3 playlists. I’ve often thought about restarting it all from 1982 on my blog though just so I have somewhere to put them all for prosperity sake.

The first rule of POTY is DON’T TALK ABOUT PICK OF THE YEAR, sorry, that’s the illegal underground fight club i’m part of.

The first rule of POTY is that you can only pick songs that charted in the top 75 in the UK. The second rule of POTY is that you can only pick enough songs that would fit onto an old C120 cassette (between 30-40 tracks). The final rule, one which I’ve imposed myself, is that you must include that year’s Christmas number 1 (highlighted in green)

  1. P Diddy feat. Usher – I Need A Girl
  2. Big Brovaz – Nu Flow
  3. Oakenfold – Starry Eyed Surprise
  4. Oasis – Little By Little
  5. Justin Timberlake – Like I Love You
  6. Madonna – Die Another Day
  7. A1 – Caught in the Middle
  8. Nelly – Hot in Herre
  9. Oasis – Stop Crying Your Heart Out
  10. N Sync – Girlfriend
  11. Kylie Minogue – In Your Eyes
  12. Shakira – Whenever, Wherever
  13. Beverly Knight – Shoulda Woulda Coulda
  14. Matchbox 20 – Disease
  15. Westlife – World of Our Own
  16. Appleton – Fantasy
  17. Nickelback – How You Remind Me
  18. Will Smith – Black Suits Comin
  19. Ashanti – Foolish
  20. Avril Lavigne – Complicated
  21. Bowling for Soup – Girl All the Bad Guys Want
  22. Coldplay – The Scientist
  23. Pink – Just Like a Pill
  24. No Doubt – Hey Baby
  25. The Calling – Wherever You Will Go
  26. Eminem – Lose Yourself
  27. Shakira – Underneath Your Clothes
  28. DB Boulevard – Point of View
  29. Darren Hayes – Insatiable
  30. Girls Aloud – Sound of the Underground
  31. Amy Studt – Just A Little Girl
  32. Liberty X – Just A Little
  33. Missy Elliott – 4 My People
  34. Codplay – In My Place
  35. Christina Aguilera – Dirrty
  36. Britney Spears – Overprotected
  37. Bachelor Girl – I’m Just A Girl
  38. Pink – Get The Party Started
  39. Alanis Morissette – Hands Clean
  40. Eminem – Without Me