Last Thursday evening the grain mixtures, in the most part, may have been at least 51% corn, and the night air 90% precipitous but the Yelpers of Leeds were 100% treated to yet another exquisite outing in the latest installment of Elite Event goodness. You may be wondering, 'What are these epic carousals, of which I hear about after the fact?' Often, it seems, the question of 'how did I not hear about this before? Why didn't I get to come?' arises. Well, if you're not down with the Yelping crowd, you'll won't get in on the guest list – these events are exclusively for the most active and engaged members of the Yelp community! So there's only one way in, and once beyond the borders, you'll never want to leave…
This time around, we got our mouths 'round a right load of whiskey, being welcomed into the cosy upper echelon of Hirst's Yard, that is 51 Percent; a dedicated and passionate drinkery, and Leeds' only dedicated bourbon bar. On arrival guests were gifted a delecatable bourbon and champagne cocktail, complete with whiskey in which fresh mint leaves and sugar had been soaking over night. Everyone had a chance to mix and mingle, whilst awaiting the remainder of the party to arrive, and took in the surroundings – lovingly retro-fied with faux art nouveau prints and art deco lamp fixtures.
To begin the evening Dan Alonso, manager of 51 Percent, introduced himself to everyone, explained his concept for the bar, and his infectious passion for the drink that is bourbon, whilst stood in front of their impressively extensive back bar. Lesson number one: if anyone has even the slightest incling to imbibe this ambrosial import, you now know where the first port of call lies. Once the introductions were done, the tastings began, and everyone began to really get into the spirit of things. Lesson number two: why 51%? Because to be classed as a bourbon, the grain mixture has to be 51% corn. Every day's a school day.
First up on the tasting trail was Buffalo Trace, an 8 year old bourbon of 40%, with a good level of sweetness and
wood, which is an ideal entry level bourbon, that covers a few bases. Once a healthy measure was poured for all, details of the drink were explained, and everyone took a sip. Not only is this a great bourbon for newcomers to American whiskies, but it also makes for good
cocktails. Before folks could blink, Dan handed around the next tipple, Mellow Corn – a whiskey made of 80% corn, bottled to an abv of 50%. As a secondary sip, it was quite distinctive to the previous sample, being as it
has a slightly warmer, harsher taste than the prior, but very
light, with hints of wood, nuts, and violets. According to our host, some say it’s best when you
add a tablespoon of sherry to the bottle. Lesson number three: Try a bottle of Mellow Corn, with added sherry, for your Christmas tipple.
And lastly, for the first half of the tastings, came a generous dram of Pikesville Rye – a rye whiskey (meaning it has been made with a minimum
of 51% rye, rather than 51% corn), which is a great base for classic
whiskey cocktails such as the Manhattan. Again, everyone was able to appreciate how it differed to those sampled before, given its spicy and peppery flavour on the
palate, with a sharp, fruity nose, and a slightly oak tinged taste.
Suitably silly on some sumptuous sips, everyone to rest and reprieve, Yelpers were introduced to a fantastic set of songs by Leeds' based singer songwriter Steve Wilson. Complete with an arresting cover of Black Hole Sun, his lyrical musings and sweet serenade had everyone captivated by the interlude. Once suitably lulled into a chill, the second set of tastings began, to a thirsty crowd.
To kickstart the second half, Knob Creek was poured out, offering up a sweet, strong and spicy taster at 50% abv. It's aged for 9 years in batches of less than 150 barrels, and boasts an intense warmth, noticeable immediately before touches of ginger, caramel and vanilla very subtley appear during the finish. As if that wasn't enough of the good stuff, Dan dished out the finalé in this epic spirit sampling – Jacquins Rock ‘N’ Rye. He described it as almost like a boutique version of Southern Comfort – a blend of whiskey, oranges and sugar. The oranges and chunks of rock candy are left in the bottle, sweetening the whiskey the longer the bottle is kept, and much mention was made of this being an alternative to sherry, come Christmas time. It's thicker on the tastebuds than a regular whiskey, which works well when mixed or sipped neat.
But was the fun finished by this point? It most certainly was not. Finally, to finish, folks were given beer and poker chips, to bet Kentucky Derby style on the gee gees! Projecting three antiquated horse races onto 51%'s big screen, Yelpers were given odds lisitngs and tokens, to win a bottle of Champagne in this last carousal of the night. With fever and fervour, everyone tensely watched the races play out, shaking their betting sheets and cursing or cheering their choices. The level of intensity reached boiling point at the final race, where lucky (or supremely savvy) Christian H came up trumps overall, with his final bet accruing him the leading number of chips.
And so, it was on that racy note that the event came to an end, with everyone fully charged to face the rains and head homeward. As ever, a huge thanks goes out to all who attended, Matthew Kitchen for his lightening fast and fabulous snaps, Brooklyn’s bartender Alex Carr who helped out on the night (and who will be doing a bartender exchange with Jess from Dick and Jane’s in Brooklyn at the end of November!) but notably to Dan of 51% for his warm welcome, fabulous hosting, and enormous efforts to make this event possible. If you need a night cap, winter warmer, or simply somewhere speak easy style to hang out and drink excellent drinks, you now know where to go. Map it, bookmark it, Yelp it. Boom.
Want to hear what they guests thought? Here's some snippets from the night!
Andy C: 'Drinks, entertainment, A FREE CD (just in case people didnt remember) and more drinks – where can you go wrong!'
Fiona C: 'After the taster session, everything was starting to feel warm and fuzzy. Everything got even fuzzier with the wonderful melodies from Steve Wilson.'
Ted W: 'The event was amazing, organised brilliantly by a bootleggers moll –
Rowena. The fancy dress theme was
prohibition. There is no way me and Davey Boy would have made it into
even the lowliest of speakeasy but everyone else looked like they had
walked off the set of Bugsy Malone.'
Ian P: 'Dan, the proprietor, was not only wonderfully generous to us with the
fantastic range of drinks we got to try, but also laid on amazing
entertainment. We had a hilarious time losing poker chips
bet on Kentucky derbies from times gone by. We loved it all, and
feel very lucky to have been invited.'