There's something about exclusivity and intrigue that captures a true yelper's sense of adventure, so there was no better place to gather for the last Elite Event in Leeds than The Maven; a hide away so well shrouded in mystery that even the guests needed specific instruction to make their way in and ascend the secret stairwell leading up. Indeed, this is a space where GPS would fail you, and only those in the know are privy to the recondite and enigmatic venue.
This latest installment of all things Yelp in Leeds was always destined to be a date with decadence. The unusually sunny day in February set the tone for the event, held at Leeds' newest and most stylish bar. As the folks started rolling in, everyone took a seat in the specially cordoned VIP area, to have a natter and a catch up before the proceedings went underway. With plenty of new folk in attendace, some of the more seasoned yelpers set about introducing themselves, as everyone soon got chatting in anticipation for the tastings to start. As a special surprise, folks were treated to a few select canapés from The Maven's cheese boards, which included some fantastic local cheeses, honey and grapes. Some thirty yelpers later, everything was set to begin, and as everyone marvelled at the latest exciting bits of Yelp Schwag, the rum-fest began.
To begin the evening the guests were introduced to the owner, Nino, who gave an insight into his vision for the establishment and welcomed everyone into the fold. His unique bar, situated above ground level on Call Lane, is designed to be a pre-prohibition era bar and comes complete with fully attired bar staff (each one dressed to impress with their own USP, be it a flat cap, cravat, or braces), traditional and expertly made cocktails, free chilled water with every drink, and no visible signage as to the location. That's right – you have to be savvy enough to find it, if you want to come for a drink here! (Which of course, is why we were all there.)
Once Nino had finished his introduction, we were passed on to T.C., who was to divulge the first rum cocktail of the night. He opened the night by introducing folks to Goslings rum, whose history began in 1806 with James Gosling. He had set sail for the Americas but after 91 days of navigating unusually becalmed waters, had to dock at the nearest port at St. George's, Bermuda, where they set up shop. After much trial and error, the distinctive Bermuda black rum was formulated, and it later became the principle rum in Bermuda's favourite drink: The Dark 'n Stormy. This was to be the first cocktail of the night – a jar of ginger beer, topped with Goslings and a few slices of lime.
As everyone got their mouths 'round the first tipple, Mark Cato of Appleton Estate began setting up, and everyone had a chance to chat over their drinks. Once had everyone finished off their Dark 'n Stormy drinks, the next rum was introduced, and the masterclass resumed. Appleton Estate was founded as a sugar estate as early as 1655, and remains the oldest continually running rum producing distillery in Jamaica – they not only have the largest stocks of aged rum in the Caribbean, but also stock the oldest commercially available rum in the world. It's single estate produced, in so far as the cane, water, yeast, and process are all sourced and completed on one site and their current master blender, Joy Spence, is the world's first female master blender! With this fine product came our next delicious cocktail, the Appleton 8 Year Old Cinnamon Treacle. (Ingredients can be found below, should you wish to make one yourself... ) This delectable drink fully shows off the flavours of the rum, whilst demonstrating that this is a spirit which deserves to be appreciated in creative ways.
By this time folks were getting rather merry, and so a short break was introduced to take in the tasting, before continuing with the final rum of the evening. After much talking and cavorting, it was time to test out the much anticipated Santa Teresa, and finish off The Maven's specialist rum-cocktail masterclass. Fabrice was to talk us through Santa Teresa, who have been one of Venezuela's leading rum producers for over 200 years, the origins dating back to 1796 when the Count of Tovar founded the Hacienda Santa Teresa, and in 1909 Ron Santa Teresa was registered as the first Ron de Venezuela brand. Their premium Santa Teresa 1796 is a pioneer in the rum industry, using the secret behind Spain's sherry and brandy producers – the antiquated Solera method.
This final session began with a completely impromptu straight spirit tasting, courtesy of Fabrice, to allow everyone to take in the full flavours of the rum before seeing it in effect in the cocktail. Of course, no one was complaining at this unexpected boon, as everyone shared a rather healthy swig of straight Santa Teresa! Before everyone had even a chance to finish off their generous samples he then passed the bottle of Santa Teresa's liqueur, the Rhum Orange Liqueur, which was an essential ingredient in the final cocktail. Everyone giddily poured themselves a taster, as Fabrice went on to explain how the Rhum Orange can be used in other ways, such as frozen and poured over vanilla ice cream. (There was suggestion that we ought to have had ice cream at this point, so as to test it out... ) Having delighted everyone with his generosity, it was then time to taste the final cocktail of the evening: Santa Teresa Rhum Orange Daquiri. (Ingredients below!)
As everyone took in their last tipple, a wonderfully zesty and freshly flavoured cocktail, there was time to thank the fantastic bar staff who had tirelessly made each drink from scratch for each guest, and say a few goodbyes to those who had to head off. For the remainder of the group, the order of the evening was to indulge in some more rum – namely that of The Maven's famous rum punch, whose ingredients are well guarded, but come combined with plenty of ice in a humungous punch bowl. (Complete with ladel.) To top it all off, the fruit that adorned the punch were blazed by a blow torch, caramelising the sugars, in a fantastic finalé to the night.
This was another unbelievably fabulous evening, every detail redefining finesse, from the fantastic products, to the opulent venue, and the expert staff. A huge thanks goes to Nino, T.C., Mark Cato, Fabrice and all of the awesome staff at The Maven for their welcome, generosity and wisdom, without which we wouldn't have had such a fabulous evening. But, as ever, don't just take my word for it – you can see what went down, straight from the horses' mouths right here, and see the pictoral evidence here! And finally, as ever, a HUGE thanks to Matthew Kitchen the photographer – check him out!
Rob W: "The event itself was one of the best tasting sessions I've attended (and not just because the drinks were free!) - the guys presenting the rum clearly knew their stuff, and actually seemed to know the answers when questioned outside of the presentation."
Hannah J: "Each cocktail was more delicious than the last, and thanks to them and the neat rum and orange liqeur passed round I was quite frankly rather sozzled by the end of the night. Well, it would've been rude not to taste everything, right?
Combine all this with the awesomely cool surroundings of The Maven, with an owner who seems to take real pride in serving quality prohibition (or was it pre-prohibition?) era drinks and maintaining the exclusive atmosphere of the venue... and you have a pretty perfect night. The company was awesome too."
April K: "Nino is one of the most chilled out bar owners that I have ever come across and I think that I may spend an awful lot of money in this place.
The cheese and bread was a lovely touch and the honey was delicious!"
Laura J: "Regrettably I have only just sobered up sufficiently to review. I had a super time and I really enjoyed all the little history bits behind the rum. I'm sorry to say I can't remember a lot of the third talk, but learning more about Jamaica, particularly that it rains at 2pm everyday apparently, and ye olden day sailing voyages to the new world was right up my street. For the actual rums though, I think the fact that I went to Gerry's on the way home for a bottle of the Santa Teresa Rhum Orange Liqueur (only £17.95 people) speaks volumes. In fact, I may have a little tipple this evening... "
Until next time, folks. See you on Yelp! Rowena H
Goslings Black Seal Dark 'n Stormy
A jar of ginger beer, topped with 50ml Goslings Black Seal, and a few slices of lime, and ice.
Appleton 8 Year Old Cinnamon Treacle:
50ml Appleton Estate 8 Year Old, 60ml pressed apple Juice, 10ml cinnamon syrup, dash angostura bitters, stir in a rocks glass over ice, serve with an apple slice.
Santa Teresa Rhum Orange Daiquiri:
25ml Santa Teresa Grand Reserva, 25ml Santa Teresa Rhum Orange, 25ml lime juice, 10ml sugar syrup, shake and strain into a martini glass.