Event review: Leeds Loves Cocktails

Tequila experts Nicci Stringfellow and Andy Balsillie host the El Jimador Mexology session at Verve, in Leeds, as part of the Leeds Loves Cocktails week. Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe.
Tequila experts Nicci Stringfellow and Andy Balsillie host the El Jimador Mexology session at Verve, in Leeds, as part of the Leeds Loves Cocktails week. Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe.
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The lifeblood of many Leeds bars is the production and sale of the humble cocktail.

Whether they’re juggling bottles, vigorously handling shakers or lighting up liquor with blow torches, crafting cocktails is an art in itself.

Complex, original and great tasting mixes can set bars aside from the competition, and with Leeds’ ever-growing bar scene seemingly thriving, what better way to celebrate the sun than with a cocktail festival?

The second annual Leeds Loves Cocktails festival saw 24 of the city’s most diverse and creative cocktail bars put on events and special menus to showcase their talents.

For £4.50, cocktail lovers enjoyed discounts on priced seminars, drinks offers and priority entry to events including everything from a Portabello 3 Martini Lunch to a Whiskey a Go-Go Party from June 2 to 8.

All areas of Leeds’ enviable city centre bar scene got involved from Millennium Square with the likes of Epernay, to Trinity and The Alchemist, to the Northern Quarter at Sela, Wax Bar and Jukejoint and Blind Tyger, Granary Wharf at LIVIN’italy and Call Lane through the likes of Jake’s Bar, Neon Cactus and Call Lane Social.

We decided to sample some of the flavours and flamboyance of an El Jimador ‘Mexology’ event at Verve’s Mexican-themed basement tequila bar, in Lower Merrion Street.

Wandering down to the popular indie bar at a less than primetime 7pm, we were guided down to a graffiti-clad hideout adorned with Day of the Dead Mexican skeleton art in frames and on the walls.

The rustic wooden bar, framed with orange and green backlit bottles of El Jimador and Herradura tequila, is the centre-piece of a cosy space bordered by a patterned elevated banquette.

A crowd of around 20 people filled the underground venue, greeted by host Andy Balsillie and Nicci Stringfellow with a refreshing tequila and grapefruit soda Paloma cocktail.

The history and origins of the spirits to come from Casa Herradura, in Mexico, were laid out during a presentation explaining how the sap from nurtured agave plants flavours this classic spirit.

Having tasted a range of differently-prepared spirits, our hosts offered up classic tequila, agave nectar and lime Tommy’s Margaritas.

Leeds Loves Cocktails not only offers you a mini insight into the world behind the spirit shelf, but it gives you a chance to mingle and meet the names behind the bars and like-minded punters without feeling out of your depth.

You can experience classic spirits like Jim Beam bourbon or test out the likes of OSCAR.697 Vermouth, which is seen far less on the spirit rack – it can be an indulgent taste of your favoured tipple or a wander into the unknown.

And if you’re not keen on informative sessions, the wristbands entitle you to choose from a special Leeds Loves Cocktails set menu of reduced £4.50 cocktails in participating bars.

We gave the smooth Cocchi Vermouth, ale and bourbon Pale Ale Cooler and the spiced Pit Bourbon and Coke a try in The Pit, while Mojo’s rum-based Straight Up Punch and Suckerpunch cocktails both left a sweet taste in the mouth.

The concept of a week jam-packed with cocktail-themed event is a definite winner, bringing bars and punters together in a celebration of refined and creative drinks. Leeds truly does love cocktails.

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Pub review: The Head of Steam, Mill Hill, Leeds