It’s hard to keep track of the new bar openings in the centre of Leeds, so much so that it’s hard to choose between so many great venues. However, what makes The Hedonist Project different is its flagship, pop up notion – every 3 months it will change direction and focus on one variety in particular – adapting the name, the decor, the menu, and the highlighted alcoholic beverage. Unfortunately I missed the last two; Hogarth’s Gin Joint and The Rum Shack beach bar in the summer, but was lucky enough to head to their launch of their freshly furnished Whisky and Parlour bar a couple of weeks back now – AND to make a situation even better, The Hedonist Project now has a permanent premises on Lower Briggate, slap bang in the middle of Leeds City Centre, making it a popular location for people to call in and enjoy a drink (and a snack) on a cold, winters afternoon. Refined and now serving food alongside their spirit collection – there’s no excuse not to pay them a visit.
What could you possibly desire after a hectic day on a drab and dreary November day? That’s a super warm welcome of course, and that’s just what we got (along with a yummy ginger ale cocktail). The place has a real intimate, comfortable, cosy feeling about it; with its darkened, rustic vibe. It’s careful on creating attention to the character and the detail in the setting – because nothing says simply snug like beautiful interior. The candles placed on every wood structured table, the country style flowers, the exposed bricked walls, the industrial hanging light bulbs and vibrant fairy lights, the range of bottles tucked neatly and safely behind the bar, the swish seating and diner style booths and the reflection of the twinkling blue sign produce a relaxed aura and laid back mood. It’s the perfect sheltered hideaway and the type of place I could see myself spending a whole casual evening there without realising the time. The wintery sense made me so sleepy (or maybe that was just the whisky).
Our night included cocktail making – getting a specific insight into how their unique cocktails are made, whisky tasting – testing and developing our own opinions with the information given, and indulging in a few appetizing canapes along with each sip! Sat around a large table with around 10 other people and a whisky expert (I’m sorry I’ve forgot your name) was a new experience for me but one I loved. It’s even converted me into a whisky delver. I can honestly say I had absolutely zero interest, or liking towards whisky but it’s totally won me over and completely changed my mindset!
We had four whisky types to try with food to follow once we’d endeavoured each gulp of liquid; first up was Haig Club Single Grain which was a delightful, sharp warm up with a lighter, more fragrant taste. Along with this we had our first bite to eat, whiskey cheese on a grain cracker which complimented the starter wonderfully. The second was Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old Single Malt which had a zingy bitterness and a golden hue to it. As it represented that fuller, spicier taste, it somehow reminded me of Christmas. A plate of carmelised onion tart was then handed to us and the earthy seasoning backed up the aftertaste of the whisky. Thirdly, there was Talisker Port Ruighe which was my ultimate favourite. It had a thicker, oilier, smokier mouthfeel with a chargrilled middle and a cocoa and oak finish. Presented with a haggis and chicken croquette to go with that was the icing on the cake for me and I really flourished the succulent, salty combination. Moving from light and floral to full body rich and fiery style, we ended on Singleton SunRay Single Malt along with a smoked salmon cracker and an amazing Aberdeen Angus burger topped with bloody mary ketchup. There were obvious subtle changes as we went along the row and the distinguished tastes showed which also differed by the age of the whisky. There was an entire mixture; starting with a smooth, sweet, honey, fruity taste, to a stronger, heavier and smokier taste – all of which I surprisingly enjoyed.
All five small dishes of food were delicious and worked really well together with the whiskies. The pairings were paced correctly going from what would be an aperitif up to a dessert. What was even more interesting was the tips, tricks and secrets expressed whilst we engulfed in the food and drink, being told the years in casket age and the purpose of each one. We were given the typical bring the scent up to your nose before the palette technique and were taught to let the whisky settle, expanding around the tongue, mouth and gums instead of swigging down fast.
What I really found intriguing was the thought behind a whisky and how you can interact individually with it. He spoke about the smells of the whisky reminding us of our childhood, triggering memories and helping us younger folk to understand – thus producing a three way global partnership and a younger audience! Like the smoky whiskies for example; they smell like bonfire night and burnt embers, and the more creamy whiskies could have a toffee or a butterscotch taste and smell. The concept of the Haig whisky was really fascinating as we were told the difference in colour could influence your choice. As it’s a bright, cobalt blue it takes the vision away from what the whisky truly looks like. Funny, eh?!
Our last task of the day was hearing about and sampling the fabulous cocktails on offer. By this point, I completely forgot to make note of each exclusive cocktail but what I can tell you was that I appreciated and relished every individual one despite the once again varied taste. The first and the last were definitely my favourite, the first one being heavenly sweet and juicy and the last one being a hot drink in alcohol form which was absolutely gorgeous. It really warmed my cockles! The others were more whisky based, some more sour than others but still patiently drinkable. I was certainly giddier than normal witnessing the dry ice fog up the air for one of the cocktails and I was graced when a piece of fudge was given alongside a salted caramel cocktail. The two of those were to die for!
To see first hand how much work goes into a cocktail and to learn about all the ingredients was really quite satisfying. I had so much fun in those two hours; the staff were so friendly and knowledgeable, the drinks were incredible and the food was super tasty. I can’t wait to try the full sized versions on my next visit there (which will be happening). Whether you’re a whisky beginner or a pro, I couldn’t recommend this little gem more!
Thanks so much for everyone at the parlour for having me (and for the mini bottle of Haig which is going to go down well with the males of the family at Christmas time). What’s your favourite cocktail?
P.S. Thank you to everyone who entered my Paul Mitchell Christmas giveaway, the winner has now been announced and informed and can now look forward to some luxury hair care!