Charbay 12, LAWS Edition 1

This is another whiskey distilled from beer and another sample from Sku, who we learned so much about a couple of days ago. This is a rather sober label, and doubtless represents Sku in the grip of his super-ego. But enough nonsense.

I’ve reviewed another Charbay distilled from hoppy bottle-ready beer before, and while I thought that was an interesting diversion this one is a completely different beast. While that R5 was very young (probably less than 2 years old, quoth Sku) this one is 12 years old. And it wasn’t a regular release; it was bottled for the Los Angeles Whiskey Society (Sku is a member, which says a lot about them, I think).

This has received a lot of rave reviews (from Serge, for example) and Sku says it may be his very favourite whiskey. Me, I’m only hoping that it won’t be as bad as the Whipnose.

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Everyday Chicken Curry

Basic Chicken Curry
A while ago I posted a recipe for a “hybrid” chicken curry that I more or less improvised. Today I have a recipe for the basic chicken curry that is eaten in homes all across north India. I don’t mean to suggest that there is (only) one identical chicken curry eaten in homes all across north India, only that these curries (and this one) are members of the same closely related family, with a bit of ingredient variation in different regions, and proportions of spices (or even the exact ones used) varying in homes. But basically this is a familiar template for most north Indian home cooks: you heat up oil, add some whole garam masala to give it fragrance; saute onions and then ginger-garlic paste; then add ground spices; then add the meat; then a souring agent (tomatoes, usually); then water; cover and cook till done; serve with rice or parathasa/chapatis. And that is what I am doing here.

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This sample of Whipnose, a hopped whiskey from some outfit called the Seven Stills of SF, seems to represent a new low, or high, depending on your point of view, in Sku’s career as a perpetrator of avant garde sample bottle labels. As you can see this one doesn’t even have a label; instead, Brakhage-style, Sku has written the name directly on the bottle. And he has chosen a colour that is all but impossible to read and has written the name vertically down the bottle in a free, almost baroque script. I put it to you, however, that this in fact is a complex text, worthy of analysis in and of itself.

Any semiotician worth her salt probably has a sense of what is going on here but at the risk of redundancy let me offer a reading: the near-illegibility of the text disappearing into the gold of the whiskey in the bottle is an allegory of the relationship between this whiskey and the double hopped IPA it was distilled from—Sku wants us to remember that behind this text (the whiskey) is the trace of another author (the brewer) and also the fragility of the signature, the imprimatur, if you will (and I think you will) of the creator of a small-scale artefact in a late-capitalist economy normally flush with mass-produced goods. This, I think, also explains the use of free-hand in place of the usual printed label (notice the tension between the hard, straight lines of the “w” and the sprawl of the “e” which reaches out to the horizon, evoking as well the symbol for infinity). Continue reading

Koreatown Trio (Los Angeles, Winter 2014/2015)

Keungama: Doganitang
We eat a lot of Korean food when we’re in Los Angeles, though you might not be able to tell from my meal reports. This is because my wife’s family are Korean and so we tend to eat a lot of it at her mother’s home (where we put up) and at the homes of relatives we visit and often as unplanned dinners coming home from grocery shopping etc. (Korean restaurants are great for our boys who will eat their weight in galbi and rice and bone broths). If you like Korean food you really need to go to LA. Koreatown, which is one of the most intense immigrant enclaves anywhere in North America, probably has the best Korean food outside South Korea. I’ve been a little remiss in posting about posting about these meals in my last couple of series of Los Angeles restaurant write-ups and so here are three at once from our trip to LA in late December/early January. Continue reading

High West, A Midwinter Night’s Dram

Midwinter Night's Dram
This is another of High West’s high concept whiskeys. It is a blend of two rye whiskies, one a 6 yo 95% rye, and the other a 16 yo 80% rye, finished in port and French oak casks. In other words, it’s the Rendezvous Rye finished in port and French oak casks. As to whether it goes into the finishing casks in sequence or whether some fraction is finished in one and the rest in the other and then vatted together, I have no idea.

I tasted this in late December at the home of Fabulous Florin (head of small animal husbandry at the San Diego Wild Animal Park) and do know that I liked it a lot; more, I think, than I had the Rendezvous Rye itself. I’ve since found a store in the vicinity that has a bottle and so I’m interested to taste it again and see if that initial impression is confirmed.

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Boulevardier of Broken Dreams

550boulevardier2We’re hosting an Oscars viewing party tonight and I’m making my version of Kit Anderson’s famous Bad Attitude chili. The recipe calls for some bourbon and as I didn’t have any at hand that I was willing to pour into a vat of chili I went out yesterday and came back with a liter bottle of Old Grand-Dad 80 Proof. Naturally, my thoughts turned to cocktails to be served with the chili and from there to the classic Boulevardier, which is basically a Negroni with bourbon/rye in place of the gin (though it apparently predates the more well-known Negroni). I’m still going to serve that but what I have here is a twist that I thought I’d improvised but which renowned killjoy, Jordan Devereaux told me on Twitter is something he was served at a bar in New York: basically, a Boulevardier with Bowmore 12 in place of bourbon/rye. Just because someone was already serving it doesn’t mean I didn’t invent it: just ask Christopher Columbus. I’m calling mine the Boulevardier of Broken Dreams. Continue reading

Willett 2, Rye

Willett 2, Rye

The Willett distillery stopped production a few decades ago. What has been available under the Willett marque in recent years, in their eye-catching bottles, has been sourced whiskey (at least one of which I’ve really liked in the past). In 2012, however, they started distilling again and this 2 yo rye, released last year, was one of the most anticipated releases of recent years. And when it showed up it got fairly good reviews from people (such as Sku and the notorious Bourbon Truth) who are usually allergic to hype. Sku offered me some the last time we swapped samples and I couldn’t say no. After all, my experiences with other “craft” American whiskeys have been so positive, be they from Balcones, Koval, Corsair or Charbay….

My understanding is that this is a blend of two mash bills—one that’s 74% rye and one that’s 51% rye, with far more of the high rye mash bill in the blend.

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Dim Sum at Lunasia (Los Angeles Winter 2014/2015)

Macao Egg Custard
My very slow slow-motion survey of the major dim sum houses in the San Gabriel valley continues with this rather excessive meal at Lunasia—which was also eaten on our trip to Los Angeles in late December/early January.

Lunasia, depending on who you ask, is currently in the third or fourth position in the SGV’s dim sum hierarchy (Sea Harbour and Elite are uncontroversially above it and some would add King Hua as well). It is located in the same space in Alhambra that once housed Triumphal Palace, and like its predecessor (and the aforementioned contemporary luminaries) it offers dim sum not from carts but from an a la carte menu. When I first started eating dim sum in L.A (back in the mid-late 90s) the chaos of the carts was a large part of the attraction but the difference in quality between food that’s rolling around a large restaurant in carts and food coming straight from the kitchen to the table as it is ready is very hard to deny.

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WhistlePig Boss Hog 12, Spice Dancer

Whistlepig Boss Hog
The name of this whiskey confuses me. I assume it is a reference to some nightmarish fan fiction crossover between the worlds of The Dukes of HazzardDune and the Spearmint Rhino “gentlemen’s” club.

I got this sample from Sku and his review notes that this is from the “Spice Dancer series”; as to whether all the releases of Whistlepig Boss Hog 12 were Spice Dancers, I don’t know. If so, I assume they settled upon it after rejecting “Price Chancer” for being too truthful: yes, if you thought the original WhistlePig (which I quite liked) was somewhat overpriced for a 10 yo rye (in the region of $70) then you were doubtless very excited when this was released north of $150. Doubtless it costs a lot more to truck cask strength spirit across the Canadian prairies to Vermont. As this is 100% rye, you see, it was almost certainly distilled by the Canadian Alberta Distillers (who, as far as I know, are the only source of private label 100% rye). My understanding is that going forward WhistlePig—who don’t distill a drop themselves—will be getting their rye from American sources; so the profile of their releases will doubtless change. The price strategy I’m sure will not.

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Rittenhouse Rye

Rittenhouse Rye
After two weeks of bourbon reviews let’s do a week of ryes. First up, Heaven Hill’s Rittenhouse Rye (this is the 100 proof version). Rittenhouse is beloved of many, both for drinking straight and for mixing, and is usually a very good value. As per the estimable Chuck Cowdery, this is a “barely legal” rye, i.e with the rye content of the mash bill at the legal minimum of 51%. It is apparently made in the Pennsylvania rye tradition but I have no idea what that is. Feel free to tell me.

Rittenhouse Rye, Bottled in Bond (50%; from a sample received in a swap)

Nose: Very mellow indeed: a bed of corn sweetness and above it the standard issue rye notes (pine, mint, dill, cold tea) float without getting too insistent. With more time there’s a bit of caramel and then some jammy fruit: plum? apricot? a bit of orange peel? Some dusty wood behind it all. Gets spicier as it sits (clove, cinnamon). With a few drops of water it gets mellow again, with a bit of citrus, a bit of pine, and a touch of cherry.

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