Black Bull 30

Black Bull 30

I don’t really know too much about the Black Bull blends. I know the brand is owned by Duncan Taylor and that this 30 yo was blended at origin in the 1970s and then matured for the full term in an ex-sherry cask. So while this has grain whisky in the mix the grain component is also 30 years old and has been marrying with the malt the whole while (and I believe it’s 50/50 grain and malt whisky). That’s all pretty unusual for blends which are usually heavier on the grain and generally blended after the component casks have matured and then married for only a few months before bottling. As to what the sources of the components are, I have no idea. But I’m sure somebody more knowledgeable than me will be along shortly to fill in the details. I think this was released in the late 2000s and that it’s no longer part of the range (makes sense as one would imagine it would be hard to replicate).

I split this, and some other bottles, with friends some months ago. One of those people, Jordan Deveraux of Chemistry of the Cocktail coincidentally posted his own review a few days ago. I have studiously avoided looking at it and will do so only after this review has posted. [And here it is.] Continue reading

Indian Home Cooking 1: Rajma

Eye of the Goat

If it weren’t bad enough that this whisky blog now features weekly restaurant reviews here’s my first foray into cooking posts. Soon I’ll expand to regular reports featuring my vegetable garden (I’ll have updated pictures of the foot of snow it’ll be under for the next five months); parenting advice (Salo or the 120 Days of Sodom is not a family film); and my crucial fashion insights (the Nehru jacket is coming back, y’all!). It’s going to be so much fun!

Anyway, I’ve been an annoying food person for much longer than I’ve been an annoying whisky person. I’ve been discussing food online far longer than I’ve been discussing whisky (before the rise of food blogs, back when food forum wars were a serious thing—I was part of the second eGullet purge; “eGullet what?”, you say; exactly.) I’m also a prolific cook—other than a meal or two out on the weekend all our meals are home-cooked, and as my wife has a much longer commute than I do most of it is cooked by me. I have a pretty wide repertoire cuisine-wise but let’s face it nobody wants anything but Indian recipes from an Indian. And so here is yet another axis along which I can inflict myself on the world (though my old food forum friends will see this only as a return). Continue reading

Lagavulin 12 CS (2013)

Lagavulin 12, 2013

Let’s stick with Lagavulin but let’s take the exclusivity factor down a notch or two. Unlike the Feis Ile bottles, the Lagavulin 12 CS is not exactly hard to find—there are more than 31,000 bottles of the 2014 release.

I’ve previously reviewed the 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 editions of the Lagavulin 12. As I’ve noted before, along with the Caol Ila Unpeated, the Lagavulin 12 is one of the few value propositions in Diageo’s annual slate of special releases. For some reason it’s not an universally loved expression but I’m yet to taste one that I did not like a lot. I’ve managed to get a bottle every year since I came to know of it (2009) and hope to get my hands on the 2014 release as well (I’m not sure if it’s in the US yet). I do have a bottle of this one too but as I’m trying to keep my number of open bottles under control I asked my friend Patrick for some from his recently opened bottle when we last exchanged samples. Continue reading

Sen Yai Sen Lek (Minneapolis)

Sen Yai Sen Lek: Kao Soy

An ongoing conversation on the MSP Chowhound forum about the disease of sweetness that plagues Twin Cities Thai restaurants reminded me that we had been meaning to eat at Sen Yai Sen Lek for some time now and had not gotten around to it, despite being up in that neighbourhood on a near-weekly basis for our Indian and Korean grocery shopping. Well, as of last weekend that box on our itinerary has been checked.

It was a pleasant meal on the whole, but nothing to get terribly excited about. And certainly nothing to drive through snow to get to as we did. (Though, as my wife noted with resignation, the real reason for the outing, and the endangerment of the entire family on the highway, was to get to a whisky sale even further up north on Central Avenue.) Continue reading

Lagavulin 17, 1995 for Feis Ile 2013

Lagavulin 17, 1995, Feis Ile 2013No, I didn’t go to Feis Ile 2013, and no, I didn’t buy a bottle at auction. This sample comes to me from my friend Rich who acquired a bottle somewhat complicatedly. It was purchased at Feis Ile by one person, passed on to another who lives in Canada, who then brought it down to other parts of the US from where it eventually made its way to Minnesota. All I had to do was go to a tasting in St. Paul last month featuring sherried malts and wheedle Rich into sharing a sample of it (it was one of the featured malts at the tasting and I knew I wanted to review it at leisure for the blog as well).

Feis Ile (in case you don’t know, this is the annual, week-long, festival of Islay distilleries) is something I’ve always wanted to attend, but the reports of queues of hundreds of people trying to get into every distillery are off-putting. I’m not a big fan of crowds. Still, if ever I go to a whisky festival it will be this one. The festival bottles are always very tantalizing, especially as only a small number of the distilleries make any of those available more generally. And the Lagavulin bottles are always the ones I crave the most. Quite apart from anything else, they’re sold at very reasonable prices. This one, for example, was about £100. That might seem a lot, and it is in the abstract, but full-term sherried Lagavulin is not easy to come by and when you look at the price asked for the most recent edition of the Lagavulin 21 it does seem like a very reasonable price. Say what you will about Diageo, at least they’re not gouging the faithful who’re willing to make it out to Islay in May.  Continue reading

Glenfarclas 25

Glenfarclas 25

If ever there were a competition to select the “People’s Distillery” Glenfarclas would surely be in the running. Independently owned and almost entirely bullshit free (can you remember the last silly Glenfarclas release?) the distillery puts out a lot of whisky, most of it within reach of regular punters. I am thinking of course of their regular range. It is true that in their “Family Casks” series they release a lot of fairly expensive single casks—not always very old—but it’s hard to begrudge them this when they regularly release a 10, 12, 15, 17, 21 and 25 yo, none of whose prices have risen dramatically in the last half-decade, and all of which are priced more reasonably than the malts in the range of pretty much any other distillery in Scotland (Tomatin may be the sole exception). Their 21 yo can be found for less than $125, and this 25 yo can easily be found for $150 or less. And even their 40 yo was priced far, far below whisky of similar age from their competitors (less than $500 in most US markets)—though it doesn’t seem to be around any more. Their success doing what they do seems to be one of the strongest rebuttals of the arguments made to rationalize increasing prices and the rush to NAS—keep in mind that most of Glenfarclas’s spirit is matured in ex-sherry casks (which you would expect would be another driver of cost).

Continue reading

Talisker 30, 2006 & 2012 Releases

Talisker 30, 2012Both these Talisker 30 samples came from the same gathering as the Clynelish 17, Manager’s Dram and the Supernova 2014. (There are samples of some other monsters brought home as well from that evening that will be showing up here in the next few months.) These were my first tastes of Talisker 30 (I’ve had a bunch of the 25s and also the 35) and I’ve been looking forward to spending a little more time and concentration on them. The Talisker 30, like the 25 yo, is no longer at cask strength—the 2010 edition was the last at cask strength (I have a bottle in the stash but who knows when I’ll ever open it).

Our impression at the tasting was that the 2012 just didn’t have the depth of the 2006 (which was also my finding re the 2012 edition of the 25 yo vis a vis the CS 25s). It is also true that on that night we’d been drinking a lot of fairly high-powered whiskies before we got to the Talisker 30, 2012; so it’s possible it may have suffered for that reason. Well, let’s see what I make of the juxtaposition tonight. I’ll start with the lower abv. Continue reading

House of Curry (Rosemount)

House of CurryIf you’ve always wanted to eat at a Sri Lankan restaurant located between a lacrosse store and a H&R Block then Rosemount, a southern suburb of the Twin Cities, is the place you want to be. Lucky for you, House of Curry also serves very good food. And despite the name they’re anything but a standard curry house (and heaven knows, we have enough of those).

As those who’ve been following my weekly food reviews may recall, in September I launched a slow-motion survey of Indian/South Asian food in the greater Twin Cities metro area. Prior stops have included Bawarchi, Dosa King and Malabari Kitchen, and the experience has been variable. One of the sources of recommendations that I’ve used is the Minneapolis-St. Paul forum on Chowhound, which steered me both to Bawarchi (good) and to Dosa King (very, very not good). Thus I was not entirely sure about House of Curry even though it was recommended highly by everyone who mentioned it. However, its relative proximity (we live 20 minutes south) and its sudden raised profile (apparently MSP magazine has listed it among its best restaurants for 2014*) overcame our trepidation. And a good thing too. Continue reading

Caol Ila 12

Caol Ila 12My slow tour of “standard” expressions continues with the classic Caol Ila 12. I came to this one a bit after the entry-level whiskies from all the other well-known Islay distilleries and it took me a while to truly appreciate it. Not as medicinal as Laphroaig, not as smoky as Ardbeg, not as rich as Lagavulin, the Caol Ila 12 fell into a bit of a no man’s land. It seemed like Islay smoke-lite (and it didn’t offer floral compensations like Bowmore did). It wasn’t until I outgrew an obsession with peat for peat’s sake that I began to appreciate its elegant take on Islay peat/smoke. There’s some irony in this as it had taken me a while to come to like peaty whiskies to begin with (I’ve documented my initial reaction to the Lagavulin 16 before)—if I’d tried the Caol Ila 12 first I’d likely have eased into Laphroaig, Ardbeg and Lagavulin.

Anyway, enough with the boring autobiographical crap. On to the whisky! (For a marginally more interesting introduction see my very first Caol Ila review, written when the blog was very new.) Continue reading

In Praise of Jim Murray

cthulhuSo, the 2015 Whisky Bible awards list is out (ahead of the Bible itself). And as always many whisky geeks are falling over each other to see who can get their underwear in the most self-righteous and virtuous knot possible over Jim Murray’s latest excesses. And some of the luminaries of the whisky blogverse have also chimed in. The Whisky Sponge had a characteristically biting takedown right before the announcement; Serge Valentin of Whiskyfun has run a little graphic announcing that “the best whisky in the world simply does not exist“; and even Sam Simmons (aka Dr. Whisky) has roused his blog from suspended animation to note that Murray’s “controversial choices…are no promotional accident“. And here I am, just as predictably, with a contrarian response.

Let me note first of all that the Sponge at least is consistent—he mocked the Bible last year as well; and he also mocks everything else to do with the whisky industry and those who peddle, promote and obscure its twaddle. It’s less clear why Serge is so exercised about the idea of “the best whisky in the world”—after all, one might say that the Malt Maniacs Awards do much the same as Murray’s lists albeit in different language; and, of course, it’s not clear why the notion of someone proposing a “best whisky” should be so outrageous per se in a world where there’s a best everything, from movies (Crash!) to polka albums to butter sculptures. As for the good Dr. Whisky, one wonders if he and the rest of the Scotch whisky industry—Simmons is a brand ambassador for Balvenie—are as quick to note the promotional aspect of Murray’s announcements in years when Scotch whiskies are at the top of his lists and/or he’s not taking shots at the Scotch industry’s practices (as he did this year). Continue reading