Glen Ord 17, 1997 (Signatory for K&L)

I’ve noted a number of times that I was less than impressed with what I tasted of K&L’s selections for 2013 (most of which showed up in early 2014 for reasons outside their control). Despite having resolved to “try before buying” as far as possible for their future selections I was predictably unable to resist getting some of their 2014 selections when they showed up early this year. I’ve already reviewed one of these, the Hepburn’s Choice Craigellachie 18, which I quite liked. The other two that I purchased are both cask strength bottles from Signatory (though in the livery of the regular UCF series rather than the decanters—a change I welcome heartily). One is a Glenburgie 19 that I hope to review soon; the other is this Glen Ord 17. Both of these are distilleries whose malts I enjoy more often than not, and both of these are also distilleries whose malts are not often available in the US—which is my way of justifying my lack of self-control. Anyway, let’s see what this is like.

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Spaghetti with Mussels in a Lemon-Garlic-Wine Sauce

Mussels in Lemon-Garlic-Wine Sauce
I was in Costco the other day and purchased, as one does at Costco, a five and a half pound bag of mussels. This seemed like a good idea as the problem—how to dispose of five and a half pounds of mussels—is one that can only have delicious solutions. I cooked half of them the evening of purchase: I made a quick tomato-garlic sauce with sliced onions and tossed the mussels in for the last five minutes while the pasta was cooking. It turned out quite well and in an unexpected turn of events both boys asked to try the mussels and quite liked them. And so tonight I reversed course on my original plan for the second half of the bag, which had been to improvise a South Indian style spicy seafood stew with coconut milk, and went back to the pasta pot. I didn’t have any good canned tomatoes at hand, however, and so threw this together instead with stuff that was in the fridge and pantry. It came out quite well, if I do say so myself, and the boys gave it the thumbs up too. So there you have it: two small children with dubious taste have endorsed this dish. I’m throwing this recipe up here so I can remember what I did if they ask for it again.
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Scapa 12

Scapa 12
Last week I referred to Glen Scotia as the other Campbeltown distillery. Here now is a malt from the other Orkney distillery, Scapa, who labour in the shadow of Highland Park. It is operated by Chivas Brothers, themselves part of Pernod-Ricard’s portfolio (you can find out more about the distillery at Malt Madness). I’ve not had very much of Scapa’s output in the past and so it’s appropriate that my first review of Scapa’s whisky should be of a general release distillery bottling (they don’t show up much from the indies anyway); and an entry-level bottling at that. However, this is not the current entry-level Scapa: that is a 16 yo, which replaced a 14 yo in 2008; that in turn had replaced this 12 yo in 2004 (they may have upped the age with each iteration but they’ve all stayed at 40%). So, if you’re one of those people who grumble that I don’t review enough entry-level whisky you can now grumble that I don’t review enough current entry-level whisky.

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Highland Park “Dark Origins”

Highland Park, Dark Origins
After the recent mini-run of bourbon cask matured Highland Park from indie bottlers (1 and 2) here’s an OB sherried version. This NAS Highland Park was released last year and is said to contain twice as much first-fill sherry cask matured malt than the regular Highland Park 12. Of course, for all we know the Highland Park 12 has been matured twice as long. Highland Park, one of my favourite distilleries, have really upped the ante on NAS releases and general tomfoolery in recent years but as long as they continue to give us the core age stated range at reasonable prices I’m not going to complain. Oh wait, the prices of the 25 yo and 30 yo have reportedly skyrocketed recently and even the 18 yo seems to be going up. And with all these younger and/or travel retail releases will they have enough stock to keep the 12 yo a viable concern or is that the next endangered creature? That sound you hear is my complaint engine beginning to rev up.

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Springbank 13, 2000 (SMWSA)

Springbank 13, 2000
I’m not a member of the Single Malt Whisky Society. I can never quite convince myself that the membership price and cost of annual renewal is worth it—especially in the U.S where the society does not have tasting rooms where members can sample the whiskies before purchasing them. And while they put out a very broad range of whiskies it’s not as though the prices are reasonable either. Even rather young whiskies cost >$100 at the SMWS—though the prices do get more reasonable as the whiskies get older. You might say that this is true in general for independent bottlers but the floor at the SMWS is higher. And given how few reviews ever seem to emerge of these whiskies it’s not clear if the quality justifies the high prices. And, of course, you’ll find people in the UK lamenting a decline of quality control at the SMWS there, and others who’ll say that the US does not get the pick of the casks (which is not unlikely given our less mature market (compared to the UK and Europe).  Continue reading

Bandhakophir Chorchori (Stir-fried Cabbage)

Bandhakophir Chorchori
Chorchoris are sometimes referred to as the Bengali analogues of Chinese stir-fries but they’re not exactly the same thing. Vegetables are fried in in a hot pan with spices but after water (or some other moist ingredient) is added the cooking is finished without much further stirring, letting the bottom layer crisp up a bit. The final dish is mostly dry (no gravy/sauce). That’s the general rule anyway. When I’m cooking cabbage in this general way I don’t let it get too tender as I like my cabbage to be a little crunchy. Anyway, it’s a very simple dish and you can cook other vegetables in much the same way (pumpkin, cauliflower etc.) or in combination. And you can also add some diced potatoes and even some small shrimp to this cabbage version. Continue reading

Bladnoch 11, 2002 (for K&L)

Bladnoch 11, K&L
Whisky geeks with good memories will remember David Driscoll of K&L making some impolitic remarks about Bladnoch a couple of years ago (first on his blog and then in an attempt to defend them on the WWW forum). Among his claims were that Bladnoch’s reputation was poor and that the Armstrongs’ “blending skills” for what they’d put out themselves had not been strong either. This was news to most of us as a) Bladnoch seemed to us like one of the most grounded and solid distilleries in Scotland: putting out quality malt at excellent prices with no marketing nonsense; and b) Bladnoch’s various “sheep” and “cow” label releases had been very well received in the main.

Of course, the subtext, as always with Driscoll, was that it was K&L that was going to release the first good OB Bladnochs. When K&L’s casks did show up my plan was to ignore them—I have a number of other Bladnochs already on my shelf. But when I saw this 11 yo lightly peated in the lineup I couldn’t resist. I really enjoyed this Armstrong release of a 9 yo lightly peated cask and hoped this would be as good. I’m sorry to say it wasn’t. Continue reading

Glen Scotia 20, 1991 (Wilson & Morgan)

Glen Scotia 20, 1991, Wilson & Morgan
Glen Scotia is the other Campbeltown distillery (Springbank being the Campbeltown distillery). I know very little about them and have tasted about as much. They don’t have the best reputation among whisky geeks but none of the (few) Glen Scotias I’ve tasted have been bad and the only other “older” one I’ve had I quite liked. That was this Archives bottling, also, as it happens, a 20 yo. Unlike that one this is from a sherry cask. Will it be as good? I hope so.

I also know very little about Wilson & Morgan, the bottler this is from and this is the first of their releases that I’ve ever tried. They’re an Italian outfit and as far as I can make out from their website they’ve been around for about 20 years and their owner is a sharp dresser. Why Wilson & Morgan if they’re Italian? Probably for the same reason that Indian whiskies have names like Peter Scot and Bagpiper. Anyway, let’s get to it.

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Highland Park 17, 1996 (Malts of Scotland)

Highland Park 17, 1996, Malts of Scotland
Let’s stick with Highland Park and let’s go with another from an atypical (for the distillery) bourbon cask (after last Friday’s 11 yo from Hart Brothers). This is a 17 yo from the German bottler Malts of Scotland, who seem to have bottled more bourbon cask Highland Parks than they have sherry casks (I have an older one that I plan to open later this year; fascinating information, I know). Anyway, let’s get right to it.

Highland Park 17, 1996 (54.2%; Malts of Scotland; bourbon cask 14040; from a purchased sample)

Nose: Opens with honey; some lime peel as well and a hint of apricot. Despite the strength not being particularly high it feels somewhat closed. Let’s see if some air doesn’t open it up. No, still quite closed 20 minutes or so later, with only a little bit of pine and more lime zest showing up. Time for water. With water, the lime peel/zest retreats a bit and it’s sweeter with some cream. Continue reading

Highland Park 11, 1993 (Hart Brothers)

Highland Park 11, 1993
This is an older release from Hart Brothers, a bottler who I don’t think I’ve seen anything new from in the US for a while—are they still in the country? Anyway, this was released in 2005 and hung around for a long time at Binny’s before they finally discounted it massively for one of their Spring sales a couple of years ago, which is when I decided to finally give it a go. It is from a bourbon cask (I believe, there’s no specific info on the label). The distillery only releases sherry-aged malt and so it is to the indies we must go for Highland Park from bourbon cask. (I assume the distillery produces these casks for use in the group’s blends: I’m not sure to what degree sherry cask Highland Park itself is allocated for blending.)

This is not my favourite profile of Highland Park by any means (like everyone else I’m a sucker for their quintessential sherried style) but it’s always very nice as a change-up. And if you haven’t had a bourbon cask Highland Park it’s also an opportunity to see how much sherry cask aging alters the base spirit—which, if my limited experience is anything to go by, starts out much more minerally, peppery and peaty than you would expect from the official distillery profile.

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A Guide to the Names of Scottish Distilleries

We all drink Scotch whisky only to appear sophisticated. If you have a bourbon in your hand and someone asks you what you’re drinking you invariably have to say a name that sounds like it belonged to a minor Civil War general and then you worry that they might think you’re wearing confederate flag underwear. And if it is a Canadian whisky then you will likely become the butt of cruel jokes. But if you’ve got a glass of Scotch in your hand you get to hit your interlocutor with an unlikely combination of consonants and guttural sounds that make you sound like Sean Connery, or at least Mike Myers’ impression of Sean Connery. It doesn’t matter how you pronounce names like Laphroaig or Auchentoshan because nobody else knows how to pronounce them either. The problem comes when you’re asked what the name means (and anyone who’s been around drunks knows that we, I mean they are very interested in etymology).

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Craigellachie 18, 1995 (Hepburn’s Choice for K&L)

Craigellachie 18, 1995, K&L
I don’t have very much experience with Craigellachie; in fact, I’m not sure if I’ve had anything other than this G&M bottling for the Party Source. As with Diageo’s Mortlach, Craigellachie produces a heavier, meaty spirit and the G&M cask I tried was as close to Mortlach as I’ve come from any other distillery. I did like that one quite a bit and so have been on the look out for more since: of course, there hasn’t been very much of it around—especially in the US—since, as with so many distilleries, it mostly produces for blends (it is a core component of the Dewars blends). The owners, Bacardi announced last year that they would be launching a new range of single malts from Craigellachie. The new 13, 17 and 23 year olds have been well-received, on the whole, but from what I can tell they’re not deeply sherried brutes. And so when K&L announced this single sherry cask I put aside my misgivings based on their 2013 selections and got a bottle.

Well, I opened it for my local group’s April tasting and it was quite popular. Due to the vagaries of schedules we actually did two small group tastings separated by a couple of weeks, and while I liked it fine the first time, I liked it even more on the second occasion. Let’s see what I think of it now that it’s been open for about a month. Continue reading