Death by Pork (Thanksgiving 2015)

Braised Pork Belly
I am cooking for 21 for our Thanksgiving gathering on Thursday. Our friends are all bringing appetizers, side dishes and desserts but the main meal is on me. You’d think making six dishes for that many people would be enough hassle but when I found myself in the meat section at Costco staring at a 6 lb pack of sliced pork bellies, I couldn’t help myself. I had this vision of a vast amount of diced pork belly in a spicy-sweet-tangy sauce under a liter or so of rendered pork fat and the responsible thing to do was to eat it along with 20 other people so none of us would die. That’s the kind of person I am: responsible.

I am, as I’ve said before, doing an Indianized Thanksgiving this year and so this will fit fine with the rest of the meal. Now pork may or may not be traditional at Thanksgiving but, believe me, no one is going to complain about having a more interesting meat than turkey on the table (even though I am giving the turkey a Kerala-style treatment, turkey is still turkey).  Continue reading

Pikesville Rye 6 yo, 110 Proof

Pikesville Rye 6, 110 Proof
I had this rye on my list of potential reviews for November but was not super motivated to actually review it. But then last week everyone’s favourite whisky writer, good ol’ Jim Murray went and put it at #2 on his list of the best whiskies of 2015 and now I get to be very, very timely for once. As you know by now, the #1 whisky was a Canadian rye, a pick which even patriotic Canadians are having some difficulty getting behind. No, it’s not Whistlepig or even Lot 40, but some undistinguished rye from Crown Royal: Crown Royal Northern Harvest. Just in case you think that Comrade Murray is striking a blow for the common people (or for Canada even) please be advised that it’s his standard operating procedure to create as much controversy as he can. Still, the Crown Royal selection, as far as I can tell from what Canadians who’ve actually tasted the whisky are saying, seems analogous to picking Speyburn 10 or Jack Daniels as the top whisky of any year. Murray may well be taking the piss.  Continue reading

Vintage 1979 (Svenska Eldvatten)

Svenska Eldvatten, Vintage 1979
This is a somewhat unusual whisky. It is a blend but apparently a single cask blend: what this means is that malt new make and grain new make were blended into a cask upon distillation in 1979 and married in the cask for the entire period of maturation. And this period of maturation was long indeed: 33 years. As to whether the malt and grain components were distilled at the same distillery, I don’t now. If so, that would narrow the source considerably as there are not very many distilleries that are/were set up to distill both malt and grain. It’s also not clear who initiated this single cask blend (a distillery? an independent blender?) or to what purpose. What we do know is that this cask was bottled by Svenska Eldvatten, who have bottled a number of other vintage releases of uncertain origin. The cask is said to be sherry but this release was of only 197 bottles. Given everything else that’s unusual about this it is possible that this was a sherry hogshead.  Continue reading

Roasted Squash with Ghee and Garam Masala (Thanksgiving 2015)

Mashed Squash with Ghee and Garam Masala
As mentioned earlier, I am doing an Indian Thanksgiving this year (please construct your own ironic, historical joke). I’ve already posted the recipe I improvised for spicy cranberry chutney; in place of the roast turkey I’m going to do braised turkey drumsticks in the style of a Kerala “roast” (I’m going to do a dry run with a couple of drumsticks tomorrow, and if it turns out well I’ll post that recipe on Tuesday); I’m also making a Bengali-style sweet pulao in place of stuffing; and I’m making two dishes with roasted squash: one a spicy and sour soup with tamarind and coconut milk, and the other this mash with ghee and garam masala. I made a test batch today and it came out quite well. I might tweak it a bit for the main event but so that I remember what I did here’s the base recipe.  Continue reading

Laphroaig 13, 1998 (Kintra Whisky)

Laphroaig 13, 1998, Kintra Whisky
Closing out my week of Laphroaig reviews, here is another 13 yo, but unlike Wednesday’s 13 yo from Duncan Taylor (and also Monday’s 17 yo from SMWSA) it was not distilled in 1997 or matured in a bourbon cask. This is from a refill sherry cask filled in 1998, and was bottled by a relatively obscure Dutch outfit named Kintra Whisky (and seems to be the only Laphroaig they’ve yet bottled)—back at the start of the decade there was a lot more indie Laphroaig around than there is now. This is another bottle that I purchased a long time ago and kept unopened for no good reason. I finally opened it, alongside the Duncan Taylor 13 yo, for one of my local group’s tastings earlier this year (it was a tasting that featured two 14 yo Springbanks and two 13 yo Laphroaigs, one each from bourbon and sherry casks). I liked it fine then but found it a bit raw (and more than a bit sulphured). Since then it’s mellowed considerably and I’ve been enjoying it more. And now it’s time to take some notes.  Continue reading

Cranberry Chutney (Thanksgiving 2015)

Cranberry Chutney
We host a dinner every year for our friends who are in town for Thanksgiving. I usually do the classic meal centered on roast turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce etc. (plus lots of add-ons). This year I”ve decided to Indianize the meal. My friend Sandra says that immigrants incorporating the flavours of their source cuisines into Thanksgiving meals is a longstanding Thanksgiving tradition in its own right, but the truth of the matter is after 22 years in this country I’m a little bored of eating (and in the last decade and more, making) more or less the same meal. Sure, I’ve brined and spatchcocked the turkey and improvised different spice rubs; sure, I’ve made various different stuffings and cranberry sauces—but this year I wanted to go further. And so here is the core of this year’s menu: turkey “roast” in a Kerala style; pulao in place of stuffing; spicy and sour roasted squash soup with tamarind and coconut milk; mashed roasted squash with ghee and garam masala; and this cranberry chutney. I made a test batch this week and it came out quite well. Continue reading

Laphroaig 13, 1997 (Duncan Taylor)

Laphroaig 13, 1997, Duncan Taylor for Binny's
Here is the second of three Laphroaig reviews this week. Like the first (this 17 yo from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America), this was distilled in 1997 and matured in a bourbon cask. It’s a bit younger though, having been bottled at 13 years of age by Duncan Taylor for Binny’s of Chicago back in 2011. I remember that this cask took a long time to arrive at Binny’s and that I was rather obsessed with tracking its arrival—I think it was first mentioned in their Whisky Hotline in early 2011 but it finally showed up in 2012. This is partly because back then is when I was the height of my whisky derangement (having recently arrived at that state), and partly because Binny’s had released a few rather excellent (and well-priced) bourbon cask Laphroaigs and the odds seemed good that this would be another one. Having waited for it for more than a year I then didn’t get around to opening it for more than another three years. I guess I wanted to stay in a state of permanent anticipation. Yes, this is fascinating biography. Continue reading

La Huasteca (Minneapolis)

La Huasteca: Barbacoa de Chivo
La Huasteca opened sometime in 2014. It first flashed on my radar in the early part of the summer of 2015 as a birria (a lamb stew) and barbacoa de chivo (slow cooked goat) specialist. I put it on my list but then we went off to L.A and I forgot about it. Thanks to reports on Chowhound it came back on my radar and recently I pulled some friends together so we could go out and sample a goodly portion of the menu. And we did. And man, was it good! I’m tempted to say that it’s the best Mexican food I’ve had in Minnesota, but I need to renew my acquaintance with a number of the other local luminaries. For what it’s worth, it blew our recent meals at Maya Cuisine out of the water. Not just because they have things on the menu here far beyond what’s on offer at Maya, but because even the things that are similar are better here, and the preparation on everything was top-notch. If you haven’t been you should go. And you should go this week. Do it.  Continue reading

Laphroaig 17, 1997 (SMWS 29.164)

Laphroaig 17, 1997 (SMWS 29.164)
This is the first of three Laphroaig reviews this week. This one was bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America and in age, strength and cask type is very close to the recently discontinued OB 18 yo. I think I am in a bit of a minority among whisky geeks in liking the OB 18 yo a lot, but if this is close to it then I’ll be happy, Of course, being a SMWS release means it cost almost twice as much as the OB 18 (in Minnesota anyway). I have to also say that my batting average with recent SMWSA releases has not been stellar: 85 points for a 23 yo Clynelish, 87 points for a 22 yo Highland Park, 87 points for a 13 yo Springbank—these are not poor scores by any stretch of the imagination but the mystique of the SMWS promises better, and they’re certainly not shy with the prices. Will this finally be the bottle that convinces me that I should sign up for a membership?

Oh yes, the SMWS called this one “A Ballerina at the Barbecue”. Continue reading

Ledaig 10, 2004 (Signatory)

Ledaig 10, 2004, Signatory
Tobermory’s peated malt Ledaig has not always had the best reputation. In recent years, however, a number of heavily sherried Ledaigs have been released that have been received very well indeed. I’m not talking only about ancient monsters like this Alambic Classique 40 yo from 1972 (the year the distillery was re-opened after being shuttered for more than four decades) but very young casks distilled in the 2000s. I’ve reviewed a few of these, giving very high scores (relative to age, and in general) to a 6 yo and a 7 yo from the Whisky Exchange and to another 6 yo from Blackadder. I’m hopeful that this cask, released by Signatory, may be up to those standards; especially since the price was not low for such a young whisky. As to why these heavily sherried casks are falling to the independents, while the distillery continues to release a very different profile for its own 10 yo and 18 yo releases, I don’t know. Continue reading

Tangy Sweet Potato with Cumin

Tangy Sweet Potatoes with Cumin
Is this the simplest recipe I’ve posted so far? It may well be. Very few ingredients—none of them hard to find, most probably already in your pantry; easy prep; and past the the first few minutes on the stove you can mostly ignore it till it’s done (and that’s in not very much time either). The interplay of cumin and sweet potato is what this is about—a little bit of chilli powder adds a spicy counterpoint and if you have a lime and/or chaat masala on hand, squeeze and/or sprinkle them over at the end to give it a tangy kick as well. A very good side-dish with dal and chapatis, but would also go very well with roasted meats made in a non-Indian style. In fact, I’m considering serving it alongside turkey at our Thanksgiving dinner this year (and I’m also considering Indianizing the roast turkey this year—more on that later).  Continue reading

Auchentoshan 23, 1990 (Archives)

Auchentoshan 23, 1990, Archives
I think I can say safely that this is the oldest Auchentoshan I’ve ever had. I’ve not had too many Auchentoshans of any age, actually—I’ve not been a big fan of most of what I’ve had and have therefore not sought out much more. On the one hand, the general profile seems to fall in an acidic bourbon cask spectrum made all over the Speyside; on the other, there’s been something a bit weird about most of the few I’ve had that I can’t quite describe (though I did like this 14 yo from Cadenhead’s). Anyway, I’ll be interested to see what longer aging has done to this cask, which was bottled jointly by Whisky Fässle and Whiskybase (for their Archives label). It seems to have divided opinion on Whiskybase quite widely—there are a lot of ratings for it and they go evenly from the high 70s to the low 90s. Consequently, perhaps, this is still available.
Continue reading