Touring Tomatin


Tomatin was the first distillery I ever visited. This was last summer on our first trip to Scotland. We were driving from Glasgow to Drumnadrochit and after a nice visit at Blair Castle we had time for a quick stop at Tomatin. I wrote up that quick stop last year—we didn’t go past the shop, where I filled a bourbon cask from their “bottle your own” selection. We didn’t spend much time there but I liked the feel of the place and hoped I’d have a chance to return. That chance came on our unexpectedly early return to Scotland this June. It was on our last day, on our drive back from Edderton to Edinburgh, where we boarded a plane to London; it was raining but the distillery was warm. And thanks to Tomatin welcoming small children on the tour, my entire family was able to go on the tour with me. And they all loved it.  Continue reading

Speyside 21, 1992 (Alambic Classique)


Is this my first review of a whisky from the Speyside distillery? I believe it is. And I believe it is also the first (and only) whisky I’ve ever tasted from the Speyside distillery—it was only founded in 1990 and its first single malt release was in 1999. My only other exposure to anything related to this distillery is the independent bottler, Scott’s Selection: the Scott of Scott’s Selection, Robert Scott, was Master Blender at the Speyside distillery. I’m not entirely sure but I think Scott’s Selection—which I think is now defunct—was in fact a property of Speyside, which means that they are one of few distilleries that also operate as independent bottlers. Bruichladdich/Murray McDavid and Benromach/Gordon & MacPhail are few of the others that come to mind as similar examples, past and present, though Bladnoch under Raymond Armstrong is probably the nearest analogue. Doubtless there are others (please write in below). The distillery also produces the Drumguish and Cu Dubh brands.  Continue reading

Sota Hot & Cold (St. Paul, MN)


Because I am so up on hot food trends—in Minnesota and beyond—I had no idea that Thai rolled ice cream was a thing. But it is and has been in Minnesota for at least a year. Sota Hot & Cold opened in August 2017 in the front of the ex-Mai Village space on University Avenue in St. Paul. It now opens into Tapestry—which opened earlier this year—and the now connected sushi bar, Monkon Sushi. Apart from an entry they share a long connected kitchen and I saw some staff members in both spaces. I mention this because when I asked one of the staff at Sota if the businesses had shared ownership, she said no but it seems clear they do: Pheang Vang shows up as the person behind both ventures. Anyway, we ended up at Sota Hot & Cold last night when friends we’d just eaten dinner with at Homi suggested it. Perhaps because of the heat, lots of other people had the same idea and it was really quite busy. And the ice cream was good. Herewith a quick look at the place.  Continue reading

Port Charlotte 2007 CC: 01


I said I was going to post my write-up of a visit and tour of Tomatin today but I have roughly 37,573 photographs from the day and when I sat down today to make a selection, resize and upload it was all too much. Accordingly, I have punted that to next week and I have another whisky review today. If you are disappointed you can always ask for your money back. Since this was going to have been an all Islay week (with Monday’s Laphroaig, Wednesday’s Bowmore and yesterday’s Kilchoman), I decided to at least be consistent with that. Here, therefore, is a review of a Port Charlotte (Bruichladdich’s peated malt, if you don’t follow this stuff closely). The distillery is, of course, known for a wide range of wine cask finishes, but the fact that they produced this from eau de vie casks (or is it a single cask?) surprised even me. I fear that my jokes from past years that the brain trust at Bruichladdich would eventually release Jägermeister and then septic tank finishes may soon come true.  Continue reading

Kilchoman 3, Spring 2010 Release


Let’s make it a week of Islay whiskies. On Monday I had a review of an 18 yo Laphroaig and yesterday I had a review of a 10 yo Bowmore. We have another big drop in age today, all the way down to 3 years old, the legal minimum for Scotch whisky; and we’re also moving from the larger, more established and storied distilleries to a small upstart. Kilchoman, the small Islay farm distillery (which I visited briefly last June), only started distilling in late 2005. I believe the first official whiskies were released in 2009. There were a bunch of cask strength releases in the US in mid-2010. I still have some of at least one of these saved (the Binny’s cask) and will probably get around to reviewing it one of these decades. At around the same time they had begun to release larger vattings at 46%. There were a number of these seasonal releases for at least the first few years—I confess I’ve sort of lost sight of what Kilchoman has been up to in recent years, despite rather liking all the early releases I’d tried. Well, maybe I’ll try to address that.

Meanwhile, here’s a blast from the past. This was put together in a complicated way with a mix of bourbon and sherry casks—a finish may have been involved (I’m too lazy to look it up). Continue reading

Bowmore 10, Dark & Intense


Last month I reviewed the Bowmore 15 “Golden & Elegant”, one of the three age-stated whiskies that make up Bowmore’s recent’ish revamp of their travel-retail line (I guess given how many of the whiskies sold in airports cost more there than they do on the high street the companies feel self-conscious about using the term “duty free”). This 10 yo is the youngest in the line. The name “Dark & Intense”—I assume they named it after me—indicates the different composition of this release. Where the “Golden & Elegant” is a vatting of first-fill bourbon casks, this is a vatting of Spanish oak sherry casks. In theory that should be very good news. Bowmore from sherry casks can be very good indeed and I’ve had some very nice intensely sherried ones of this general age—see this 11yo and this slightly older 13 yo; the official Devil’s Casks 1st Ed. and 2nd Ed.—both also 10 year olds—were pretty good too. Unlike those, or even the Golden & Elegant, however, this is only at 40%. Will it be as good as its 15 yo sibling? Let’s see.  Continue reading

Lekali Pasal: A Nepali Store in the Hmongtown Marketplace (St. Paul. MN)


I happened upon Lekali Pasal in mid-May, the last time I was at Hmongtown Marketplace and have been meaning to write it up briefly ever since. Well, better late than never. I didn’t actually go looking for it. I had a friend in town from Bombay and took her to Hmongtown Marketplace. While wandering the outdoor market, vaguely South Asian signage caught our eyes and when we investigated it turned out to be a Nepali store. Now it’s true I hadn’t been to Hmongtown Marketplace for a few years but I think this place is relatively new. At least I’d like to believe that I’d otherwise have noticed it. Anyway, here’s what you can find there.  Continue reading

Laphroaig 18, 1997 (SMWS 29.204)


My previous Laphroaig review was of a single rum cask—a 16 yo distilled in 1999. We return now to regular programming with a single ex-bourbon cask. This is a 18 yo distilled in 1997 and bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (who gave it the name, “A day at the beach”). The vintage and the age are exciting on their face. A number of recent Laphroaigs of this age from 1997 have displayed levels of fruit that range from the tantalizing to the highly excellent. On the other hand, there are others that have not (see this 18 yo from 1997 bottled by Berry Bros. & Rudd). Where on the continuum will this one fall? Let’s see.

Laphroaig 18, 1997 (53.6%; SMWS 29.204; refill hogshead; from my own bottle)

Nose: Bright phenolic peat, lemon, salt, wet charcoal. Gets more savoury as it sits with some bacon fat (maybe sizzling on the charcoal?), and there’s some cracked pepper as well. Water knocks back the smoke here and brings out sweeter notes: a touch of vanilla, berries, some musky fruit that’s hard to pick.  Continue reading

Highland Park 10, 2001 (Gordon & MacPhail)


Yesterday I had a report on my visit to Highland Park in June. Today I have a review of a Highland Park whisky of a kind you won’t hear too much about on a tour at Highland Park: one from an ex-bourbon cask. At the distillery they are very focused on official Highland Park’s sherry-based identity, though they will concede when asked that bourbon cask Highland Park is used to make some of their special editions. It’s a pity that they don’t embrace those casks and that profile more fully as, in my (unoriginal) opinion, bourbon cask Highland Parks can be one of the great and unusual pleasures of the world of single malt Scotch whisky. It is where you get to experience peat most fully in Highland Park, and it’s quite a unique flavour of peat, derived as it is from local heather, and quite different from the phenol-soaked variants of Islay or Jura or even the smoke of Springbank or some distilleries in the highlands. I’ve had some very good ones and I’m happy to say that this one is not a disappointment.  Continue reading

Highland Park, Windily


I toured Highland Park this June and it turned out to be one of the better tours I’ve been on. But when planning the trip I’d not planned to tour it at all. This because I’d read numerous reports from whisky geeks about the experience at the distillery being soulless and so on. As all of this seemed of a piece with the relentless premiumization the owners have been engaged in for the last half-decade or more, I tended to believe it. However, when I had a drink in Edinburgh with James he recommended it highly. I still didn’t make a reservation but decided I’d give it a go if the chance presented itself once actually on Orkney. And it did.  Continue reading

Kolap: Cambodian Cuisine in St. Paul


It took us 10 years of living within 50 minutes drive of it to finally get to Cheng Heng, the Twin Cities’ premier Cambodian restaurant. I reviewed it earlier this year and described it as probably the only Cambodian restaurant in the area. I was informed in the comments that there was in fact another not too far away: Kolap. You can certainly—accurately—see this as evidence of how unreliable a guide I am to the Twin Cities’ food scene. On the other hand, you might also be able to see it as evidence of how little attention these restaurants—and others not too far away from them on University Ave. that specialize in cuisines from other Southeast Asian countries—get from the local mainstream food media. That’s my alibi, at any rate. It is, of course, not the case that Kolap is totally obscure: in looking it up I discovered that the New York Times had included it two years ago in a piece on the diverse food scene of St. Paul. The New York Times may from time to time associate Minnesota with things like grape salad, but it also apparently does a better job than the local media sometimes of highlighting hidden jewels. In any event, it did not take us as long to get to Kolap after learning of its existence as it had to get to Cheng Heng. We ate there with friends a couple of weeks ago. Here is my report.  Continue reading

Cardhu 27, 1984 (SMWS)


Like most people, I have not had very many whiskies from Cardhu. This is because there are very few whiskies from Cardhu for people to try. Even the redoubtable Serge—who just posted his 14,000th whisky review—has reviewed “only” 34 Cardhus. And Whiskybase lists less than 100 different Cardhus—and most of those are different incarnations of the 12 yo (which I have reviewed and liked—almost five years ago). At any rate, if there exist people who can confidently tell you what the characteristics of Cardhu are at different ages, from different decades, and from different cask types, I am not one of them. I’m sure those people exist, by the way—and as per the comments on my review of the 12 yo, they’re probably in Spain, where Cardhu is apparently a very popular malt. As the only other Cardhu I’ve ever had is the 12 yo this is both the second and the oldest Cardhu I’ve ever had. It was bottled by the SMWS in 2012 and they called it “Lovely sweet toffee surprise”. That sounds rather promising; let’s see if it’s what I get.  Continue reading

Coming Soon…


And autumn is here. My term is about to kick off and things are going to get hectic fast. Luckily, I have enough reviews already stored that I should be able to get by and into October without having to scramble too much. I’m also making good headway in my campaign to kill all the sample bottles I have on my shelves. I am also a year and more into a campaign to a) open and drink down more of the bottles I’ve been sitting on for the better part of a decade and b) to only have less than 20 bottles open at a time. The latter is allowing me to pay more attention to bottles and track more closely how they change (or don’t) as they stay open.

In addition to whisky reviews, I will this month finish up with my reports on distillery visits in Scotland this past June—only Highland Park, Tomatin and the Dornoch distillery to go. After that I will pick up on food reports from that trip as well as more reports on whisky stores in Edinburgh.  Continue reading

Scapa, Soggily


We had incredible luck with weather in Scotland this year. Last June, it rained a lot on both Skye and Islay. This year we spent two weeks in Edinburgh, the Speyside, the northern highlands and Orkney and encountered only two days with rain worth noting; one was our last day, on our drive back from the highlands to Edinburgh. The other was our first full day on Orkney. The day started out nice and sunny and we had a lovely time visiting Skara Brae and the breathtaking cliffs at Yesnaby. It started raining lightly after lunch but it didn’t bother us as we walked across the low tide path to the Brough of Birsay (utterly stunning). By the time we got to the Ring of Brodgar it had begun to piss down and as the family grew damper their enthusiasm for being out also dampened. Accordingly, I dumped them back at our B&B (the highly recommended Foinhaven farmhouse) circa 4 pm and went off by myself to take a look at Scapa, just about 15 minutes away. It was drizzling throughout, it was not far from closing time and so I did not linger or even think about a tour. Here is a quick look courtesy my cellphone camera.   Continue reading