Caol Ila, Feis Ile 2009

Caol Ila Feis Ile 2009
This was bottled for Feis Ile, the annual Islay whisky festival, back in 2009. It’s either a 12 or 13 yo and was bottled from a single sherry cask. My understanding is that the whiskies bottled by Caol Ila for Feis Ile are/were all from casks matured on Islay, at least back in the day—the vast majority of Caol Ila’s spirit, in case you’re wondering, is actually tankered off and matured on the mainland (terroir!). For those of us in the US, most of these Feis Ile bottles are out of reach. I’m always happy to see Laphroaig’s fairly priced Cairdeas—I’m more ambivalent about the Ardbegs that have been launched at Feis Ile in recent years. For all the others, however, you have to either go to Feis Ile or look to marked up bottles at auction. Of all of these releases, Lagavulin’s always garners the most interest—and the greatest auction premiums—but there are those who feel that some of Caol Ila’s releases have been on par with them. This 2009 release is particularly lauded. Let’s see what it’s like.  Continue reading

Braised Lamb Shanks with Potatoes

Braised Lamb Shanks
Holy Land, a Middle Eastern store that is a bit of a Minneapolis institution, is one of my regular sources of goat meat. From time to time I also purchase lamb shanks from them. Always very fairly priced, these shanks call out to be braised. Usually, I cook them slowly in a vaguely Italian style, with tomatoes and red wine and olives, and we eat them over polenta. Every once in a while I cook them the way I would cook goat in a North Indian style, cooked down slowly, with the meat falling off the bone in a rich, velvety gravy. This recipe, however, is not one from my regular repertoire. I improvised it last week, and as it came out rather well I am sharing it with you. It is a fairly simple preparation, not calling for overly esoteric ingredients for the non-South Asian cook, and after some initial fussiness it all but cooks itself.  Continue reading

Bunnahabhain 1988-2004 (Scott’s Selection)

Bunnahabhain 1988-2004, Scott's Selection
This is the second of three Scott’s Selection releases from 2004 that I split with friends when Binny’s put them on a clearance sale a couple of months ago. I’ve already reviewed the Auchentoshan 1983-2004. The oldest of the three, the Glenlivet 1977-2004 is yet to come—though I’m constantly being warned against it.

I *think* that I might actually have tried this Bunnahabhain before. I have a vague memory of it being the malt, a small pour of which led off one of the tastings my friend Rich put together a couple of years ago. If so, I have an even vaguer memory of liking it then. As with all Scott’s Selection releases, there’s very little information out there on this one—no detail on cask type and very few reviews (though it does have a very good rating on Whiskybase). Anyway, let’s see what it’s like.  Continue reading

Piccolo IX

Piccolo: Sunchoke Consommé
I don’t have a whole lot left to say about Piccolo except that this is my ninth review of a meal there in the last few years and that I still am depressed about the fact that they will be open for less than two more months. We last ate there in the second week of December and when we found out at that meal that they were going to have a special New Year’s weekend menu, and that Doug Flicker would be in the kitchen cooking it, it took about 3 seconds for us to decide that we’d be back soon to eat it. This is a brief account of that meal. We were joined by friends we’ve eaten there with before, and who are also big fans. It turned out to be one of the best meals any of us had eaten there—which is saying something, as the last meal we ate there together was pretty amazing too.  Continue reading

Bowmore 10, 2002 (van Wees)

Bowmore 10, 2002, van Wees
Here is a review of a Bowmore that was released four and a half years ago and not in the United States. You’re welcome!

As you may know, Bowmore’s 1980s distillate has a very bad reputation, with a lot of the whisky produced from it demonstrating overly perfumed and soapy qualities. I’m one of those who thinks—based on my limited, random sampling—that the problem was mostly worked out by 1989 or so. However, it must be admitted that the soapy/glycerine thing pops up from time to time in the following decades as well. This 10 yo is an example of that. It wasn’t so pronounced when I first opened the bottle last year—it did very well at one of my local group’s blind tastings—but as it stayed open it magnified a little too much on the palate. I don’t mean to set off another round of Bowmore hysteria but I’m curious as to whether anyone else has encountered this elsewhere in early 2000s distillate. It may well be, of course, a case of an off barrel being bottled by an indie—I haven’t had any recent official releases that would have been distilled in this era.  Continue reading

Four Roses Small Batch, Ltd. Ed. 2016

Four Roses Small Batch, Ltd. Ed. 2016
Might as well make it all bourbon for this week’s whisky reviews. This is the 2016 release of Four Roses’ annual Small Batch Limited Edition release. In the last four years or so this series has gone from easily findable to not-very easily findable. I purchased a bottle of the 2012 release at a store in the Twin Cities, leaving many on the shelf behind it. Shortly thereafter it was swept up in trophy bourbon hysteria and I’ve not seen a bottle in the wild. I got this one in Europe, without too much fuss, at the original retail price.

This is the first Four Roses Small Batch, Ltd. Ed. that’s entirely the work of Brent Elliott, their current master distiller, who replaced the recently retired legend, Jim Rutledge. Well, “replaced” in a payroll sense: it remains to be seen if he will be able to carve out the kind of career Rutledge did. For his first Small Batch Ltd. Ed. he vatted three recipes: a 12 yo OESO, a 12 yo OBSV and a 16 yo OESK. Having memorized my Four Roses Recipe Roundup reviews, you know that this means that two of the three components are from low-rye recipes and that the yeast strains used are the fruitier O and V and the spicier K. Of course, we don’t know what the ratio of the components are and so it’s hard to predict if higher rye of the OBSV will play a big role or if the older OESK will impart both more fruit and greater oak impact. Anyway, let’s see what it’s like.  Continue reading

Hotel Herman (Montreal)

Hotel Herman: Buckwheat, chocolate, thyme
This is the final big meal report from our trip to Montreal in late October, though not the final Montreal report per se—I’ll have another very brief report next week, probably, on some pastry eating. This dinner at Hotel Herman was the last meal of our trip (unless, you count the terrible food we ate at the airport for breakfast and lunch the next day after missing our early morning flight to Minneapolis). It followed dinner at Joe Beef the night before (and brunch that morning at Olive et Gourmando). I wasn’t expecting to say that I might have liked this meal even more than our dinner at Joe Beef but that might possibly be true.  Continue reading

Radish Raita

Radish Raita
It’s been a while since I’ve posted a recipe; the last one was back in late October and coincidentally had the same featured ingredient as this one: radish, or to be more specific, watermelon radish. But whereas that October recipe was essentially for thinly sliced and dressed watermelon radish, in this one the watermelon radish does not form the base of the dish; that role is played by yogurt. No one needs me to explain what raita is. I can tell you, however, one thing it isn’t, and that is a dish made with any sort of fixed recipe. The necessary ingredient is yogurt and it needs to be beaten; beyond that it’s a free world. From texture to flavourings, you can do pretty much whatever you want (though it should stay vegetarian and you should remember that the primary function of raita is to act as a supporting, cooling agent during a meal). Continue reading

Evan Williams Single Barrel

Evan Williams Single Barrel
I was not planning to review another bourbon this week but news came in earlier on Monday of the passing of Parker Beam. Parker Beam was Heaven Hill’s master distiller from 1975 till his retirement a few years ago after he was diagnosed with ALS. It seemed like an appropriate time to raise a glass of one of the bourbons he made, and I had this bottle of Evan Williams Single Barrel at hand. I did not ever meet Parker Beam and nor am I going to pretend to know very much about him—I’m not a bourbon maven by any means. But even I know enough to know that he was a true giant of the whiskey world, a true master distiller, one of those who shaped modern bourbon. And though I don’t know if it’s true, I’d like to believe that the fact that so many of Heaven Hill’s lineup of very drinkable bourbons are also very, very affordable bourbons has something to do with him. Even now, with everything that’s going on with Elijah Craig, Heaven Hill makes excellent whiskey for everyone—and there are very few distilleries around the world that can say that. Certainly the Evan Williams Single Barrel series has been synonymous with high quality for a very long time and it’s very easily found in the neighbourhood of $20. It may not be the greatest bourbon available from Heaven Hill but it’s an appropriate bourbon to toast him with: here’s to you, Mr. Beam!  Continue reading

Henry McKenna, Bottled in Bond

Henry Mckenna, Bottled in Bond
Henry McKenna is another of Heaven Hill’s brands, and probably one of its least well-known—and some would say it’s one of the best secrets in bourbon. It’s made with the 75% corn/13% rye recipe that is also used to make Evan Williams and Elijah Craig. It comes in two iterations, something called Henry McKenna Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey—which goes for just over $10 in these parts—and this Bottled in Bond version, which goes for just less than $30. I’ve never had the one with the longer name and the lower price—I’m not sure how old it is or how it compares to the similarly priced Evan Williams. The Bottled in Bond version, however, sticks out in the contemporary bourbon landscape like a thumb that is destined to be chopped off without warning: what I mean is that it is sold in single barrel form, at 50% (as all Bottled in Bond bourbon has to be), and most shockingly, it is 10 years old. The regular Four Roses Single Barrel, by comparison, is not only more expensive, it bears no age statement.  Continue reading

Auchentoshan 1983-2004 (Scott’s Selection)

Auchentoshan 1983-2004, Scott's Selection

This Auchentoshan is one of several Scott’s Selection releases from the mid-2000s. While the Longmorns and Glen Grants and the Port Ellens released around the same time have long disappeared—and are now commanding massive premiums on the secondary market—and the Linlithgows, Glen Mhors and Highland Parks have also now mostly been purchased, this and some others continue to languish on shelves around the country. Even as I type, at least three whisky geeks in different parts of the country are looking at bottles of Scott’s Selection Auchentoshan, Bunnahabhain. Glenlivet, Benromach, Craigellachie and Mannochmore in specialist stores and are wondering whether to give in to the temptation to buy them. In a couple of minutes they will decide against the purchase because there’s no information out there on the quality of these bottles. That was me for many years. But then Binny’s recently put a number of these stragglers on major sale and four of us split a bottle each of this Auchentoshan, a Bunnahabhain 1988-2004 and a Glenlivet 1977-2004—Michael K. and Jordan D. will probably review their portions at some point soon (the deplorable, blog-less Florin was the fourth). As I’ve reviewed very few Auchentoshans of any kind I decided to start with this one—I’ll review the other two later this month (or maybe next) as well.  Continue reading

Olive et Gourmando (Montreal)

Olive + Gourmando: Oeuf Coquette
Back to Montreal, and this time we’re in Old Montreal. Our meal previous to this on our trip in late October was dinner at Joe Beef. The plan had been to have a lazy morning to recover from that dinner and then go to the Museum of Fine Arts in the afternoon before dinner at Hotel Herman (review coming soon). But our Montrealer friends that we dined with at Joe Beef recommended that we spend time wandering around Old Montreal instead and that we begin the day with brunch at Olive et Gourmando. I’m very glad we listened to them. The food was very good indeed and was excellent fuel for a few hours of walking around the old city. Continue reading

Hampden 6, 2010 (Rum)

Hampden 6, 2010
Rum was my drink of choice in my college and post-college years in India. That’s largely because rum was the only decent spirit available in India in those days. Indian whisky was not worth talking about, unless you managed to get your hands on a bottle of Solan No. 1 (which was hard to get even in the late 1980s)—even as a callow teenager I knew that all those whiskies were largely good for was getting drunk, and even then you’d have to mix them with a lot of soda. There were some decent rums though—Old Monk, for example. Truth be told, we drank Old Monk largely with coke as well but it did not punish you if you drank it neat or with water. (Old Monk is still around and even available in the US as of a few years ago.) And not that I could afford very good taste when I came to the US as a graduate student in the early 1990s, but rums that were widely available then (or even now for that matter) weren’t very much better (either bland white rums or spiced monstrosities). Of late though the situation has begun to change as more esoteric rums from the Caribbean have begun to become available and rum is slowly making the transition from a cocktail ingredient to a sipper in its own right. It’s behind tequila and even mezcal in this regard but it’s getting there.  Continue reading

Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition, 2013

Lagavulin Distiller's Edition, 1997-2013
I ended 2016 with a review of a Laphroaig; let’s start 2017 with a review of a Lagavulin. This is the 2013 release of their annual Distiller’s Edition. It comprises malt distilled in 1997, matured for 16 years and then finished for an unspecified period of time in Pedro Ximinez sherry casks. Until the release of the Lagavulin 8 I would have said that officially released Lagavulins were as close to a guarantee of excellence in the Scotch whisky world as you can hope to find; and the Distiller’s Edition has always helped keep that average up. It basically drinks like a more heavily sherried version of the regular 16 yo (dependably excellent in its own right) and is one of the best examples of the marriage of heavy peat and sherry that is widely available—perhaps even the best. I reviewed the 2009 edition three years ago and rather liked it. It’s taken as many years for me to get around to opening this bottle and I can tell you right away that I liked it just as much. It is a liter bottle, purchased in Duty Free (back when good deals on very good whisky were actually available in Duty Free), and I’ve much enjoyed the time it’s taken me to drink it down. And despite being bottled at 43% it has stayed remarkably consistent over the life of the bottle—this review is taken from the bottom quarter. Continue reading