Michel Couvreur 12, Peaty Overaged Malt Whisky (for K&L)

Michel Couvreur 12, Peaty, Overaged Malt Whisky
As per the interwebs, Michel Couvreur was a Belgian involved originally in the wine trade who at some point turned his attention to Scotch whisky. Unlike the average independent bottler, however, Couvreur was not interested in purchasing and bottling matured casks under his own name. Instead he apparently would purchase casks of new make, fill them into his own barrels and set them out to age in his own cellars in Burgundy and usually (if not always) vat/blend the results. If you’ve familiarized yourself with the laws governing the production of Scotch whisky you know that to be called Scotch, the whisky has to be both distilled and matured in Scotland. Therefore, even though Couvreur’s whiskies all originate (presumably) in Scotland they cannot be called Scotch. And the scale of production takes this far beyond the level of a hobbyist’s noodling. Couvreur passed away in 2013 but his methods and brand have been kept alive by his apprentices. Continue reading

Longrow 11, Red, Fresh Port Casks

Longrow Red, Port Cask

Longrow, as you probably know, is the name of Springbank’s heavily peated malt (it’s also more conventionally double distilled, unlike Springbank which goes through a complicated “two and a half” distillation and Hazelburn which is triple-distilled). Just as there have been a number of wine cask Springbank releases in the last decade, a number of wine cask Longrows have also been appearing from time to time. Of these I’ve previously reviewed a 14 yo Burgundy cask, which I found to be too heavily sulphured to my taste. As a result I’ve stayed away from the Longrow Red series, which has featured a number of red wine finishes/double maturations—a new kind each year. The first (I believe) was double matured in cabernet sauvignon casks (7 years in bourbon + 4 in the wine casks) and the second in shiraz casks (6+5). The current release is closer to a finish, having spent only one year in New Zealand pinot noir casks after 11 in bourbon. This 2014 release, however, appears to have been matured full-term in fresh port casks (if I am wrong about this, please write in below). In general I have had better experiences with port cask-matured or finished whiskies than with those from other types of wine casks, especially peated whiskies (like this Ballechin, for example) and so I’m hopeful about this one. Let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading

Chateau de la Grangerie 20, 1994 (Armagnac)

Chateau de La Grangerie 20, 1994 (Armagnac)
Here is my fourth Armagnac review and the third review of a K&L exclusive Armagnac. I thought their Domaine de Baraillon 30 was quite good and that the Chateau de Pellehaut 17 was excellent and so my hopes are up for this one as well. Like Pellehaut, Chateau de la Grangerie is located in the Ténarèze appellation; unlike it, this is made entirely from the Ugni Blanc grape. K&L has brought in a number of other Armagnacs as well from this producer—indeed next week I will have a review of a much older one. And that more or less exhausts my opening patter…and so let’s get right to it.

Chateau de la Grangerie 20, 1994 (45.5%; bottled for K&L; from a sample from a friend)
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Hmong Village (St. Paul)

Hmong Village: Pork Uterus
About two years ago I wrote up Hmongtown Marketplace in St. Paul, the mainstay of the Hmong combo food court/market scene. Here finally is a writeup of their main competition, the newer, larger and (relatively) flashier Hmong Village, further north in St. Paul. A number of people have been recommending it to me for a while but inertia and a slightly shorter driving distance had kept us going back to Hmongtown Marketplace. Well, now that I’ve been to both I can report that the differences are almost entirely of ambience—the food court at Hmong Village is less hectic and the vegetable market is enclosed. This latter fact makes it less charming in the summer—which is when we visited (in early August)—but I am sure renders it much more user-friendly for the 17 months of winter (which are almost upon us).  Continue reading

Glen Moray 16, 1998 (Cadenhead’s Small Batch)

Glen Moray 16 (Cadenhead's)
I purchased this Glen Moray from Cadenhead’s Small Batch series at the same time as this Aberfeldy 17 and opened it alongside it. I did not like it as much as that one when first opened and indeed I didn’t really like it much, period, then. I took it to my local group’s July tasting and my opinion was echoed by a number of others. But as so often happens, as the bottle stayed open it began to improve, and by the halfway mark it was a lot fruitier and some of the funkier notes that I hadn’t liked very much at first became more appealing. I took it back to my group’s September tasting earlier this month and my revised opinion was again echoed by the group (who were tasting blind as they always do). Even though it never turned into anything spectacular this is another reminder/lesson to not come to quick conclusions about newly opened bottles (especially those at cask strength). And it’s a reminder as well that the “reliability” of any review you’re reading anywhere is susceptible to uncertainty re the point in the bottle’s life the review comes from (and the reviewer may not even know when it comes to samples): in other words, please don’t take my notes or scores too seriously.  Continue reading

Bowmore 15, Feis Ile 2012

Bowmore 15, Feis Ile 2012
This Bowmore 15 was bottled for Feis Ile (the annual Islay festival) in 2012. I first tasted it in August at one of my friend Rich’s annual (more or less) tastings of sherried whiskies up in St. Paul, and he was generous enough to share a large sample for review purposes. Bowmore’s Feis Ile releases don’t get as publicity as those of Ardbeg and Laphroaig, whose releases are generally widely available (i.e. you don’t need to go to Feis Ile to get your hands on them) and nor do they command the reputation or secondary market prices of Lagavulin’s releases. Indeed, this might be the first of their Feis Ile releases that I’ve tried. I have tried other limited edition, heavily sherried Bowmores of similar age before though and some of those were very good as well (see, for example, the 13 yo Maltmen’s Selection). Unlike those I’m not sure if this was full-term matured in a sherry cask—I failed to take a close look at the bottle when I had the chance, and looking around now I see a reference to it being finished in Spanish sherry casks. Well, I guess I’ll ask Rich in the morning. I quite liked this at the tasting and am looking forward to being able to pay closer attention to it tonight.  Continue reading

Hoppers: Sri Lankan in Soho (London)

Hoppers (London)
Well, most people say Hoppers is Sri Lankan but their own website says their food is “inspired by Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu”; and in reality it appears that the food is a hybrid of Sinhalese, Tamil and Malayali cuisines. Operated by the same people who own Trishna (and the more expensive still Gymkhana), Hoppers is a tiny restaurant with a tiny menu and it’s quite hard to get into: no reservations and the lines can apparently be quite long. You give your name and mobile number to the hostess and she calls you when your table is ready. However, I got there at 1.30 on a weekday and only had to wait about 10 minutes before being seated at the bar with other singletons and duos. And by the time I left, about an hour later, there were plenty of seats—the bar had cleared out and many tables were vacant as well. So the thing to do is to eat late; but you really should go whenever you can because the food is quite good and a pretty good value.  Continue reading

Michel Huard Hors d’Age (Calvados)

Huard Hors d'Age (Calvados)
Charles Neal, author of the only book on Calvados you need purchase, says of Huard that it is to AOC Calvados sub-region/appellation what Camut is to the Pays d’Auge and Lemorton to the Domfrontais: the most admired of its producers. Then again, Charles Neal is the US importer of Huard so he might be a little biased. I purchased this from Astor Wines in New York (I’m not sure if it’s an exclusive). It is a blending of Calvados from three vintages: 1990, 1992 and 1999. That is to say, the youngest Calvados in this blend is 16 years old and the oldest is 25. Astor is currently selling it for about $60. I mention the age and the price because they’ve particularly been on my mind since my friend Sku posted reviews on Monday of two teenaged Calvados imported by Nicolas Palazzi, a 16 yo and a 18 yo that are selling for $200 and $225 respectively (also at Astor): more than three times the price of this Huard. Sku raves about those Calvados but didn’t have much to say about the price in his review.  Continue reading

Homi (St. Paul)

Homi: Costillitas de Puerco en Adobo
Homi has been around on University Avenue in St. Paul for seven years now. Friends who work and live in the area had been telling me about it for some time now but somehow we didn’t get around to eating there until earlier this summer. This is largely because we are creatures of habit—when food shopping in St. Paul we’d eat at On’s Kitchen or Bangkok Thai Deli; our Mexican eating would happen on the way to and back food shopping in north Minneapolis—at Los Ocampo or Maya or, for a brief, glorious period, at La Huasteca. After the demise of the original version of La Huasteca, however, we were in need of a place that would fill the soulful hole in our Mexican food world (neither Los Ocampo and Maya quite fit that description). And so we finally ended up at Homi. And while I am not quite ready to say that it has helped me come to terms with the disappearance of Jose Gonzalez’s birria and barbacoa (and much else), I will say that Homi comes pretty close.  Continue reading

Glenfarclas 35, 1968, US Release

Glenfarclas 1968, US Release
This is one of two older Glenfarclas exclusives that were released in the US in the early-mid 2000s. The other was a 1974-2005 that I purchased south of $200 from Binny’s about five years ago. At the time this older 1968 vintage release (I’m not sure if it was bottled in 2003 or 2004) was still around but cost $50-100 more, depending on where you looked. Back then I was not in the practice of buying a lot of expensive whisky and so I passed; I think I also figured that since it had hung around for the better part of a decade already it wouldn’t be disappearing any time soon. Of course, this was a silly thing to do. By the time I wised up it was all gone—as was pretty much every other glut-era old malt that had hung around for a decade at stores like Binny’s. Anyway, I got to taste it again last month at another of my friend Rich’s Twin Cities malt gatherings—this one dedicated to sherried whiskies—and our friend Nick, who’d brought this bottle, was kind enough to share some more of it so I could at least review it. Here is that review.  Continue reading

Tomintoul 8

Tomintoul 8
So far this month my whisky reviews have included an entry-level malt available in a few countries (the Highland Park 10) and another entry-level malt available pretty much everywhere (the Macallan 10, Fine Oak). Here now is an entry-level malt that is not available anywhere (other than at auction). This is in case this blog was in danger of becoming useful: you’re welcome!

I purchased a sample of this Tomintoul 8 in Europe. It came from a bottle that looked like this. My understanding is that this style was released in the 1970s and 1980s, which only goes to show that when whisky geeks complain about contemporary whisky in “perfume bottles” they’re being downright ahistorical*. Anyway, this young Tomintoul which may be from 30 years ago (if not more) probably bears very little resemblance to current Tomintoul but it’s always interesting to see what young whisky of earlier eras was like.  Continue reading

The Clove Club (London)

The Clove Club: Duck

The Clove Club, located in trendy Shoreditch, is one of London’s hottest restaurants. It started out as an informal supper club and moved to its current location in the space of the former Shoreditch town hall in 2013. It has a Michelin star and was recently named to that silly list, “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants”. Despite the latter disqualification a number of people whose opinions I trust recommended I eat there on my recent trip to London, and so it happened that on my second full morning in the city, I woke up in my hotel by the Tower of London, took a shower and walked down to Shoreditch (passing St. John Bread and Wine again on the way).  Continue reading

Chateau de Pellehaut 17, 1996 (Armagnac)

Chateau de Pellehaut 17, 1996
Chateau de Pellehaut is in the Armagnac-Ténarèze appellation/region (Bas-Armagnac is the dominant one of the three; Haut-Armagnac is the third). Not knowing very much about the regions or their characteristic styles, I can only parrot what I have gleaned from other sources: brandies produced in Armagnac-Ténarèze are said to be more rustic and robust than those produced in Bas-Armagnac. This was made entirely from the Folle Blanche grape, which is historically the most important grape in Cognac and Armagnac production. I’m afraid I don’t know enough to be able to tell you how Folle Blanche Armagnac might differ from that made from other grapes—perhaps someone with more experience can fill us in on this in the comments.

This was bottled by K&L in California a few years ago. They’ve really done a remarkable job of promoting Armagnac in recent years.  Continue reading