Food+Whisky in Tarbert (Scotland)


Tarbert is a charming town on the shores of Loch Fyne. It is located just a few miles from Kennacraig where the Islay ferries depart and arrive. On our way to Islay we arrived an hour and a half early and so spent that time in Tarbert. On the way back from Islay we returned to the town for lunch. The town seems to see a fair bit of tourist action and there are quite a few restaurants and b&b’s. Friends who’ve recently stayed in Tarbert without going on to Islay say it’s a worthwhile destination in its own right. I don’t doubt it. It would probably make a good base for exploration of the Loch Fyne area and down to Campbeltown, which is only an hour or so away. Here now is a quick look at the town, a brief account of our lunch and a view of a whisky store I randomly stopped in at. Continue reading

Fasika (St. Paul)


That Minnesota has a large Somali population is well known. Less well known is the fact that there are immigrants here from a number of other African nations as well—as per this article, in 2015 Minnesota had the 9th largest African population in the US and experts believe the number of immigrants—taking foreign and US born populations together—may be twice the reported number . Of this population the Twin Cities metro area was home to almost 25,000 Ethiopians in 2015—a dramatic rise since 2000 when the population was just above 6000. This is reflected in a sizable number of Ethiopian restaurants, many of which—and some would say, the best of which—can be found on or off University Avenue in St. Paul. The University/Snelling area in particular—a key node of “Little Africa”—has a number of Ethiopian businesses. Of these businesses, Fasika is one of the most iconic. After our visit to the Little Africa festival in August we were inspired to eat more Ethiopian food and Fasika seemed like the best place to renew the acquaintance.  Continue reading

Auchroisk 27, 1988 (Cadenhead’s)


One of my great, unexpected whisky pleasures in recent years was the explosion of fruit in an Auchroisk 24, 1990 bottled by Signatory for Binny’s. Ever since then I’ve been on the lookout for Auchroisks of similar age and vintage, in the hopes of striking gold again. Accordingly, when I was in London for a week in the summer of 2016 and saw this bottle at the Cadenhead’s shop, I had few qualms about purchasing it even though the salesman was somewhat vague when I asked if this was indeed a fruity Auchroisk (“it’s smooth,” is all he ventured; but that was an odd experience all around, as previously detailed). I opened it for my local group’s premium tasting earlier this year and after getting back from our much longer sojourn in London in the spring, I drank it down pretty fast. These notes were taken just past the midway point of the bottle. Read on to discover if it too presented a lot of fruit or if it was indeed the quintessence of smoothness.  Continue reading

Linkwood 1984-2014 (Malts of Scotland)


Linkwood, in the Speyside, is one of Diageo’s workhorses. Being included in last year’s collection of overpriced “special releases” hasn’t really raised its profile (in fact, I can’t remember reading any reviews of that bottle). I do remember some of my own reviews, however, and I was not a fan of the last Linkwood I reviewed. That was this 19 yo from 1997 that was part of K&L’s winter 2016 parcel of Signatory exclusives. It was quite a step down from the two previous Linkwoods I’d reviewed (another 19 yo from Chieftain’s and this 16 yo from Signatory). Here’s hoping this much older one (it’s a 30 yo) from 1984 will be much better. I’ve not had very many older Linkwoods, and the only others I’ve had from the 1980s (see this edition of “Quick Hits”) didn’t exactly set my world on fire either.

Well, I guess this has not been the most promising of openings but Malts of Scotland are usually a very reliable bottler. Let’s get right to it.  Continue reading

Bladnoch 22, 1990, Cask 5070


Here is another useless review. This Bladnoch was distilled in 1990 and bottled in 2013 by the Raymond Armstrong regime (they bottled it but it was distilled by the previous owners, United Distillers). The Raymond Armstrong era at Bladnoch, sadly, ended a couple of years ago and the new owners have gone the route of premiumization: the very opposite of Raymond’s approach. Well, this bottle is gone too. It was a single bourbon cask. I purchased it (and a few other Bladnochs) when the sale of the distillery was announced, and I opened it for one of my local group’s tastings last year. It did well enough there but I felt it improved as the bottle stayed open in the months following. These notes were taken towards the very end of the bottle when it had faded a bit again. I wish I’d thought of also recording my notes at the top and middle of the bottle. So it goes.
Continue reading

Trieu Chau (St. Paul)


Though you wouldn’t know it from my unending stream of reviews of restaurants in London and Scotland—interrupted only by a writeup of the Little Africa festival in St. Paul last month—we’ve been back in Minnesota for almost three months now. And though you wouldn’t also know this from the blog, we’ve been eating a lot of one of the cuisines that Minnesota has far better exemplars of than London: Vietnamese (the other is Mexican). Accordingly, I am taking the opportunity to resume the slow-motion survey of noodle soup purveyors in the Twin Cities metro area that I’d commenced last winter with reviews of Pho Hoa, Pho 79 and Cam Ranh Bay. And what better place to start than Trieu Chau, which has been around for almost 30 years on University Avenue in St. Paul and remains one of the local gold standards for pho and more. No one in the broader Twin Cities area who likes Vietnamese food needs to be told about Trieu Chau but it’s always good to confirm that the old reliables are still reliable. Continue reading

An Tigh Seinnse, Portnahaven (Scotland)


I have been trying to construct a hilarious joke about “An Tigh Seinnse” being the Gaelic name for Bruichladdich’s wine experiments but have failed. In fact, as far as I can make out, it translates as “the public house” or something along those lines (some sources say “the house of singing”), and that is in fact what An Tigh Seinnse is: a cozy pub in Portnahaven, a tiny town at the southwestern end (or one of the southwestern ends) of Islay, all the way at the opposite end of Loch Indaal from the American Monument (a few miles west from Port Ellen). We went to Portnahaven after my tour at Bowmore. We didn’t have anything particular in mind. We knew we were unlikely to see the seals that often lie on the rocks around the bay there—it was a grey and rainy day—but we did want to drive around more of Islay. So we went anyway, enjoying the scenery, and when we got there we happened upon An Tigh Seinnse, just as we were beginning to wonder what we should do for lunch. Herewith a brief account of this meal. Continue reading

Quick Hits: Two Old Whiskies


Okay, after a bunch of still available—if not always easily purchased—whiskies in recent weeks let’s get back to being useless. I have two very old whiskies tonight. The first is the oldest I’ve ever had—not in terms of age, but in terms of when it was distilled. This is a Gordon & MacPhail release of a Glenlivet distilled in 1940. I confess I do not have any idea when it was actually bottled or how old it is (and Whiskybase doesn’t have details either—it’s this one). Regardless, it was very cool to drink a whisky distilled before my parents were born. The other was distilled a couple of years before I was born and it’s from a distillery that is no longer in operation: it’s a 36 yo Glenury Royal from 1968. I don’t believe I’ve had any other Glenury Royals. I actually took these notes in March, before leaving for London—I just forgot that I’d done so and so am only getting around to posting them now. As they were taken from 20 ml samples I’ve not assigned scores to them. Continue reading

Springbank 15, 2000, Fresh Rum Cask for the Nectar


Another 15 yo whisky, and another that may still be available: I’m in severe danger of losing my “untimely reviews” edge. This was bottled by the distillery for the Nectar, a store in Belgium. It’s a single cask release (though the cask number is not mentioned) of a total of 198 bottles. And that single cask was a fresh rum cask. Now, of course, this doesn’t tell us anything about how many years the rum that had previously been in there had spent in that cask or what kind of rum it was (which, of course, is the same with bourbon cask maturation as well). I assume it would have been an American oak cask. I’m not sure what the story is with the low abv (relatively speaking). As it happens, the last rum cask Springbank I reviewed (this 1998-2014 release from Malts of Scotland) also had an abv below 50% (just a coincidence, I’m sure). I wasn’t hugely taken with that one. Let’s see what this one is like. Continue reading

Afternoon Tea at St. Ermin’s Hotel (London)


Do you have to have a formal afternoon tea when you’re in London? No. But if you’re shepherding around a group of people who really want to have it, then you might have to. So it was for me. It turns out that the afternoon tea spectrum in London ranges from £10 (in cafes) to £100 and probably beyond (in increasingly expensive hotels). There are stops at price points all along that spectrum, with increasingly baroque menu offerings, in number and conception. Our budget was £30/head. The other constraints were that we were a large group and that some in the party had wheat allergies. With all of that accounted for, the place that was able to take us on the day that worked best for everyone was St. Ermin’s Hotel in Westminster—a hop, skip and a jump from St. James’ Park and Buckingham Palace, and right next to the St. James’ Park tube station. Herewith a brief account of the experience.  Continue reading

Dinner at the Lochside Hotel, Bowmore (Scotland)


I described this dinner last week as the bad one between two decent meals at the Islay Hotel in Port Ellen. It was, in fact, the worst meal we had on Islay, and probably the worst we had in Scotland—the fish and chips from the food truck outside Fiddler’s in Drumnadrochit at least had the virtue of being much cheaper. We ended up here after our attempt to eat dinner at the Port Charlotte Hotel failed on account of our having failed to make a reservation. The dining room was absolutely empty but they could not seat us. Now, it’s likely they had reservations for every table and didn’t want to risk us going late but there was something about the pause and once-over the manager gave us before saying they couldn’t seat us that made us feel a little odd. But I digress. Leaving Port Charlotte, we thought about trying the Bridgend Hotel but parking was hectic and so we kept going and ended up in Bowmore instead. After parking near the pier we walked up the street which has the restaurants and as the Lochside Hotel came up first we poked our heads in; and when they said they could seat us, we sat down. There was a nice photograph of Pinkie MacArthur on the wall next to my head and this seemed like a good omen. Alas, it was not. Continue reading

Family Owned Distillery, 15 (The Whisky Exchange)


At the risk of lapsing into relevance, here is a review of another whisky that is still available. It is an exclusive for the Whisky Exchange, who had it as the first release in their somewhat confusingly conceived series called “Time”. Confusing because, as I noted while reviewing the second release in this series (this Benrinnes 20), it’s not clear how drinking whiskies of different ages from different distilleries is supposed to give you much sense of time as a variable—which I think is the rationale of the series. More importantly, however, this is a very good whisky. I was a little surprised to discover today that it’s still available. Perhaps the fact that there’s no distillery name on the bottle has something to do with it? Though you’d think most whisky geeks would just assume this is a Glenfarclas. That’s what I had assumed as well, and my initial pours had borne out that assumption. However, as the bottle has gone on, I could just as easily swear that it is a Balvenie (also a family owned distillery). The language of the TWE listing probably indicates it’s a Glenfarclas: Balvenie is not thought of as being “classically sherried”. Anyway, while I’ve liked this a lot from the get-go, it’s the second half of the bottle that’s really been great—and it’s from that part of the bottle that these notes were taken. Here they are.  Continue reading

Tomatin 12, 2016 Release


I last reviewed the Tomatin 12 about two years ago. It’s a malt that I’ve always enjoyed as a casual sipper and it was historically always a very good value (as is the Tomatin 18). The Tomatin packaging has received a makeover since then: with all new bottles and labels and a generally more premium look (I suppose: I always liked the clean labels of the previous design). It didn’t see a bump in the abv, however. Anyway, I’d been curious to see if there had been any significant change to the whisky inside the bottle as well and picked up a bottle late last year. I’ve since taken it to two of my local whisky group’s tastings (always blind) and it did well at both—this was particularly pleasing to a few of our members who are forever complaining that I make them taste whiskies that they like but can never actually find. You won’t have any trouble finding this one, no matter where you live. But what is it like? Here are my notes. Continue reading

Smoky and Tangy Eggplant


“Begun” in Bengali, “baingain” in Hindi, “brinjal” in Indian English, “aubergine” in British English, “eggplant” in American English: whatever the name, I don’t eat it. I’ve had an aversion since early childhood to vegetables with too many seeds. I’ve since managed to overcome it for some (bhindi/ladyfinger/okra, for example: here’s a recipe) but not for the devil’s tumour. It looks repulsive before it’s cooked and even more repulsive once it’s been cooked. People tell me it tastes good and I am willing to believe it, but I still can’t bring myself to eat it. The missus, however, loves it and she particularly loves Indian preparations of it. And so I’ve begun to cook it for her. It only took 14 years of marriage for me to begin doing it. Truly, I am the husband of the year.  Continue reading