Ardbeg 10, 2016 Release


Three relevant whisky reviews in one week: who am I and what have I done with myself?

Like the Old Weller Antique, the Ardbeg 10 is not a special release. Unlike the Old Weller Antique, it’s actually available everywhere whisky is sold. Amid all the shenanigans that Ardbeg have gotten up to since they re-opened, their 10 yo has been the mainstay of their range, Unlike the Uigeadail and the Corryvreckan (which came later), there have not been many reports of changes in its character or even of decline. I’ve previously reviewed bottles from 2007 and 2009 and liked them a lot; more to the point, Serge V. gave the 2015 release 89 points. That should bode well, in theory, for this bottle which was released in 2016. By the way, it’s become much easier to read the bottle codes on Ardbeg bottles (see below): I don’t know how the Ardbeg obsessives are coping with the loss of their special codes.  Continue reading

Bhindi Masala


The only other recipe I’ve posted for bhindi/okra involves frying it with onions and trying to keep it as dry as possible. Keeping it dry—both as you get it ready to cook and while you cook it—is usually pretty much the only way to keep it from getting mucilaginous. Of course, in some recipes that quality is prized—see gumbo—but I’m with those who generally does not enjoy slimy bhindi. But it doesn’t have to be the case that bhindi cooked with any kind of a sauce becomes slimy. Here’s one of them. The key is to fry the okra first till almost crispy, then make the sauce and toss them together at the end. You can adjust the ingredients to make the sauce more or less spicy but I like to make it so it’s spicy, sweet and tangy all together. As a bonus, it’s very easy to make with limited ingredients and it comes together very quickly. Give it a shot.  Continue reading

Thai Garden (St. Paul)


My last Twin Cities Thai outing—at Khun Nai Thai—in Minneapolis was middling at best. Some things were fine, some things were blah and some things were not very good. We’d thought we’d next return to one of our mainstays on University Avenue in St. Paul—Bangkok Thai Deli or On’s Kitchen—but I was persuaded by the comments on that review to try Thai Cafe next. Alas, an hour before we were scheduled to arrive there with friends we discovered that they were closed for a few days. On a whim we decided to go just a block up University to Thai Garden, a newer place that’s gotten some good press in the last year. The Heavy Table praised them in their Green Line Checklist, and Mecca Bos (then still with City Pages) gave it one of her more than slightly overwrought workouts. Our lunch started out looking like it was going to be in line with those reports but didn’t quite end that way.  Continue reading

Old Weller Antique


Yesterday I had a review of a readily available and always reliable single malt (the 2017 edition of the Lagavulin 12 CS); today I have a review of a readily available and always reliable bourbon: Old Weller Antique (at least I hope it’s still readily available). For the prices I paid for each bottle you could buy four of these for one of the Lagavulin and frankly, that’s probably the way to go. Then again, I have no idea what the availability of the Old Weller Antique is these days—I don’t really keep up with the bourbon world. It’s entirely possible that Buffalo Trace have reduced the supply and raised the price. I hope not: this wheated bourbon (there’s no rye in its mash bill) is one of my favourites and though I’m stocked up for a good while yet, it would be a sad world in which this was not always easily at hand. And…as I look on Winesearcher, it appears that this is not available in Minnesota anymore…Anyway, it’s about time I reviewed this.  Continue reading

Lagavulin 12 CS (2017)


At the risk of becoming a relevant reviewer, here is another whisky released this autumn and reasonably widely available across the US: the 2017 edition of the Lagavulin 12 CS. The Lagavulin 12 CS is a fixture on Diageo’s annual special releases roster and is, along with the Caol Ila Unpeated, the most affordable of those whiskies and, by itself, the most dependable of them. I’ve previously reviewed the 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 editions and liked them all very much. The Lagavulin 16 is always excellent and so is the Lagavulin 12 CS. Sadly, it’s not easy to find in the $80-85 range any more and so when I saw a bottle as I was picking up the Highland Park “Full Volume”, I couldn’t resist buying it as well. I am not sure why I ended up opening it right away, well before the bottles of the 2014, 2015 and 2016 releases that are also languishing on the shelf; but maybe the people who give me grief for not being a relevant reviewer will get off my back now.  Continue reading

Macduff 31, 1980 (Wilson & Morgan)


This is the very first Macduff I have ever reviewed. It is also, I believe, the very first Macduff I have ever had—my spreadsheet does not record any other. Not much Macduff is available, and what is available is usually under the Glen Deveron name. In fact, Winesearcher currently shows nothing available in the US under either name. So for my American readers this is a particularly useless review. Not only is this whisky unavailable but if it should pique your interest in the distillery, it does not appear that we can even find anything else from them here. Such is life.

Macduff, part of the Bacardi/John Dewar holdings, is located in the Speyside and is a relatively new distillery. It was founded in the 1960s, and has mostly produced whisky for the owners’ blends. And at various points the distillery has in fact been named Glen Deveron. Some identity issues, obviously but that’s not all that’s unusual about them. They also apparently run a combination of two wash and three spirit stills. As to whether this is an interesting fact is a different matter. But I’m certainly hoping this older Macduff will be.  Continue reading

Squash “Bisque”


I made this squash “bisque” with Indian spices for a dinner party recently and it turned out quite well. I put bisque in quotes because traditionally a bisque has shellfish or shellfish stock in it and this doesn’t. I was planning to deploy dried shrimp for that purpose but it turned out we were out. The Korean corner of the pantry, however, had some dried anchovies and so I used that instead. It came out very well. The picture here has mussels in it because when I heated up the leftovers a few days later, I brought it to a boil and threw in a pound of mussels. That made it even better. But it’s pretty good without the mussels (and would be very good with shrimp too) and, indeed, the recipe can be very easily adapted to make it vegetarian or even vegan (see below).  Continue reading

Glendronach 20, 1994 (for Abbey Whisky)


It’s been more than two years since I’ve reviewed a Glendronach. That was a review of the 15 yo Revival, which was about to go on hiatus at the time. I’m not sure what the situation is with that or the 18 yo Allardice, especially as the distillery’s ownership has changed since then, with Billy Walker moving on to Glenallachie. I’m also not sure what the new ownership has been doing with Glendronach’s single cask program—I haven’t paid much attention to that either, having gotten slowly turned off the distillery as a whole since learning about their “single cask” shenanigans. I do have a bunch of single cask Glendronachs on my shelf, however—though I haven’t purchased any in the last couple of years—and my ambivalence about the distillery does not extend to refusing to open and drink or review them. This particular cask was bottled for Abbey Whisky, a British online store. I’ve previously reviewed another Glendronach exclusive to them—an oloroso cask—and it was that one that led me to purchase this one. I opened it at one of my friend Rich’s whisky gatherings up in the Twin Cities, and while a number of people there really liked it, I was not very convinced by it (and nor was he, I think). I’ve since taken it to my local tasting group’s most recent tasting as well and most people there loved it. I liked it a bit more on that occasion but not very much more. Continue reading

Masu Sushi & Noodles (Apple Valley, MN)


Apple Valley, a suburb of the Twin Cities, is not a place you’d probably look for Japanese food in and my experiences at Masu Sushi & Noodles suggest that it’s probably best if you don’t. It’s not bad per se but the best I could say of the best of what I ate was that it was inoffensive. This is generally true of the larger Japanese food scene in the area. Whether it’s the original Origami or newer places like Sushi Fix or Kyatchi, restaurants that would be marginal in most major cities in the US are talked about breathlessly here by the professionals as though they could hold their own anywhere. This makes it hard to know what to make of highly-praised newer places, whether at the high end (see, for example, the new sushi and kaiseki place by an ex-Origami chef) or at the more affordable end (see the newer noodle/ramen shops that have opened in Minneapolis). Well, I can tell you that Masu Sushi & Noodles in Apple Valley is not a place you should go to expecting good sushi or noodles. Believe me, I would be very happy if I could tell you otherwise. Unfortunately, they’ve put far more effort into their vaguely Orientalist decor than into their recipes and execution. Continue reading

Highland Park 17, 1999, “Full Volume”


Less than a week ago, I complained in my review of an ex-bourbon cask Highland Park bottled by A.D. Rattray that the distillery itself doesn’t see fit to give us ex-bourbon Highland Park, one of the true secret pleasures of the single malt whisky world. It was very soon pointed out to me by EricH in the comments that one of the distillery’s most recent releass, Full Volume, is in fact all ex-bourbon whisky. I had actually been aware of the existence of this whisky but, as I noted, its stupid name had led me to believe that it was one more in Highland Park’s unending series of NAS whiskies, and so I’d ignored it. Lo and behold, it turns out to not only have a vintage statement but an age statement as well. It’s a 17 yo put together this year from casks distilled in 1999. And it’s at a respectable 47.2% abv. Of course, it’s also clad in extremely ridiculous packaging (a black bottle, in a box that is meant to resemble a Marshall amp) but having complained incorrectly about the lack of an official ex-bourbon Highland Park, I felt it was only right that I should check out the one that had just been released. And my decision to do that was made easier by the discovery that it’s actually priced quite reasonably—as low as $89 in Minnesota. Not cheap in the abstract, but these days an official 17 yo at a strength above 43% for less than $120 seems like a steal.  Continue reading

Highland Park 19, 1991 (Signatory)


On Wednesday I posted a review of a bourbon cask Highland Park bottled by A.D. Rattray and noted in passing that Highland Park used to be one of my favourite distilleries. I said I’d elaborate soon on why I’m more ambivalent about them now, and here I am, just two days later.

Well, it’s not for any earth-shatteringly surprising reason. Highland Park and I have both changed but they’ve changed more than I have: I’m losing hair but they’ve lost their minds. When I first started drinking single malt whisky, Highland Park put out a limited line of very good whisky at good prices in ugly bottles. In the last 15 years the bottles have got updated but in the process prices have gone up drastically (especially for their 18 yo). Their lineup has gotten more bloated than the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and they increasingly seem to be designing/marketing their whisky with children in mind: an endless series of Viking-themed whiskies (too many to list), black bottles (ditto), boxes shaped like amplifiers (the new Full Volume), this abomination, the list goes on…I know we’re only supposed to care about the whisky in the bottle but it’s got to the point where it’s embarrassing to be seen buying a bottle of Highland Park. I mean, they make mid-late 2000s Bruichladdich’s output seem restrained and thoughtful.  Continue reading

Mushroom Masala


I didn’t eat mushrooms till I was in my late-teens. They are not really a part of Bengali cuisine—or at least the subsets of Bengali cuisine that are made in the two branches of my extended family—and even though we lived all over India, mushrooms never entered my mother’s kitchen when I was a kid. It wasn’t until we moved to Delhi, when I started college, that they flashed upon our consciousness and that my mother started cooking them. They were a winter delicacy and cheap and I thought they were incredibly exotic (as my only encounter with them had been in Western literature). I know very little even now about their place in Indian foodways writ large: I still tend to think of them as largely a north Indian thing. I’m probably wrong. Anyway, as you might guess, this is not a traditional recipe of any kind. It is, however, quite delicious.  Continue reading

Highland Park 16, 1995 (A.D. Rattray)


Okay, one last ex-bourbon review to make November an all ex-bourbon cask whisky month. Here is what else I have reviewed as part of this unintended, extended series this month: Tomatin 12, 2005, Fettercairn 23, 1993, Glencadam 15, Clynelish 12, 1997, Glen Scotia 1992-2005, Arran 1996-2013, Bowmore 10, 2003, Bladnoch 18, 1992, Aberlour 20, 1990 and Aberlour 17, 1990. That tour has taken me across most of the Scottish mainland and a couple of southern and western islands. For the last stop let’s go north, all the way to Orkney, to what used to be one of my very favourite dstilleries: Highland Park. I’ll go over why I’m far more ambivalent about Highland Park now in a separate post soon. For now, I’ll say only that one of the great pleasures of their whisky is one that the distillery does not give us; and that is the pleasure of bourbon cask Highland Park. It is here that you’ll usually most clearly encounter Highland Park’s peaty character as well as a mineral, oily note, all of which get covered up—for the most part—in the sherry profile of most of the distillery’s official releases. It’s a quality I particularly prize and which I see putting them on a continuum with Clynelish and Springbank/Longrow. I’ve reviewed a few such single casks before and I’m glad to be able to do it again.  Continue reading

Ma La Sichuan (London)


Here now, a scant 8.5 months after our first meal there and a mere 5.5 months after we returned from the UK, is a writeup of the first restaurant we ate at in London: Ma La Sichuan, a hop, skip and jump from the door of our flat in Westminster. When we were flat-hunting a few months earlier, long-distance via the help of a friend on the ground, one of the things that had caught our eye about the one we ended up taking was that it was about a 45 second walk from one of London’s better-reviewed Sichuan restaurants. We figured Ma La Sichuan would be our regular go-to for dining-in and taking out. Things didn’t quite work out that way, though we did eat here a few hours after arrival, after dropping our luggage off at the flat, and one more time after that. Why didn’t we eat here more often? Read on.  Continue reading