Clynelish 21, 1995, Cask 8688 (Signatory)


Clynelish week began on Monday with a 23 yo second-fill oloroso butt bottled by the American outfit, Single Cask Nation. That was just excellent. Here now is a 21 yo refill sherry butt bottled by Signatory. Given my stated cask preferences for Clynelish—ex-bourbon and refill sherry over heavier sherry influence—you might expect I’d be likely to like this one even more. But individual casks easily buck trends/preferences. I liked that 23 yo quite a bit more than another Signatory-bottled Clynelish 21, 1995 that I reviewed a few years ago. Where will this one fall? Let’s see.

Clynelish 21, 1995 (51.2%; Signatory; refill sherry butt 8688; from a bottle split)

Nose: Very similar to the 23 yo with leafy notes mixed in with citrus (lemon, makrut lime) and salt. Ginger shows up on the second sniff along with malt and this too has a big Ben Nevis crossover going on. Gunpowder on the third sniff and then some sweet fruit begins to poke out as it sits (peach). Water brightens it up and pushes back the leafy notes; it does also emphasize the (savoury) gunpowder. Continue reading

Tenant V (Minneapolis)


It took till mid-July but we finally ate a meal inside a restaurant for the first time since March 2020. Sakura was the last time I ate inside a restaurant. That was not planned. We could tell restrictions were looming but we didn’t know when they would come or how long it would be before in-person dining would again become viable. Of course, in-person indoor dining’s been back in Minnesota for a few months—but we didn’t start to get comfortable with the idea until the end of June. Once we were ready to take the plunge there was not much doubt where we would go first. Tenant has become our favourite fine dining restaurant in the Twin Cities—as their predecessor, Piccolo was before them—and it was only appropriate that our return to dining in happen there. (Grand Szechuan would have been even more appropriate for the whole family but it’s only on our recent outing to Kansas City that we’ve finally taken the boys indoors to eat.) I’m happy to report that our first fine dining meal since the pandemic began was a very good one. Herewith the details. Continue reading

Clynelish 23, 1995 (Single Cask Nation)


Okay, another single distillery week to close out the month (see last week’s Caol Ila reviews here, here and here). This will take the count of my year’s Clynelish reviews from zero to three. We’ll do these in decreasing order of age.

First up is a 23 yo distilled in 1995 and bottled in 2018 from a second-fill oloroso butt. I am among those who prefers Clynelish from bourbon casks or from refill sherry but I am also among those who manages to enjoy good whisky even if it doesn’t fit in his usual preferences. By the way, I have previously reviewed another Clynelish 23, 1995 that was also from a sherry butt (though that was described as a refill butt). That one was part of K&L’s 2019 exclusives and I liked it fine—as I also did a Clynelish 21, 1995 that was a Whisky Exchange exclusive and also from a sherry cask. Well, all of that suggests that the floor for this one is likely to be at least very good. Let’s see. Continue reading

How to Cook and Eat Food From a Culture That Is Not Your Own

I am informed that in the year 2021 there is still a great deal of confusion about how to cook and eat food from a culture other than one’s own. But don’t worry, I—the prophet who brought you the Food Commandments—am here to help you. Read this short guide and you too will know how to cook and eat food from a culture that is not your own. Continue reading

Three Days in Kansas City


What is this now, a tourism blog? Well, why not.

On more or less a whim we went down to Kansas City for a few days earlier this week. We hadn’t been outside southern Minnesota as a family since February 2020 and were itching to go somewhere. With the younger boy not yet vaccinated we were not comfortable getting on a plane and nor were we into the idea of a much longer drive, which would also mean a much longer stay away for it to make sense and would need more planning than a trip made on a whim. Chicago was the obvious choice but we’d been there a few years ago and didn’t really want to deal with the hectic traffic. Kansas City, located exactly six hours from our door, seemed like a great alternative: get on Highway 35, drive six hours south and get off; Des Moines located almost exactly halfway for a lunch stop. Lots and lots of great barbecue to eat once we got there. What could go wrong? Well, a few things did but it was a nice visit overall. Accordingly, here are some tips for anyone else looking to make a quick jaunt to Kansas City and also a request for a list of things we should have seen/done but didn’t. Continue reading

Caol Ila 22, 1980 (Cadenhead)


If you are the kind of person who purchases bottles from whisky auctions—I’m not any more—this is the kind of bottle that you might be interested in but then be inclined to pass on. There’s not much information, if any, out there on it and the people who can usually be relied on to have passed judgment on bottles like this haven’t done so. But then you remind yourself it’s a Caol Ila from 1980 and from a bourbon cask—and that it was bottled by Cadenhead doesn’t hurt—and you decide to take the not ruinously expensive but not cheap plunge. Then years later you finally open it and pour yourself some with more than a little bit of apprehension. Why are you, I mean I going on in the second person like this? Anyway, I am the person previously described—I came across this at an auction and eventually decided to buy it—and secured it without it getting bid up. I’ve now opened it—a couple of weeks ago now—and here finally are my notes. Continue reading

Chicken Curry with Ground Peanuts


This recipe is basically the byproduct of having made my friends Anjali and Pradnya’s recipes for bharli vangi a number of times this summer. It also owes something to the baghare baingan recipe from the The Essential Andhra Cookbook that I’d posted late last year. I really enjoy the mix of sweet, sour and spicy in all those dishes and the richness that comes from the use of peanuts and/or sesame seeds. In this recipe I use both peanuts and sesame seeds (though no coconut) and instead of tamarind I use sweet black vinegar. The heat comes mostly from black pepper—the byadgi chilies are used mostly for colour and for a light smoky flavour. If you don’t have byadgi chillies you could substitute Kashmiri or even ancho chiles. If the latter strikes you as too fusiony a choice keep in mind that this recipe—in addition to Chinkiang vinegar—also uses Sichuan peppercorn. I never have its southwestern Indian cousin tirphal on hand and it’s a more than plausible substitute. But it’s best not to think too much about these things and just roll with it. The results, I can promise you, are delicious. Continue reading

Caol Ila 11, 2008 (The Whisky Jury)


Caol Ila week began with a sherry butt-finished 10 yo bottled by Sovereign (another of the Laing labels) for K&L in California. I really liked that one. Here now is an 11 yo. This is a bourbon hogshead and was bottled by a relatively new outfit named The Whisky Jury who have not put out so very many casks. I don’t really know anything about them or what the reputation of their releases is but Caol Ila + bourbon hogshead is almost always a recipe for goodness. Let’s hope this doesn’t let me down.

Caol Ila 11, 2008 (53.1%; The Whisky Jury; bourbon hogshead; from a bottle split)

Nose: A bit closed as I pour but opens up quickly to reveal mineral peat, loads of seashells plus brine and kelp (a whole coastline’s worth), citronella and dettol. Some vegetal notes on the second sniff along with some machine oil and shoe polish. Continues in this vein. A few drops of water emphasize the citronella and bring out some white pepper. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 65: Matt’s Bar (Minneapolis)


I have a confession to make. Despite living in Minnesota—and in the greater Twin Cities metro area—for almost exactly 14 years now, I’ve never had a Jucy Lucy at Matt’s Bar, or for that matter at any other restaurant in the area. Yes, I’ve made my own versions at home but I’ve never eaten it at Matt’s Bar or at any of the other places that claim to make the ur version. If you’re not from Minnesota and not up on your Twin Cities cliches you may not know what a Jucy Lucy is: it’s a cheeseburger where the cheese is in a hollow inside the beef patty, where it melts as the patty cooks and comes oozing out when you bite into it. Sounds a bit repulsive, yes, and it is but there are contexts in which it makes sense. And at any rate the Fifth Law of Thermodynamics states that one must not enter one’s 15th year in a region without having eaten all of its iconic, if occasionally dubious, culinary specialties. Having now eaten a Jucy Lucy from Matt’s, I believe I have all the local iconic specialties covered but long time Minnesotans and Twin Citizens should feel free to test me. Continue reading

Islay Strait/Caol Ila 10, 2010 (Sovereign for K&L)


After weeks themed first for peated and then for sherried whiskies let’s now do a week on a single distillery. That distillery is Caol Ila, the Islay workhorse that is also probably the most dependable distillery on the island (only Lagavulin is permitted to register an objection). We’ll start with one that mixes both of the previous themes—peated and sherried—and move on to bourbon casks. This one was another from K&L’s set of exclusives from 2020. I quite liked the other Caol Ila I tried from that set. That one was an 11 yo from a bourbon cask, this one is a sherry finish and one year younger—and apparently teaspooned with Bunnahabhain. I am usually wary of sherry finishes but perhaps this one will surprise me. Let’s see.

Islay Strait/Caol Ila 10, 2010 (59.6%; Sovereign for K&L; sherry butt finish; from a bottle split)

Nose: A lovely mix of leafy smoke, phenols, lime, brine and other coastal notes (shells, kelp, uni). The salt and the lime intensify on the second sniff and there’s ink in the bottom now. As it sits olives emerge—a mix of kalamata and brighter green olives. The coastal notes expand with a few drops of water and there’s some ham brine in there too now along with a bit of cream. Continue reading

Mortlach 21, 1990 (Signatory for Binny’s)


Sherry Cask Week comes to an end with this 21 yo Mortlach distilled in 1990 and bottled by Signatory for Binny’s in Chicago in 2012. Yes, I’ve sat on this bottle for almost 10 years, and no, I cannot begin to tell you why. Back in the day, Binny’s had one of the best cask exclusive programs in the US, if not the very best. Brett Pontoni and his team selected casks of a good quality and sold them for good prices without too much hoopla. Those days are long gone as no one seemingly is able to find good casks at good prices anymore and some don’t even seem able to reliably find acceptable casks at good prices. Hopefully the wheel will turn sometime soon. It’s sad to think of how much harder it is now for someone just entering the hobby to truly experience the full range of single malt whisky than it was a decade ago. Will the industry at some point price itself into a dead-end and have to retrench? Or will marketing win out? When you look at what is happening on social media with not just single malt whisky but also bourbon (and increasingly brandy), it seems hard to be hopeful that sanity will return anytime soon. The producers and marketers have whipped customers into a frenzy and all too many people seem excited to pay high prices for marginal bottles. Anyway, let’s go back to 2012 when this 21 yo sherry cask Mortlach cost $99. Continue reading

Alu-Gobi with Ajwain


This is my fourth recipe for alu-gobi. As I’ve said before, alu-gobi is a category rather than a specific dish. My previous versions have included recipes for a rich version with a lot of gravy, a dry version with a lot of spices, and a lightly-spiced version with no tomatoes. In this version there is some tomato and a light hand with spices. The crucial variation here is the presence of ajwain among the spices. (You can find ajwain easily at your nearest South Asian store or your online retailer of choice.) More commonly used in dough—for samosas, pooris, parathas etc.—ajwain can also be used to flavour vegetable dishes. A little goes a long way as it is rather assertive, its herbal aroma and flavour a bit like a lovechild of cumin and aniseed. Here a couple of pinches are deployed early in the process and its flavour and aroma build and suffuse the dish as it cooks without completely dominating it. The dish comes together very easily and served with rice or chapatis/parathas/pooris with dal and a pickle is the very epitome of comfort food. Continue reading

Laphroaig Triple Wood, 2009 Release


I actually had this Laphroaig pencilled in for last week’s series of peated whiskies but it fits well in this week as well. I forgot to say in the preamble to Monday’s Longmorn 17, 1996 review that this would be a week of reviews of sherried whiskies. And this was the first release—I am pretty sure—of Laphroaig’s NAS Triple Wood. As you may recall/know, the Triple Wood was/is basically the Quarter Cask finished for a further period in oloroso sherry casks—making this a triple maturation (as the Quarter Cask itself starts out in regular ex-bourbon casks before entering the smaller quarter casks). It was released as a duty-free exclusive (back then duty-free exclusives were in fact only available in airports). I purchased a couple of bottles on the way back from a trip to London in December 2009. I opened one not too long after and quite liked it. A little later it became part of Laphroaig’s core lineup but I lost track of it. I’m not sure what the reputation of those later releases is, especially in recent years. To be frank, I’ve not kept track of the Quarter Cask either, or for that matter even the regular 10 yo. The 10 CS is the only official Laphroaig I follow closely (well, I guess I buy the Cairdeas each year too). Now that I’ve finally gotten around to opening my second bottle of the original release I’m interested to see what I make of it 12 years later. Let’s see. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 64: Karen Thai (St. Paul)


It had been more than two months since our last Thai meal (at Basil Cafe on—where else?—University Ave. in St. Paul) and that seemed like a dangerous situation to be in. Accordingly, on Saturday I drove up to Exit 110A on Highway 35E to Karen Thai in St. Paul for our latest pandemic takeout meal, bringing food back to eat on our deck with friends just as we had been doing last summer. The restaurant has been open for three or four years and I first heard about them about two years ago. I’m not sure why it took us so long to get there but multiple nudges from people online finally saw us fixing that oversight. Here is how it went. Continue reading

Longmorn 17, 1996, Cask 72315 (van Wees)


As you may recall, in 2013 the Dutch bottler van Wees released a large parcel of Longmorn 17, 1996s, all matured to a dark mahogany hue in sherry casks. As I noted, just under two years ago, when I reviewed another of these casks, these went for just about $65 at the far less attractive exchange rate of the time. I shudder to think of how much would be charged for similar bottles now. In that previous review—of cask 72324, purchased by my friends Clara and Rob at the same time I purchased this bottle—I also noted that if I liked it I would open this a month later. Well, I did like it and here I am, only a little behind schedule, with the review of my bottle. I actually opened this bottle at the end of May. When first opened I found it to be somewhat imbalanced. Though 57.5% is not crazy high as stupid abv goes, the combination of the alcohol and the oak seemed to me to overpower everything else in the whisky. After a few pours I set the bottle aside for a few weeks and when I came back to it the whisky had mellowed a fair bit. This review is taken from one of the later pours (the bottle is now past the halfway mark) and, as you will see, time in the glass and water are still very good to it. Anyway, here are some more detailed notes. Continue reading

Surya India Foods (Arden Hills, MN)


A week ago Saturday we drove up to Arden Hills to pick up takeout from Namaste India Grill & Brewhouse (the report on that meal is here). On the way up we stopped at Surya India Foods, an Indian grocery that is located just a few blocks south in another strip mall off Lexington. I don’t really have a handle on the South Asian population in the suburbs in that part of the Twin Cities metro—I am eagerly looking forward to reading the census data when it is available. I assume the opening of this store and Namaste India—both in the last 2-3 years, if I remember correctly what I was told by staff at both places—is an indication that the population is growing. Then again there may be more South Asian restaurants and stores in the general vicinity than I am aware of—I also don’t have a handle on the northern part of the metro more generally. Anyway, here is what you can expect to find if you visit Surya looking for Indian/South Asian groceries. Continue reading

Glenturret 6, 2013 (SMWS 16.47)


I started Peat Week with a 23 yo on Monday (this Ledaig). On Wednesday, we went down quite a bit in age with a 10 yo (this Talisker). Today we go even younger with a 6 yo Glenturret that presents as a triple-threat: a very young whisky and a ludicrously highly abv and a re-charred hogshead. The last of those qualities also means that this week’s secondary theme was maturation in hogsheads. I’ve not had very many Glenturrets—as I said on the occasion of my previous Glenturret review (this much older and rather good 33 yo)—and I have certainly not previously had any peated Glenturret single malt. As per Scotchwhisky.com (RIP), the distillery makes some heavily peated malt each year under the name Ruadh Mhor or “Big Red”, which was previously allocated to a peaty variant of the Famous Grouse (when both distillery and brand were part of the Edrington Group). Presumably some went into the Black Grouse as well, and if so, I’ve indirectly had some peated Glenturret. Let’s hope this is better than the Black Grouse. Continue reading

Begun Bhaja


Begun bhaja literally means “fried brinjal/eggplant” in Bengali. It is one of the simplest preparations in the Bengali repertoire and one of the most quintessential. A meal comprising just dal and rice and a few slices of begun bhaja is an excellent meal indeed. Well, I say that now. As I’ve noted before, I did not actually eat brinjal/eggplant till just a few years ago. But it is also true that even in my most baingan-phobic youth I always liked the taste of begun bhaja and would eat small bits of the non-seedy parts of the flesh along with the crispy, almost smoky peel. Now I am older and wiser and enjoy all of it.

In its simplest form, all this dish requires is baingan, salt, haldi, red chilli powder and oil. The version I make most often adds only one ingredient to the above, probably making it less quintessentially Bengali in the process. That ingredient is amchur or dried mango powder. Some people add some sugar to the mix as well (the love of sugar is a sickness among us Bengalis); some also add flour; I’ve sometimes sprinkled some rava/sooji/semolina over right before frying. I like these fine as variations but most often come back to the simple version in this recipe. Continue reading