Worthy Park 10, 2007 (Habitation Velier)


Here is your second rum review for the week. Like Monday’s rum this is from the Worthy Park distillery in Jamaica. It is a year younger and was distilled two years later. The label says it was “aged in the tropics”, presumably in Jamaica before being bottled by Habitation Velier, an Italian outfit that has become one of the bespoke independent bottlers of high quality rums made without artificial flavouring and colouring and so on. Excitingly, this was one of a few releases that made their way to the US in 2018. I purchased this along with another Worthy Park and a Hampden from Astor Wines & Spirits in New York; I’m not sure if they were more widely available as well. At any rate, wherever they were available, I hope they sold out quickly, thus encouraging Velier and any other bottlers who may be watching about the prospects of selling non-mainstream rum in the American market. God knows we’re closer to the Caribbean than is Italy—there should be a way to get us more good rum. Then again it’s not even possible to have booze shipped to me from Illinois, just one state over from Minnesota…Anyway, let’s see if this is as good as Monday’s excellent Cadenhead release.

Worthy Park 10,2007 (59%; Habitation Velier; from my own bottle) Continue reading

Ottolenghi, Islington (London, June 2018)


If Fergus Henderson of St. John is one of the most important figures in contemporary British cuisine, Yotam Ottolenghi is another. Their food does not have much in common—where Henderson is famous for cooking in a re-articulated English vernacular, Ottolenghi’s food slants more Mediterranean. But in other ways their philosophies seem similar: both do a lot with vegetables; both eschew the trappings of high-powered fine dining for more casual service—Ottolenghi is most known for his delis which offer mostly take-out service, and even at the locations with formal seating the menus are not heavy on cooked to order items; both also embrace a non-fussy approach to cooking and plating—at neither St. John nor at Ottolenghi are you going to find multiple elements and techniques on a plate and nor is prettification a goal in the presentation. Both seek, you might say, to elevate the humble; both also embrace communal dining as an aesthetic/experience: at St. John you are at separate tables but feel like you are in a mess hall; at Ottolenghi long communal dining tables are the norm.
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Baraillon 33, 1984


More Armaganac. At the end of January I had a review of a 33 yo Baraillon distilled in 1985 that I thought was just okay—drinkable but nothing special. After reviewing that sample I realized that I actually owned a bottle of another 33 yo Baraillon, this one distilled in 1984. I’d purchased it about a year ago along with some other Armagnacs and forgotten all about it (and the others too). I have to admit the 1985 did not make me feel very enthusiastic about opening the 1984 but, as you know, I am committed to positivity. And so here we are. Unlike the 1985, which was a K&L exclusive, this 1984 was a general release. Or so I think anyway. I bought it from Astor in New York and I don’t remember the listing trumpeting it as an exclusive cask. Will this bottle restore my confidence in Baraillon or will it shake it further? Let’s see.

(It strikes me that I am going backwards in time with my Baraillon reviews. The very first one was of a 1986 cask—that was also a K&L exclusive. Alas, I don’t have any 1983 casks lined up and nor do I know of any available in the US.) Continue reading

Persis Biryani Indian Grill (Eagan, MN)


As those who’ve known me a while know, I am not very high on Indian food in the US. Yes, there are some very good restaurants (Rasika in DC, for example) but the cuisine as a whole still seems trapped in the cream and nut paste-laden chicken tikka masala/dal makhni/korma rut that it was in when I arrived in the US in 1993. This is certainly true of the vast majority of curry houses, most of which essentially have the same standardized menu. I don’t fault the restaurants—they serve what the market wants and in most American markets there aren’t enough Indians or other South Asians to ask for very much more. But I rarely want that stuff even when it’s done well.  Continue reading

Worthy Park 11, 2005 (Cadenhead’s)


More rum but not from a distillery I’ve reviewed before. This is from Worthy Park, like Hampden, a Jamaican distillery. The distillery has a long history but not a continuous one. It stopped distilling in 1960 and only started up again in 2005 with brand new facilities (see here for more on the distillery). This means this particular rum was produced in the first year of the distillery’s revival. It was bottled 11 years later by Cadenhead in Scotland. I’m not sure when Scottish and other European bottlers began to carry rum in a big way but I can only imagine that this has been a boon for the revitalized distilleries of the Caribbean. Now if only more of these rums would be available in the US. I purchased a 200 ml bottle from Cadenhead’s Edinburgh store last June and have been looking forward to tasting it. My only other exposure to Jamaican rum has been through a few wild releases of Hampden and I am curious to see how much of that character is shared by Worthy Park.
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At the SMWS Members’ Room in London (June 2018)


Back to London in June, this time not to a restaurant (though I did eat some tasty food there). No, this is a brief account of an evening spent in the Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s Members’ Room in London. I am not a member of the Society. It never seems to make sense to join in the US, but if I lived in London or Edinburgh I would be all over it. This is because while in the US we only have a few “Partner Bars” where SMWS whiskies may be sampled, London and Edinburgh have Members’ Rooms where you can try whiskies from current and recent outturns and even get a taste of things about to be bottled. And the Members’ Room at 19 Greville St. in London is very nice indeed. How did I get in even though I am not a member? Well, a member can bring a guest and I was the guest of someone who is a member not just of the SMWS but also of the OWI (Online Whisky Illuminati): Billy Abbott.  Continue reading

Springbank 15, 2017 Release


On Wednesday I posted a review of a recent release of the Highland Park 12. Here now is a review of the 2017 release of another whisky that I used to enjoy a lot but have inconceivably neglected since my review in 2013 of a bottle from the 2010 release: the Springbank 15. Like the Highland Park 12, this bottle too has been redesigned. But if in the case of the Highland Park 12 what used to be a very unassuming bottle has been completely re-designed (more than once) to its current etched form, all that’s changed in the case of the Springbnk 15 is the label. And I am probably not alone in thinking that it is a change for the uglier rather than the prettier. Whatever else they’re spending their time and money on at the home base in Campbeltown, I’m not sure that they’re spending a lot of either on packaging design. But how about what’s inside the bottle? Has it too changed as the Highland Park 12 has? Read on to find out.  Continue reading

Soam (Bombay, December 2018)


Okay, I’m back in Bombay and back at another iconic Gujarati vegetarian restaurant, and depending on who you talk to, perhaps the iconic Gujarati restaurant in the city. Soam opened about a decade and a half ago and quickly established itself as the main challenger to Swati Snacks‘ crown as the purveyor of the finest Gujarati food, traditional and contemporary. My Bombay friends—those who live there and those who visit often—are pretty evenly divided. Some say Soam, with its larger menu and size and its less spartan aesthetic, is the clear front-runner; others acknowledge that Soam is good but wonder why anyone would ever go there over Swati Snacks. As one who is not from Bombay, knows little about Gujarati food, and has not eaten enough at both restaurants (three times at Swati Snacks, just this one time at Soam), I am not qualified to have an opinion. I can, however, tell you what my lunch there on this trip was like.  Continue reading

Highland Park 12, Viking Honour


The Highland Park 12 was one of the first whiskies I fell in love with when I started in on single malt whisky. Of course, that was many years and many bottle designs ago. Even though I have included it on both editions of my “Well-Rounded Single Malt Bar” lists, I have to admit that I had lost touch with it for a few years now. I reviewed it in 2014 back before the distillery had doubled down on its alleged Viking heritage (see the discussion in the comments on my write-up of my visit to the distillery last June to see how much this pivot bothers some people). Since then it’s been relaunched in a fancy new bottle with a slightly new name: it’s now the Viking Honour. I guess we have the honour of the Vikings to thank for the preservation of the age statement. Well, okay, that’s a cheap shot: while the distillery has indeed launched a number of NAS whiskies with Viking names it must be said that they’ve preserved their age-stated line and even delivered the occasional age-stated one-off (see the Full Volume). Anyway, I purchased this bottle on sale last year and opened it for a charity auction tasting friends asked me to host last month. I was curious to see what I would make of it—there’s been a lot of talk online about how it has gone completely downhill. Of course, with distilleries like Highland Park it is hard to separate people’s views of the whiskies from their views of their marketing. I liked my first pour at the event but wasn’t paying very close attention. I am now.  Continue reading

Mantra Bazaar (Apple Valley, MN)


We enjoyed our dinner at Darbar India Grill in Apple Valley fine a week ago but far more exciting than that dinner—well, other than the drive up and back through foggy roads—was the discovery of Mantra Bazaar, an Indian grocery located a few doors down, both in the massive shopping complex alongside County Road 42 between Cedar Avenue and Pennock. This is exciting because this is now the closest Indian grocery to us and because it stocks all the essentials I need for cooking; thus making it a viable option to the much larger TBS Mart in Bloomington, which is 10-15 minutes further away, which is even more significant in bad weather—which as you may have heard, we get some of in Minnesota. I stopped in after our dinner last week to buy a few staples and check them out; and I went back again today for a larger grocery run in the wake of last week’s snowcalypse. And I took the opportunity to take some pictures so I could add them to my survey of grocery stores in the Twin Cities metro that serve immigrant populations.  Continue reading

Ledaig 11, “Time IV” (The Whisky Exchange)


Okay, after an Armagnac, a Cognac, and a rum, let’s get back to whisky. This 11 yo whisky was released by the Whisky Exchange in a series they called Time. I’ve previously reviewed two of the other releases from this series: a Benrinnes 20 and a “Family Owned Distillery” 15 (probably a Glenfarclas). I was intrigued by the other releases as well but didn’t get around to ordering them before they sold out/TWE stopped shipping to Minnesota. Anyway, I liked both of the others I did buy a lot, and I can tell you the streak continued with this Ledaig. It took me a long time to get around to it—I eventually opened it as a sparring partner with a stupidly sherried Ledaig (also 11 years old and also from the Whisky Exchange). That one had the maximum sherry thing going on with the peat but this bourbon cask whisky held its own quite well. I drank it down quite quickly after opening it. Here now are the particulars.  Continue reading

Laksamania (London, June 2018)


There are many things that make living in London superior to living in Minnesota—better theatre, museums full of colonial loot, amazing parks, great cheese, proper public transportation, the lack of polar vortexes (and 18 months of winter more generally) etc. etc.. It should be said though that while the food scene is generally far superior it is not consistently so: the Twin Cities metro has better Mexican and Thai food and our Sichuan is not far behind either. However, when it comes to Malaysian food, London is in a different league; to be fair it’s far ahead of any city in the US in that regard.

In one of my reviews from 2017 I noted why this should be so: the Malaysian diasporic population in the UK is far larger than that of the US and is concentrated in a much smaller area. As with South Asian cuisines and populations, these disparities—of demographics and food quality—have to do with colonialism. You can basically tell which first world countries (neo)-colonized which third world countries by looking to see which immigrant cuisines are the best there. As unfortunate as the historical reasons are, it does mean that London has very good Malaysian food compared to anywhere in the US, and as we love Malaysian food and get very few opportunities to enjoy it here we eat it in London every chance we get.  Continue reading

Highway Gomantak (Bombay, December 2018)


This was actually the last proper meal I ate in Bombay on this trip but I am writing it up out of order now as I am a little pressed for time and it involves resizing fewer pictures than all my remaining Bombay meals.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Bombay food scene—as I imagine most of my readers are—the name of this restaurant is probably a big mystery to you. It is actually very simple: the restaurant serves Gomantak food—a subset of Goan/Konkani food—and this is a branch of the original Gomantak restaurant that is located by a highway in Bandra. Thus Highway Gomantak: mystery solved. As with many restaurants in this genre in Bombay, it is an unassuming restaurant that serves Goan food of a kind completely unknown in North India, leave alone in the US. This is not the Goa of vindaloos and sorpotels but of fish curries and rava (semolina)-crusted fried fish and shellfish. All these restaurants serve an array of seafood dishes that are basically iterations of a few preparations with a range of fish and shellfish. Add some thalis and some side dishes and that’s your menu. As with many restaurants in the genre, the price is on the low side and the quality is on the high side.  Continue reading

Foursquare 11, 2004


Speaking of things I have been buying but not reviewing, here is a rum. I’ve not reviewed very many rums and most of those that I have have been insane Hampdens from Jamaica. This is a rum from Barbados. Foursquare—like Hampden–is a working distillery but unlike it, has an official presence in the US. A number of rums from the distillery have been released here and they’ve been fairly  priced. This 11 yo from 2004 is still available and can be found in the $60 range. That may seem like a very high price to those who’re accustomed to thinking of rum as a rough spirit to be mixed with Coke but this is a good sipping rum, and the price is very good compared to a lot of single malt whisky. The Springbank 12 CS, for example, goes for $80. This rum is, I believe, a blend of pot and column still distilled rums and like all of Foursquare’s rums is made without the addition of sugar or any other sweeteners prior to bottling. It’s one I really enjoy and it’s about time I posted a review.  Continue reading