At Lagavulin, Summer 2017


The first three miles east from Port Ellen on the A846 are as close as it comes to pilgrimage for lovers of smoky whisky. One mile out sits Laphroaig. You go another mile and arrive at Lagavulin. One more mile and you are at Ardbeg. Whitewashed buildings, pagoda roofs, the ocean just beyond—if you’re lucky, the smell of peat smoke will be in the air. Even if you haven’t halted along the way you may well be feeling exalted by the time you arrive, a few more miles up the road, at the ruined church in whose cemetery stands the Kildalton cross. (If you go the other direction out of town you’ll come across another ruined church, the old Port Ellen distillery). But if you have stopped to spend some time at Lagavulin with Iain “Pinkie” McArthur, you will certainly be feeling the spirit quite strongly by the time you get there.

So it was for me on my first full day on Islay.  Continue reading

Barrafina x 2 (London)


Back to London and eating: here is a quick report on Barrafina, the very popular tapas bar, or rather the very popular three tapas bars. The original opened in Soho in 2007 and there are now branches in Covent Garden and Drury Lane as well. Extremely popular, the original Barrafina was apparently a trendsetter in the “no reservations” blight, and even now, a decade later, people can be seen queuing up well before they open, at lunch and dinner. The missus and I ate weekday lunch at the Soho branch in late May and could only snag the last table outside, despite showing up just slightly after opening time at noon. A few days later I dined with a friend at the Covent Garden branch on a Wednesday and we got the last seats at the bar right as they opened. Does the food live up to the hype? Well, it’s not life-changing, and Barrafina is certainly not the best restaurant in London, but the food is quite good.  Continue reading

Lagavulin “Jazz Festival 2015”


Here is a Lagavulin bottled for the Islay Jazz Festival in 2015. This is a completely separate event from the recently concluded Feis Ile, taking place in the autumn rather than the summer. This year’s festival is from September 15-17 (and here is last year’s program). I’m not sure if Lagavulin is the only distillery that does an annual release to mark the festival (in addition to their Feis Ile release), but I can’t off the top of my head recall Jazz Festival releases from any other distilleries. It is sponsored by Lagavulin but events happen at other distilleries too. Anyway, there also does not seem to be as much mania around these Jazz Festival releases as there is around Lagavulin’s Feis Ile releases. Indeed, plenty of bottles of the 2016 Jazz Festival release were available at the distillery when I visited earlier this month—I’m not sure how they survived the onslaught of Feis Ile auction flippers.  Continue reading

Touring Talisker, Summer 2017


As I said on Wednesday, our trip to Scotland was not centered on whisky. We spent most of our time out and about, on and by lochs, up and down hills, on beaches and roads, and inside and outside castles. But I’m not going to be posting about that stuff on the blog. What you’re going to get here is going to be strictly whisky and food, giving you the impression that the trip was in fact very whisky-centered. I’m going to start with Skye even though it wasn’t our first stop. Nor was Talisker the first distillery I visited in Scotland; but it was the first I toured.  Continue reading

eastZeast (Liverpool)


eastZeast, or however it is they write their name (I have even less of an idea of how you’re supposed to say it), is a northern English chain of Indian restaurants, with locations in Manchester, Liverpool, Preston and Birmingham. I have no clue what the other locations are like but the Liverpool branch’s design is a monument to bad taste. It looks like it was modeled on the mansions of international smugglers in ’70s Bombay cinema. People who fill their lobby with such couches and lamps are capable of anything. An urge to run out the door (past the burly man in kurta-pajama and a turban who might or might not have been South Asian) came upon me as I entered but I had to feed 15 people and the only other options in range were a branch of Pizza Express or the inevitable fish and chips. And so we stayed and waited for a table to be put together. When it was ready we sat down on shiny silver chairs and watched massive naans go by us, hung from metal hooks like so much tortured laundry, and contemplated the menu. Wouldn’t you know it, when the food arrived it was pretty good.  Continue reading

A Map of Scotland

If you’re like me there’s nothing you enjoy more than hearing stories about other people’s vacations and looking at their photographs of the things they saw and did. Well, you’re in luck! I just got back from a 10 day trip to Scotland and over the next few weeks I’m going to go on about it in nauseating detail. And so that you can plan your life accordingly, I am going to first give you a sense of what to expect from these posts; a road map, if you will, or more in keeping with our trip experience, a bit of Sat Nav guidance (generally, but not always, accurate).  Continue reading

Chilli Cool (London)


Dim sum
isn’t the only Chinese food we ate in London; we predictably also ate a fair bit of Sichuan. Predictably, because our love of Sichuan food is of a piece with the general food culture’s love of Sichuan food. Just as the Twin Cities have no other decent regional Chinese food worth the name but boast a handful of quite good Sichuan places, London too has seen an explosion of Sichuan restaurants in the last decade or so. Leading the way is the Barshu group, which in addition to their upscale eponymous restaurant also has a few hipper, more affordable outposts. We didn’t eat at Barshu but we did eat at another pricey Sichuan place opened by an ex-Barshu chef (more on this later) and at one of the Barshu group’s aforementioned hipper outposts (more on this later as well). First up, however, is this writeup of the altogether less fashionable Chilli Cool on Leigh St. in the King’s Cross area, a hop, skip and jump from the British Library and not too far from the British Museum (or, for that matter, the Dickens Museum). Continue reading

Glen Spey 15, 2001 (Cadenhead’s)


This is third of five Cadenhead’s Authentic Collection releases that I purchased in mini form from their Marylebone shop in early May. I’m afraid I did not care overmuch for the first two I’ve so far tried and reviewed: the Pulteney 11 yo I found to be overly sour and yeasty/bready; the Balmenach 12 was better but nothing worth getting excited about. I’m hopeful that this Glen Spey may continue the upward trend and move this series more firmly into the territory of the good.

I’ve not had or reviewed very many Glen Speys so far, only two older ones: the Diageo Special Release 21 yo from a few years ago (which I really liked) and a 25 yo from Archives (which disappointed a bit). Let’s see where this one, which is also from a bourbon cask, falls. Continue reading

Springbank 12 CS, Batch 14


After a geographically appropriate review on Wednesday (of a Caol Ila, posted while on Islay), I’m back to commemorating my first trip to Scotland by posting reviews of whiskies from distilleries that I’ve not actually visited or gone very close to. Well, in this case, we will be within 37 miles of Springbank a few hours after this review posts, but we’ll be turning in the other direction to drive back to Glasgow, where we’ll spend one night before returning to London on Saturday and then to Minnesota on Sunday. This has been a wonderful trip and I’ll have more posts about it than you can bear in the weeks to come. Though I did not tour many distilleries I did visit a bunch and have a lot of pictures. I will also have some reports on eating in the parts of Scotland we visited.

Okay, to the whisky! This is the 14th (current?) release of Springbank’s cask strength 12 yo. I’ve previously reviewed the 7th—the review was written in London, where I purchased the bottle and then drank it down at a very rapid clip. Though I don’t note this below it paired really well with all kinds of cheeseContinue reading

Caol Ila 12, 2002 (G&M for TWE)


Okay, here’s a geographically appropriate review for a change from my ongoing visit to Scotland. I previously posted reviews of a Speysider on the day we left for Glasgow, an Old Pulteney while leaving Drumnadrochit for Skye, and a Highland Park while leaving Skye for Islay. We’re still on Islay and this is a Caol Ila.

I’m not sure if I will make it to Caol Ila on this trip though I would like to at least see the outside of the distillery. I’d thought this would happen as our ferry arrived in Port Askaig from Kennacraig on Monday evening but apparently views of the distillery are only available from the ferry from/to Colonsay. Nonetheless, here’s a Caol Ila. This was bottled by Gordon & MacPhail for the Whisky Exchange and I purchased a bottle on one of my visits to their Covent Garden store. I drank it down before leaving London—the notes below were taken well before this preamble was written. Continue reading

Tamarind (London)


Okay, I’ve recently written up an iconic curry house (Tayyabs) and a hip, newer, small plates place (Gunpowder); for the next review of an Indian/South Asian restaurant let’s go back to a more formal restaurant. Tamarind, which opened in 1995 in its Mayfair location, holds a Michelin star and has done so for most of the time since it became one of the first Indian restaurants to receive one in 2001 (in fact, it may have been the first Indian restaurant to receive a Michelin star). It has been a major restaurant in the Indian food world for some time. So, even though its star has dimmed in recent years in comparison to newer places like Gymkhana and Benares, I’ve wanted to eat there. I was particularly interested because Tamarind is quite different from the other high-end Indians we’ve eaten at in London on this trip. Continue reading

Highland Park 19, 1995 (SMWSA)


Allow me to continue my geographically-inexact series of whisky reviews. Last week I posted a review of a Speyside whisky (a Balmenach) on the day I left for Glasgow, and a review of an Old Pulteney when up in the Highlands (okay, so that one wasn’t so far off the map). Today is our last day in Skye and as I don’t have any Talisker at hand I am posting this review of a Highland Park (which is at least also located on an island).

This was bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America and they saw fit to give it the name “Nordic Nosh”. It’s from a bourbon cask. The distillery doesn’t put out anything (?) that’s exclusively bourbon cask—even though ex-bourbon Highland Park can be excellent—but the indies pick up the slack. I quite liked the last ex-bourbon Highland Park from the SMWSA that I reviewed, so I’m hopeful.  Continue reading

Old Pulteney 9, 2006 (Malts of Scotland)


A few hours after this review gets posted I will be driving north from Glasgow into the Highlands. I will not be going as far as Wick (where Pulteney is located), only to the Drumnadrochit area. Still, it feels appropriate to post a review of a northern Highland malt while I’m in the general vicinity. And so here’s a young Old Pulteney. This is unusual in several respects. First, that it’s an independent bottling of Pulteney. Second, that despite being an independent bottling it bears the Old Pulteney name—the distillery’s name is Pulteney; “Old Pulteney” is more like a brand name. Third, it’s from a sherry cask. It’s not that no sherry casks are used in formulating the malts in Pulteney’s regular lineup but it’s not a distillery you think of when you think of sherry bombs. And this is very much a sherry bomb. It’s also very much an alcohol bomb, at almost 60% abv. And it’s a brash youngster too. I can also tell you right off the bat that it’s a lot better than the Cadenhead’s 11 yo I recently reviewed, which was also from 2006. Continue reading

Balmenach 12, 2004 (Cadenhead’s)


[We’re off to Scotland today. In a couple of weeks I’ll have some reports, probably, of the parts of our trip that are whisky-related (not many); but to commemorate my first-ever trip to Scotland I’m also going to post more whisky reviews this week and the next than I have been since I slowed down my pace of whisky reviewing earlier this year.]

Devoted readers will remember that I went to Cadenhead’s in London last month and only purchased five minis. What, you don’t remember?! And why are you sniggering when you read the words “devoted readers”? Anyway, I did buy five minis. I did not enjoy the first of those that I reviewed: an Old Pulteney 11. Here now is a slightly older Balmenach, also from their recent outturn. This was the only one of which full bottles are still available and so if I really like it I might go back and get one. I’ve not had very many Balmenachs but they’re certainly capable of putting out the kind of fruity ex-bourbon cask malt that I really like (see this older one from Signatory); they’re also capable of putting out malt I’m not crazy about (see this other older on from Signatory). Let’s see how this one goes.  Continue reading