Cooley 21, Peated (Cadenhead’s)


I know very little about Irish whiskey and I’ve not had very good luck with most of the Irish whiskies I’ve tried (and reviewed). I don’t know much about the Cooley distillery but am hoping this 21 yo will continue my recent positive Irish experience with the Redbreast 15 and be better than the last product of the Cooley distillery that I’ve reviewed (this Teeling). Okay, what do I know about Cooley? I know they make Tyrconnell and Connemara and are the source of a terrible whiskey with a Minnesota connection: 2 Gingers. Connemara is their peated line and presumably this Cooley 21 is basically what would be super-aged Connemara if released officially. I say this because I’m not aware of the distillery itself releasing whiskey under a Cooley brand. This one was bottled by the estimable Cadenhead of Campbeltown, Scotland. It was bottled in 2013 from a single bourbon barrel and was very well-received. Let’s see what it’s like.  Continue reading

Scenes from India Fest, 2018 (St. Paul, MN)


Last year, at just about this time we spent a good part of the day at the Little Africa festival in St. Paul. We were planning to do the same again this year but in the weeks prior I learned that India Fest was scheduled on the same day. I’ve been vaguely aware of India Fest—organized by the India Association of Minnesota—for some time now but had never previously been moved to attend. But now that our boys are getting older we’re trying to expose them to as much of their parents’ Korean and Indian heritage as we can and so we decided to go. And a very interesting event it turned out to be.  Continue reading

Clynelish, Casually


Clynelish was my fifth DIageo distillery visit, and the second of this trip (after Cragganmore), and I wasn’t sure what to expect. While my visit to Lagavulin last year had been a highlight—both for the Warehouse Experience and for the general vibe at the distillery—and my brief stop at Cragganmore likewise very pleasant, I feared that the more perfunctory attitude I encountered at Talisker and Oban might make an appearance again at Clynelish. I was very happy to be proved completely wrong. We stopped here on our way from Dornoch to Wick. The distillery is located only 30 minutes or so from Dornoch, and it’s a lovely drive there up the coast. Given my expectations—and also the fact that I had a tour booked at Pulteney at 2 pm that day—I had not planned for a tour at Clynelish and so what I have for you is my usual look at the grounds and at the Visitor Centre/shop.  Continue reading

Ledaig 19 (Cadenhead’s)


This Cadenhead’s cask sample was purchased at the same time as Monday’s Caol Ila, in Cadenhead’s Edinburgh shop in June. It was not purchased by me though. I was there with my friend Mike and while we both grabbed a 200 ml bottle each of the Caol Ila, he took the last Ledaig, the bastard. Later in more gentlemanly fashion he saved me a good size sample from the bottle. I think Mike liked this better than the Caol Ila. Let’s see if that holds true for me as well.

Ledaig 19 (53.7%; Cadenhead’s Manager’s Cask Sample; single bourbon barrel; from a friend’s bottle)

Nose: Big rubbery smoke mixed with that very Ledaig smell of death (a rodent in wet undergrowth). Some fruit struggles to make its way past the big notes (citrus, maybe plum). With more time the overpowering notes burn off (or maybe my nostrils adjust) and the fruit is more apparent, along with sweeter notes (vanilla). Brighter, sharper, ashier with a drop of water and the fruit’s more pronounced now.  Continue reading

Ngon Bistro (St. Paul)


Ngon Bistro is a St. Paul institution at this point and I’m a little embarrassed that it has taken me so long to get around to reviewing it for the blog. It’s a bit of an anomaly in the Twin Cities in that it is a high-end Asian restaurant. The much newer Hai Hai is more casual, and the same was true of the recently shuttered Rabbit Hole too. I am not suggesting that Ngon Bistro is stuffy or formal; but in terms of menu format and prices, they are much closer to places like Spoon and Stable and Meritage. In other ways, Ngon Bistro is similar to the erstwhile Rabbit Hole in that they too seek to translate an Asian cuisine—in this case Vietnamese—into the menu formats and culinary idioms of mainstream American dining. Comparing our meals at the two places it’s easy to say that Ngon Bistro does it much better.  Continue reading

Bowmore 15, “Golden & Elegant”


In the last year or so Bowmore have released a new series of whiskies for travel retail as part of a larger overhaul of their portfolio (the Small Batch has been discontinued). Somewhat unusually for releases for this market, the new Bowmores have age statements: there’s a 10 yo, a 15 yo and an 18 yo. Of course, since it’s for travel retail they also have silly names. The 10 yo is billed as “Dark & Intense” and the 18 yo as “Deep & Complex”. This 15 yo is “Golden & Elegant”. As you might expect from the name, this whisky comprises spirit matured in first-fill bourbon casks.; this is in contrast to the regular release Bowmore 15 “Darkest” (which I should really get around to reviewing sometime). Personally, I think teenaged bourbon cask Bowmore can be a very excellent and somewhat unique thing. Certainly the even younger Tempest (later sold as the Dorus Mor in the US) was very good. Let’s take a closer look at this one. Continue reading

Caol Ila 14 (Cadenhead’s)


I purchased this 200 ml bottle of Caol Ila 14 at the Edinburgh Cadenhead’s shop this June. It is one in their popular series of “cage” cask samples. Limited numbers of these 200 ml bottles show up in the Cadenhead’s shops every week and sell out immediately (from what I can make out). I’m not sure what the story behind these is. Are they true cask samples? Leftover bits from their single cask or small batch releases? A bit from column A and a bit from column B? If you know more, do write in below. All I know is that these are very enticing indeed and priced very fairly and entirely by age range, regardless of distillery of origin. I’ve gone so far on Twitter as to say that if I lived in Edinburgh I’d probably stop buying full bottles and just pick up a few of these 200 ml bottles each week. You can take that as confirmation that I quite liked the first one I picked up. Here are my notes.  Continue reading

Glenlivet 36, 1981 (Signatory for The Whisky Exchange)


I have not had very many old Glenlivets. And unless you’re a member of the whisky illuminati chances are you’ve not either. The few I’ve had have been very good indeed. The best of the lot was probably a Glenlivet 38, 1974 bottled by Berry Bros. and Rudd for the Whisky Exchange in 2012, and which I emptied a few weeks before starting this blog (hmm I should check to see if I saved a sample from that bottle as was my usual practice in those days). This old Glenlivet was also bottled for the Whisky Exchange but by Signatory. It’s also, unlike the BB&R bottle, from a sherry cask. And as this is 2018 and not 2012, it costs more than three times as much. These are the times in which we live. Not so long ago a bottle like this would have been within reach of regular punters looking to make a splurge; now it’s only for the rich. But what is it like? Courtesy Billy Abbot, who passed on a sample to me when we met for drinks in June at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s London tasting rooms, I can give you my answer.  Continue reading

Saigon Palace (Burnsville, MN)


After my review of Pho Valley a couple of weeks ago I thought I was done for the foreseeable future with reviews of Vietnamese restaurants in the South Metro. The only other one I was aware of is a place in Eagan that is of interest only because Yelp reviews suggest you are more likely to be sworn at than to eat well if you go there. (I am actually tempted to go there for that reason.) Saigon Palace is not that restaurant. It is located in Burnsville, right off 35W (if going north on the highway, get off on Burnsville Parkway and go right and it’ll be in the first strip mall on the right). I discovered its existence while casting about for places to eat relatively close to the Works Museum (which the brats enjoy very much) and it seemed worth a try. As luck would have it, I had a number of reasons to be in that neighbourhood over the next couple of weeks and so went back a number of times, twice with the missus. Herewith, my report.  Continue reading

Springbank 10, 2017 Release


For some reason I thought I’d reviewed the Springbank 10 in the early days of the blog. The truth is I haven’t had it since then—more than five years now (though I did review the Springbank 15 a while ago). But I purchased a bottle recently and after opening it couldn’t figure out why I haven’t been drinking it regularly. It’s not because it’s overpriced in the US, like pretty much everything else in the Springbank portfolio. The price of the 10 yo is still in the low $50s in Minnesota, or pretty much where it was more than five years ago—this is in sharp contrast to the prices of their limited edition cask strength whiskies, which have gone from sub-$100 to more than $200 in some cases. But given the quality of the current version—and the fact that the 12 yo cask strength goes for about $90—I can promise you I’m going to be buying the 10 yo more regularly. Yes, I like this bottle very much indeed. For the particulars, please read the notes that follow.  Continue reading

Balblair, Briefly


Balblair was my third distillery stop on the day of my visit. The day had begin with a tour of Aberlour. Then on the way out of the Speyside we stopped briefly at Glenfarclas. A couple of hours later we were at Balblair. If you’re ever planning a trip in this part of Scotland and wondering about distillery visits, you should know that it’s very easy to get to Balblair. It’s less than an hour from Inverness and mostly on a nice big highway. It’s very easy to combine it with a visit to the Loch Ness area. And if you so chose, you could stop at Dalmore and Glenmorangie along the way. We did not stop and arrived at Balblair about an hour and a half before closing time.  Continue reading

Clynelish, Distillery Exclusive, 2018 Release


We stopped at Clynelish on the way from Dornoch to Scrabster, where we boarded the ferry to Stromness on Orkney. Well, more immediately, we stopped at Clynelish on the way to Wick. I was scheduled to tour Pulteney at 2, but it seemed rash to drive by Clynelish without even stopping. I hadn’t planned to buy anything there but when I was in the distillery shop I chatted a bit with one of the staff and she offered me a taste of the current  distillery exclusive. Apparently this was selected by the distillery staff, though they had no idea of the age or composition (or they would not say). It’s not a bottle-your-own—they had loads of it on the shelves. I quite liked it and couldn’t resist overpaying for a bottle. Why do I say “overpaying”? Well, because I paid £80 for an NAS whisky, and one that’s not at cask strength. Yes, unlike the 2008 edition—which may have been the previous distillery exclusive—this is bottled at 48%. That’s not a bad abv per se, but the price is still high (as it was at Oban and Talisker last year—and their distillery exclusives were NAS as well). I’ll probably have a post later this month with some thoughts on the whole “distillery only”/”bottle your own” thing. For now here’s a review of the whisky itself. I opened it for my local group’s July tasting and we all liked it a fair bit.  Continue reading

Laphroaig Cairdeas 2018, Fino Cask Finish


Here I am with my annual review of Laphroaig’s annual release for Feis Ile, the Islay festival: the Cairdeas (pronounced: car-chuss, roughly). I’ve reviewed the previous five releases—my most consistent commitment to timeliness. This year’s, like 2014’s Amontillado finish, also involves sherry and it also represents a failure on the distillery’s part to make my hopeful attempt at prediction come through: in the review of last year’s Quarter Cask release I’d noted it would be nice if Laphroaig gave us a young all-sherry cask release this year; but what they’ve given us is a a finish. Apparently, this is composed of six year old bourbon cask spirit finished in Fino sherry casks for an unspecified amount of time. Well, I quite liked the Amontillado release and I expected to like this one as well. (Keep in mind though that Laphroaig is my favourite distillery and I’m one of very few people who has liked almost all recent Cairdeas releases a lot—last year’s was the exception.)  Continue reading

Hana Market (Bloomington, MN)


Korean food does not have a very high profile in Minnesota. This is not because there are very few Koreans in Minnesota. As of the 2010 census, the numbers were not so far below the Vietnamese and the Twin Cities are dotted with Vietnamese restaurants. On the other hand, in the metro area there are very few Korean restaurants worth comment. This is probably down to the fact that despite decades of immigration, Korean food remains on the fringes of mainstream American consciousness—well behind Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian and even Vietnamese. Unless you’re in Los Angeles or New York or the Bay Area, you’re not going to come across a concentrated Korean population with an ecosystem of restaurants catering to in-culture diners; and for whatever reason, awareness of Korean food remains low elsewhere in the US among those who don’t habitually eat outside their own cultural comfort zone. So it is in Minnesota, even though the number of families here with Korean connections via adoption is quite high relative to most of the USContinue reading