Auchentoshan 15, 1997 (Old Malt Cask)


I often say that every distillery is capable of producing high quality malt. But I have to admit that Auchentoshan is one of the distilleries that really tests my faith in this proposition. In my years of drinking single malt whisky I have not yet come across an official Auchentoshan that I have wanted to purchase or even drink again; and, more damningly, I have not also come across any indie releases that have convinced me that owners Morrison Bowmore have been blending quality casks away, whether in the official vattings or in the group’s blends. I’m not denying the possibility that they exist; merely noting that I have not yet randomly encountered one. Of the few I have reviewed, I liked this 23 yo from Archives the best and I gave that 86 points. But hope springs eternal and perhaps this will be the one that rewards my faith. Like some of the other whiskies I’ve been reviewing recently it too was a release from a long time ago—I’ve been sitting on this sample too for a while. Well, let’s get to it now. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 9: Simplee Pho (Apple Valley)


As I’ve noted before, we live in probably the only college town in the US—one with two colleges, in fact—that has no Thai or Vietnamese food on offer. There is serviceable Thai food available within 20-30 minutes drive (Taste of Thaiyai in Apple Valley, for example, or Thai Curry House in Burnsville or Joy’s Thai in Lakeville—where we recently got some pandemic takeout from); but in normal times we prefer to drive further to the Twin Cities’s real “Eat Street” for food that is substantially better. For Vietnamese food, and pho in particular, the gulf is less wide and we’re happy to eat at Pho Valley and Simplee Pho in Apple Valley when taken by a sudden urge for a good bowl of noodle soup. And so it was that after doing curbside pickup of Indian groceries at Mantra Bazaar on Saturday, I stopped at Simplee Pho to pick up a few things. Continue reading

Glen Scotia 14, 2004 Release


Here is the Glen Scotia 14 that I mentioned when I reviewed the Glen Scotia 12 last October. I’m finally drinking my sample hoard down and have begun to make deep inroads into the back catalog. And I mean “back catalog” quite literally: many of the samples I’ve been reviewing of late are from sample swaps from a long time ago: I placed them on my sample shelves and they got obscured by others that came in after them. This one, in fact, might be from a swap from 2011 or so. I received two 1 oz samples of this. My spreadsheet tells me I drank one in 2012 and gave it 85 points. And then I forgot about the other ounce. Which is good since I get to formally review it now. Don’t worry, it’s been in a tightly-sealed, parafilm-wrapped bottle in a cold basement the whole time and the fill-level hasn’t dropped at all. The whisky inside is even older still. As the label notes, the bottling year was 2004. A long way away from the current official Glen Scotia releases—I’m not even sure what their range looks like now—and so unlikely to be any kind of guide. But it’s always fun to drink whiskies released at a time when distilleries were sitting on deep stocks. Let’s see what this one was like. Continue reading

Fisherman’s Wharf (Goa, Jan 2020)


Almost exactly four months to the day that we arrived in Goa for a week’s holiday, here is a brief account of our first meal there. We were staying at the beautiful home of old friends (they weren’t there) in Velim in South Goa. South Goa has far less tourist traffic than North Goa does and so is far less hectic. By the same token there are fewer quality restaurants in the larger area, and in a small, sleepy village like Velim there are none. For the rest of the stay all our dinners would be at the house; but as we’d arrived in the evening of the first day it hadn’t been possible to get set up with the cook we’d made arrangements with in the village. I’d looked around before arrival to see what the options were that wouldn’t require us to drive another 30 minutes back in the direction of the airport and we settled on the outpost of The Fisherman’s Wharf in Cavelossim, not too far from the beach on which we would spend the majority of every day following. The Fisherman’s Wharf is a chain with a few locations in Goa and they’ve expanded as well to Bangalore and Hyderabad. We didn’t have any particular expectations but it turned out to be a decent meal on the whole, if nothing very exciting. Indeed, this meal included a few items that we consumed pretty much every day for the rest of the trip. Continue reading

“It’s Time to Find a Place” (More Poems About Food and Drink)


Here is the third entry in my occasional series on poems about food and drink. In introducing the series—two weeks before I actually got around to posting the first entry—I noted that these poems “may centrally be about food, drink or hunger/starvation; they may make passing reference to food/drink; they may employ food/drink/eating/drinking//hunger/starvation etc. entirely as metaphors.” The first two poems I wrote briefly about in the series—Imtiaz Dharker’s “At the Lahore Karhai” and Arun Kolatkar’s “Irani Restaurant Bombay” were indeed centrally about restaurants as particular kinds of spaces; spaces that in the one case allow for a provisional declaration of community and in the other are the stage for a kind of public solitude. The poem I have for you today, Eunice De Souza’s “It’s Time to Find a Place” only glancingly mentions restaurants, as one in a list of spaces where endless prattling happens. Still fits the theme of the series though and is also roundly a poem I like a lot. Continue reading

Bunnahabhain 1997-2010 (Murray McDavid)


Okay after two reviews of things that are not whisky, let’s get back to whisky. But this might be barely whisky. It’s a Murray McDavid red wine-bothered Bunnahabhain, and Murray McDavid wine-bothered anything is rarely a good idea (see, for example, this Bowmore from red wine casks and also this Bowmore from white wine casks). The only sign of hope is that this is one of those peated 1997 Bunnahabhains and that kind of heavy, organic peat (as opposed to Bowmore’s more delicate, floral variety) can theoretically stand up more successfully to the depredations of a red wine finish. Will that be the case here though? Let’s see.

This is another sample that I acquired a long time ago—from Jordan of Chemistry of the Cocktail—and am only getting around to opening now. Continue reading

Alu-Gobi, Dry Style


I posted a recipe for alu-gobi last November. In the tedious preamble to that recipe I noted that alu-gobi—like most dishes in the vast Indian home cooking repertoire—is more of a genre than a specific dish. That shouldn’t be surprising considering the dish is just named for the two major ingredients in it. Cauliflower and potatoes cooked with a rotating cast of spices: that’s all alu-gobi is. The recipe I posted in November involved a simple spice-mix heavy on the coriander seed, and a fair bit of water for a fair bit of gravy. This one has a different mix of spices and tastes quite different. And as it’s made with very little water the texture is also very different. I like to make it keeping the cauliflower fairly crunchy but that’s easy enough to sort out if your tastes run otherwise. It’s a simple dish that’s not going to set off any fireworks but it’s very good. Continue reading

Domaine de Pouchegu 27, 1986 (Armagnac)


Continuing with review of things that are not whisky, here is a review of a brandy, more specifically of an Armagnac. And if you want to be even more specific, a review of an Armagnac from the Ténarèze region. I note this latter because the vast majority of Armagnacs I’ve had are from the dominant Bas-Armaganc region. Exceptions include a Pellehaut that I liked a lot and a couple of Grangeries that I had a more variable experience with (here and here). All those were brought in by K&L as is this one. It’s no secret that I find the K&L marketing style exhausting and often ridiculous but it must be said they have done more than any other store in the US in expanding brandy horizons here. Pouchegu is, or rather was, a micro-producer even by the rustic standards of Armagnac. In fact, as per the K&L notes, they never produced on a commercial scale or with a commercial market in mind. And with the passing of the proprietor, Pierre Laporte, there may not be any more Pouchegu being made. There is something melancholy about drinking a spirit with such a backstory but it’s also an opportunity to celebrate the skills of its maker. Well, if it’s good, I suppose; but as per the source of my sample—the outsider artist, Sku—it is very good. He does note “huge oak notes” though—Laporte believed in using new Limousin oak casks, apparenrly—and that’s rarely my speed. Let’s see. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 8: Back to Grand Szechuan


It’s been two months since restaurants closed to dining-in and I am very glad to say that Grand Szechuan is still open for takeout. This is not to say that they’ve not been affected severely, of course. Though I do see more people picking up food each time I go, business is obviously down drastically: they’re now closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. I do hope that the staff—most of whom must have been laid off or furloughed when this began—are doing well and have managed to get access to financial support; I haven’t read much about what support systems are in place for restaurant workers in Minnesota, and have generally not read much about what programs/support networks there are for restaurants outside the high-end in general. (It’s quite possible I’ve missed things that are out there—if so, do point me in the right direction.) Against all hope I hope that we will see all the familiar staff again when restaurants can open fully and we feel confident enough to go back and eat in again. In the meantime, we also hope to be able to continue to get Grand Szechuan’s food as takeout. As I said in my first pandemic takeout report on them, we get a huge order from them once every two weeks and eat it all slowly over four or five days. This report is of our last two orders. Continue reading

Caroni 15, 1997 (A.D. Rattray)


And now a break from bourbon cask whisky and indeed from all whisky. This is a rum—though as I think about it, it’s quite likely it too was matured in a bourbon cask. The distillery in question is Caroni, a very big name in the rum renaissance of the last decade. Caroni has been referred to by whisky geeks as the “Port Ellen of rum”, not least because it too has closed (in 2002). Now you might think that calling something “the Port Ellen of x” would mean that it was being sold at a king’s ransom but that was not true of this cask when it was bottled by A.D. Rattray in 2012. I believe it went for about $50. I’m sure it would be a very different story these days.

Caroni was located in Trinidad. I know nothing about the usual profile of Trinidadian rums—I don’t even know if there is a usual profile in Trinidadian rum—and so I will not be able to tell you if this cask of Caroni is representative or not of Trinidad rum. And as it may well be the first Caroni I’ve had I can’t even tell you how representative it is of Caroni’s own rum. Now that you know just how uninformative this review will be, let’s get to it! Continue reading

A Reading Journal of the Plague Year (Mike)


Here is the fourth entry in the occasional series of book’ish posts that I’ve outsourced to a few old friends: A Reading Journal of the Plague Year. Well, considering this is the third entry in as many weeks it’s at risk of becoming a regular series. I hope you’ve all read the third entry—Aparna’s piece on reading Agatha Christie while on lockdown in Delhi; the second entry—Mahmud’s review of Clancy Sigal’s early 1960s road novel, Going Away; and the first—Peter’s recap of a few false starts and then a few things he’s enjoyed getting into since all of this began.

This week’s entry is from my deplorable friend, Mike. Like Peter, Mike also posted a piece earlier this year on some of his favourite reads of 2019. Mike is one of the most voracious and wide-ranging readers I know, someone who pays no heed to the usual fences of genre that hierarchically divide the literary landscape. He is also one of the most generous readers I know, attuned always to the pleasures of reading. I expect that if you haven’t already read all the books he talks about below, he’ll have you ordering at least one of them. Continue reading

Anda Curry, Again


Another month, another anda/egg curry recipe. This actually has very similar ingredients as last month’s anda curry but with a bit of crucial +/- turns out very differently in terms of both flavour and texture. This is less aggressively spiced both because there’s no mellowing coconut milk being added in this version and because it was made with my children in mind. I’m happy to report they loved it and asked that I make it again. For my kids at least this has to do not just with the less aggressive spicing but also with the fact that the sauce is pureed and so there’s no onion or other crunchy bits floating around in it. It feels like my life’s work right now is to convince them that onions are actually why they like almost everything they like to eat. (You may not need to be so convinced but you’ll like this pureed sauce  too.) They are also not yet able to resolve their relationship with dhaniya. They like the flavour of dishes that are garnished with it but perform intricate surgery to get every bit of green off their plates before they eat. Fascinating, I know. Continue reading

Laphroaig 16, Retro Label (The Whisky Exchange)


Let’s keep the run of bourbon cask reviews going but add one that’s heavily peated. This Laphroaig was bottled for the Whisky Exchange’s annual Whisky Show in 2015 and I purchased it soon after when bottles that survived the show went on sale. It has an attractive “retro” label. I think they put out two of these labels in different years; I think I’ve seen a reference to an 18 yo as well. Well, whether as a mark of its retro identity or not, the label does not specify year of distillation. But given the 2015 bottling I’d hazard that there’s a very good chance it was distilled in 1998. Well, the fact is I’ve enjoyed almost all the Laphroaigs I’ve had from the late 1990s distillations a great deal; particularly those that have expressed an excellent fruity quality along with the signature smoke and phenols. Will this be another such cask (assuming it was indeed a single cask)? Well, there’s only one way to find out. Continue reading

Glendronach 13, 1990 (Whisky Galore)


Speaking of independent bottlers allowing us to experience malts that are outside the profile a distillery is officially associated with, and following Monday’s bourbon cask Aberlour, here is a Glendronach from a bourbon cask. It was bottled in the Whisky Galore series that Duncan Taylor put out through the mid-2000s. Usually (always?) bottled at 46% and without added colour or chill-filtration, this label put out a lot of high quality malt at highly reasonable prices. The name was changed later to NC2. As the whisky loch of the 1980s dried up the volume of quality whisky available at reasonable prices dropped dramatically across the board and the current incarnation of Duncan Taylor’s affordable line, Battlehill (often sold at Total Wine in the US) seems to offer fewer hidden treasures. Glendronach itself is, of course, highly identified with sherry cask whisky, especially the alleged “single casks” they began to put out in large numbers in the late 2000s and on. What does their whisky taste like when not from a sherry cask? Well, the results from this virgin oak cask were not encouraging, but virgin oak is a very different beast from ex-bourbon wood. Let’s see what this one is like. Continue reading