Dailuaine 9, 2006 (SMWS)


I’ve only reviewed five Dailuaines in seven years. Let’s up the count a bit this month. Here is the first of two young Dailuaines. This was bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and given the whimsical name of “Wankers Running Out of Ideas”. Actually, I’m told they named it “Sherry, Sherry Baby!”. Same thing. It’s from a first-fill oloroso butt, which may be bad news. Let’s see.

Dailuaine 9, 2006 (58.7%; SMWS 41.83; first-fill oloroso butt; from a bottle split)

Nose: Orange peel, raisins, dried leaves, copper. On the second sniff there’s a bit of cocoa and a hint of wood smoke; some salt too. A few drops of water and it turns quite salty and dry—almost fino-like.

Palate: Pretty much as promised by the nose plus a big whack of roasted malt. Very approachable at full strength. Salt here too on the second sip, plus some oak (no tannic grip though) and some red fruit. Not much change with time; let’s see what water does. As on the nose, it’s much drier and more acidic with a few drops of water, and the oak is pushed back. Continue reading

Toor Dal with Garlic and Pepper

Toor dal, or arhar dal, as it is also known, was not made very often in our home when I was growing up. Unlike mushoor/masoor, moog/moong, chholar/channa dal it’s not one of the staple dals of the Bengali kitchen. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I did eat it quite often regardless, as my family often went out for South Indian food and toor dal is the dal used in sambar. This was in the 1970s and 1980s—the only South Indian food available outside South India was of the idli-dosa-vada-sambar variety. It is a staple dal in the South and also in places like Gujarat and most of the preparations I make of it in my own kitchen come from those directions. The recipe I have today is not a traditional one—though odds are good that it resembles one closely: it is very hard to generate novelty within foodways as massive and heterogeneous as Indian ones. You might think you’ve come up with something new(ish) but then it’ll turn out you’ve only hit upon a preparation you’d just never heard of before. If that’s the case here I’ll take it as a compliment. Continue reading

Coming Soon…


I just took a look at the March edition of “Coming Soon..” and man, that’s from another universe. It was business as usual; no sign of what was coming. In addition to whisky reviews I was going to finish up my reports of restaurant outings in Goa and Calcutta in January and post a bunch of Twin Cities reports as well. A month later, I’ve barely left the house in the last three weeks and I have no idea when we’ll ever eat at a restaurant again. We have hit up a couple of our favourite places for takeout but at my most paranoid—or it it my most responsible?—I wonder if even that will seem untenable in the near future. And while I posted the usual number of whisky reviews in March, most of those were notes taken before the virus hit the fan. Since the middle of the month I’ve been finding it difficult to summon the energy to write tasting notes. And with the entire family working/going to school from home for the foreseeable future, things are a little chaotic all around. But routines preserve us, I guess and so I’m going to try to keep getting back on the blog horse. I hope to have the usual complement of whisky reviews this month. I am going to try to finally finish up with the Goa and Calcutta reports—if only to remember a time when going out into the world seemed normal. I’ll have more recipes too, as well as some more things that will further alienate my whisky-only readership. You’re welcome! Continue reading

Support Your Local Food and Drink Businesses II: El Triunfo (Northfield, MN)


People who pay attention to my restaurant reviews know that I am not very high on most of the food options in our small town in Southern Minnesota. This, however, is not a time for restaurant meal reviews of the kind I write in normal times. These are not normal times. I am rooting for all the restaurants out there even as I know that many/most of them will have a tough time making it through the business crash of the pandemic. And I am particularly rooting for the restaurants whose owners don’t have deep pockets or investors backing them or easy access to loans or the ability to leverage most of the strategies that more established and savvy restaurants are deploying to survive. The deck is stacked against them even in normal times and even more so now. Which brings me to El Triunfo, a small grocery and informal restaurant in our town that people who pay attention to my restaurant reviews know I am very high on. I am rooting for all the restaurants in our town to make it—even the ones I’ve said the rudest things about in normal times—but I hope they’ll forgive me if I admit that I’m rooting the hardest for El Triunfo.  Continue reading

Tomatin 40, 1970 (Old Malt Cask)


Here is the last of the five whiskies I opened in the week I turned 50, all bottles either distilled or bottled in years that have been important ones in my life. I’ve previously reviewed a Glendronach 19 distilled the year I left India for the US; a Bowmore 11 bottled the year I met my partner; a Springbank 12 bottled the year our older child was born; and a Highland Park 27 bottled the year our younger child was born. Here now to complete the set is a Tomatin 40 that was distilled the year I was born and bottled the year our younger child was born.

Tomatins from the early-mid 1970s have a very strong reputation. I’m not sure, however, if I’ve seen many reviews of Tomatins from 1970—indeed, this particular release does not seem to have been reviewed at all—even Serge hasn’t gotten to it. This might explain why I was able to purchase this bottle from the Whisky Exchange back in 2011 without having to pay and arm and a leg. But as we’ve recently seen, a good price on an older whisky does not in and of itself mean that it was money well spent. What’s the story with this one? Continue reading

Bunnahabhain 30, 1988 (Old Particular for K&L)


I am almost at the end of my run of reviews of K&L’s recent exclusive casks. This Bunnahabhain 30 is the oldest of them—well, the oldest I acquired a sample of, at any rate. K&L have brought in older Bunnahabhains before. I’ve previously reviewed a 25 yo and a 28 yo. The 25 yo was another Old Particular and the 28 yo was in their own Faultline series (is that still on the go?). Both were from sherry casks and I liked both a fair bit. This one, as with a number of their exclusives in this run, was matured in a refill hogshead. Let’s hope it’ll be closer to the two aforementioned in quality anyway than to the 21 yo from a hogshead they’d put out in 2013/14. That one had seemed like a very good value for the age; I purchased a bottle and was very disappointed.At $99 for a 21 yo in 2013-14, it was, in the abstract a very good value for the age—and these days $350 for a 30 yo is similarly, in the abstract, a good value for the age—but you’re not drinking the age to price ratio, you’re drinking a whisky. Let’s see what this particular one is like. Continue reading

Maachher Jhol


Maachher jhol is a name for a rather broad genre of fish dishes in Bengal—it’s not actually very descriptive at all. “Maachh” means “fish” in Bengali and “jhol” (rhymes with “goal”) would translate to “gravy” or “sauce” in English. So “maachher jhol” literally means “fish in gravy”. As such, in English “fish curry” would be an entirely adequate translation in the sense in which “curry” is used in India. The particular sub-genre of the preparation that this recipe falls into involves a paatla or thin jhol and various versions of this form one of the central pillars of Bengali comfort food. In its most basic form the dish involves mustard oil, kalo jire, ginger, green chillies, fish and water. Vegetables are often added: sometimes potatoes, sometimes brinjal/eggplant, sometimes cauliflower. It’s also not uncommon to add bori (a type of dal-based fritter). Though tomatoes and garlic are not very traditional in Bengali cooking, it’s not unheard of for either or both to be used as well. Some may use no tomato, some may use a little, some more than a little. My approach comes to me from my mother, who learned to cook after marriage while living outside Bengal. Her cooking therefore employs more tomato than that of my Calcutta aunts but is—as far as I’m concerned—no less Bengali for that. Continue reading

Bowmore 11, 2001 (Maltbarn)


Hello, the blog is seven years old today. As per Sku, I have three more years before I have to shut it down. Though, truth be told, I’m having some trouble right now mustering enough enthusiasm to keep it going through the isolation/quarantine—and judging by readership numbers very few of you are currently enthusiastic enough to show up to read this shortly after it posts. But an anniversary is an anniversary.

My very first review was of a Bowmore—the lowly Bowmore Legend of years past—and since then I’ve marked every anniversary with a Bowmore review. What can i say? I’m notoriously sentimental. I am feeling particularly sentimental today as this is the fourth of five reviews of bottles I opened during my 50th birthday week that mark significant years of my life (see here, here and here). This Bowmore was distilled in 2001, the year I met my partner. We’re currently 19 years in but this is only an 11 yo. Continue reading

Linkwood 1988-2013 (Gordon & MacPhail)


I first promised a review of this Linkwood a long time ago, I think. Here it is now. I took these notes right after returning from India in February but unaccountably forgot to take my usual ratty photograph of the sample bottle. And so I’ve posted alongside a picture of a bottle lifted from Whiskybase. Against my usual rules, I know, but there are no rules during a pandemic.

This was bottled by Gordon & MacPhail for the Soho Whisky Club. It was well-received right off the bat but got even more attention when Jim Murray randomly awarded it 97.5 points in the 2015 Whisky Bible. It nonetheless remained available for a while but was gone by the time I got to London in 2016. I’ve been curious about it for a while and so when the opportunity came to taste it via a bottle split I jumped at it. Here now are those notes. Continue reading

Balblair 10, 2009 (The Whisky Barrel)


Earlier in the month I began a series of reviews of recent exclusive casks from the Whisky Barrel with a 10 year old Bunnahabhain from a first-fill oloroso hogshead. That one handily surpassed my low expectations. Here now is another 10 yo from a first-fill oloroso hogshead, this time a Balblair. Will this turn out to be as good? I can’t think of any recent sherry bomb Balblairs I’ve had. Anyway, let’s see.

Balblair 10, 2009 (59.4%; The Whisky Barrel; first-fill oloroso hogshead; from a bottle split)

Nose: Big sherry (raisins, orange peel, a metallic note) mixed in with roasted malt and some powdered ginger. As it sits a leafy note develops as well. Water brings out some plum sauce. Continue reading

Caol Ila 19, 1995 (Maltbarn)


I’m having a tough time summoning the energy to write stupid preambles to these reviews that were written a couple of weeks ago. Here is all I could manage for this one: this is a 19 yo Caol Ila distilled in 1995 and bottled by Maltbarn. Accurate!

Caol Ila 19, 1995 (52.8%; Maltbarn; from my own bottle)

Nose: Lemon and phenolic peat with olive brine running through it. In other words, quintessential Caol Ila. On the second sniff there are sweeter notes of cereals and vanilla behind the smoke and just a hint of gasoline. With a few drops of water the vanilla turns to cream and expands

Palate: The peat is in the lead here and there’s more tar than was indicated by the nose. Very nice texture at full strength and very approachable. With time the lemon and olive brine expand here as well and there’s some smouldering leaves in there with the tarry smoke. Water brings the pepper out earlier and it’s sweeter/creamier here too now, though the smoke and lemon are still the top notes. Better balance on the whole now. Continue reading

Pork and Beans II


One of my earliest recipes on the blog was this one for an Indian-style stew of pork and beans. Five years later, here is another. It is a simpler preparation than the previous but no less delicious. There are a number of similarities. Both use large white beans from Rancho Gordo. The first uses the very popular Royal Corona bean, this one uses the Large White Lima. The Large White Lima is a very underrated bean, in my opinion, if somewhat in the Royal Corona’s sizable shadow (I don’t mean to set up a Royal Corona backlash on account of its namesake.) You set the beans to cook simply with water and while they’re getting done you prepare the pork. When both are done, you add the pork to the beans, stir, cover and simmer for 10 minutes or so to let the flavours meld. You’re basically adding the pork as a sort of tadka to the beans. The pork itself in this recipe is made very simply, with very few ingredients, as a dry’ish curry. The combination of the pork and beans, however, is anything but basic: the flavour is complex and rich; and the whole is highly comforting. That’s a good thing at any time but especially in these times. Give it a go: you won’t regret it. Continue reading

Help Your Local Food and Drink Businesses


This is where a Twin Cities Metro restaurant report would usually go. I don’t have one today. We haven’t gone out to eat for more than a week and even if we had, what would be the point of my telling you about a meal you can’t actually go out to eat for god knows how long. Instead, let me be the 450th person to remind you that restaurants and bars are businesses that are particularly badly hit right now. Minnesota has joined the states that have mandated dining-in closures; social distancing recommendations and restrictions are in effect in most states that have not mandated closures yet. These closures and restrictions are highly necessary (let me also be the 45,000th person to tell you to help flatten the curve) but that doesn’t change the fact that the restaurant/bar business—precarious at the best of times—is going to take a huge beating; and that many restaurants and bars—including some of your favourites—may not come out on the other side. And restaurants and bars aren’t just businesses that give us pleasure, they’re also businesses that employ people, many of whom live precariously even when a pandemic is not in progress. Continue reading

Highland Park 27, 1984 (The Whisky Agency)

Well, friends, the pandemic is here. By “here” I mean Minnesota but really it is probably now wherever your “here” is. The time for denial and bravado, governmental and personal, is done. Now we have to all do our bit to restrict the pathways of infection and—also to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe: no one is immune.

Speaking of loved ones, the bottle I have a review of today was one of those I opened to mark my 50th birthday last month, all commemorating significant years in my life. I’ve already posted a review of the Glendronach distilled the year I left India for the US and the of the Springbank bottled the year our older son was born. This Highland Park was bottled the year our younger son was born. It is one of the oldest Highland Parks I’ve had and almost certainly the oldest bourbon cask Highland Park I’ve had. It was bottled by the Whisky Agency, in their very attractive “Bugs” label series. Continue reading