Lous Pibous 20, 1996, Cask 187 (L’Encantada)


L’Encantada appear to be the major independent bottlers of Armagnac these days, or at least the ones who thrill the hearts of whisky geeks the most. They are a group of brandy enthusiasts themselves who some years ago began to purchase and bottle casks of Armagnac from small producers in Gascony. You can read a little more about them on the K&L blog. (That write-up is by Sku, who now writes occasionally for K&L and who is also the source of this sample.) These Pibous releases established the L’Encantada reputation in the US, coming at a time when many American bourbon mavens were, if not making a move to Armagnac, beginning to drink it in a bigger way. There were a few of these Pibous casks selected by and bottled for a private group of brandy geeks; a small number of bottles from each cask made it to retail at K&L, who’d facilitated the sale (given the laws in the US, private citizens cannot purchase spirits directly from importers or distributors). Sku was a part of this group, I believe. Since then a number of other L’Encantada casks have hit the American market (see, for example, this one). Anyway, I’ve been meaning to taste and review these Pibous casks ever since Sku passed these samples on to me; here now are my notes on cask 187, a 20 yo distilled in 1996 and bottled at cask strength. Continue reading

Teaninich 29, 1983 (Signatory)


After Monday’s Game of Thrones Lagavulin 9 and yesterday’s not-very-sherried G&M Caol Ila 11, let’s make it three Diageo whiskies in a row. We go from the shores of Islay to the Highlands; from two iconic distilleries to one that is rather anonymous. Well, you might have said that about Glendullan as well, before Diageo made it part of the Singleton family and then assigned it to one of the Game of Thrones Houses (even if it’s only lame House Tully). No such recognition for Teaninich, who continue to produce large amounts of whisky for the group’s blends. As I say whenever I review a Teaninich, I have not had very much from this distillery. This is not the oldest Teaninich I’ve had (see this 39 yo bottled by Malts of Scotland); it is, however, the best Teaninich I’ve yet had. It was distilled a decade after that Malts of Scotland cask, in 1983, a year of major closures in the industry, and bottled three decades later by Signatory. My friend Pat brought this bottle to a tasting at our friend’s Rich’s place in St. Paul last November and it was a wonderful surprise. I can’t say how unlike other Teaninich of similar age and vintage it is but, thanks to Pat giving me a sample to take with me, I can tell you what it is like. Continue reading

Caol Ila 11, 2005 (Gordon & MacPhail)


Over the last decade and more Gordon & MacPhail have bottled a number of multi-cask vattings of 10-11 yo Caol Ila, many of them from sherry casks. Most have been well-received. I’ve liked most of the few I’ve had (see, example, this 10 yo, 1996), though there also have been some duds (see this 11 yo, 2000). I think this one, bottled in 2016, before Gordon & MacPhail’s livery changed, may be the first I’ve had from a vatting of four casks. I always wonder when something like this is released if one or two casks in the vatting might not have needed salvaging. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind you: a cask that might not be very interesting on its own can still work very well in a vatting, accentuating positive notes or even helping damp down some overbearing ones (anyone who has done a lot of home vatting knows this). The odd thing here is that these are said to have all been first-fill sherry butts but this is a rather light-coloured whisky. All American oak butts that held fino or manzanilla? Let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading

Grand Cafe II (Minneapolis)


I ate dinner at Grand Cafe in South Minneapolis almost 3 years ago and reviewed it then. I liked that meal fine—especially at the price—even though I noted that the restaurant had no particular identity. Not too long after that the identity of the restaurant changed entirely. The owners sold it and under new chefs Jamie Malone and Erik Anderson the restaurant moved in a haute and French direction. Not too long after that Anderson moved to the Bay Area to head the kitchen at Coi, leaving Malone solely in charge. The local reviews were strong when they were both involved and continued to be so after his departure. However, local reviews in the Twin Cities are always strong for high-end openings, especially from local darlings like Malone and Anderson—the local media had seemingly been waiting breathlessly for them to open a restaurant for a few years before their Grand Cafe debuts. Between our skepticism of local hype, the high prices and the fact that we’d not been particularly impressed by our meals at Sea Change when Malone was there, we weren’t in a huge hurry to go take the measure of the changes at the current incarnation of Grand Cafe. We did finally get there this past weekend, however, and I am now kicking myself for having waited that long. Yes, it was a very good dinner, probably the best high-end meal we’ve had in the Cities recently. Continue reading

Game of Thrones Whisky: House Lannister (Lagavulin)


So, it’s come to this. Yes, it has. Starting today, I will be reviewing one of Diageo’s Game of Thrones single malt releases every Monday after a new episode of the final season of the show. As there are only six episodes but eight of these whiskies, I will end with an all-Game of Thrones week after the finale. No, this is not being sponsored by Diageo or Game of Thrones. I scoffed at this marketing nonsense when it was first released (and available) but later when I had the opportunity to get 50 ml of each bottle from a split, I could not resist. So, here is my first review after a middling first episode.

What becomes obvious immediately is that nobody at Diageo’s marketing actually watches Game of Thrones or reads the books and/or that nobody at Game of Thrones marketing knows anything about whisky. Why? Well, because there is only one heavily-peated, smoky whisky in the lineup and they’ve not given it to House Targaryen, who you may remember have dragons and the habit of setting people and things on fire. Instead, the brain trust has seen fit to make the Lagavulin the Lannister whisky. This despite the fact that the Lannisters are associated with gold and one of the other whiskies in the lineup is the Cardhu Gold Reserve…which, of course, they’ve given to House Targaryen. Clerical error? Well, I guess we should just be happy they didn’t add a House Bolton release to the list as that might have meant having to drink a NAS Glenkinchie (“it’ll feel like you’re being flayed alive!”). I’m not very convinced by most of the other whisky/house pairings either—more on those later. Continue reading

Night+Market Sahm (Los Angeles, December 2018)


The original Night + Market opened in West Hollywood in 2010 (I think). I think it first flashed on our consciousness a few years later. We’d been planning on eating there ever since but somehow never got around to it—don’t feel too bad for us: we were mostly feeding our Thai food desires at Jitlada at the time. Somewhere in there they opened a second location in Silverlake (NIght + Market Song) but between menus that did not seem particularly kid-friendly and a no-reservations policy at Song, we never got around to it—it didn’t help that Luv2Eat opened in that period. Last year they opened their third location, Sahm, in Venice, and despite the fact that it’s the furthest of their outposts from our usual base of operations in Koreatown, that ended up being our first-ever Night+Market meal. We ate it as our last meal of 2018, in the early evening after a day spent with the kids on the beach and at the Santa Monica pier. I would love to say that our first Night+Market experience and our last meal of 2018 was great but, alas, it was not. That is not to say that it was bad; it was not bad, but it was, in our opinion, far from the quality of the best in Thai Town. Continue reading

Viva O Viva (Delhi, December 2018)


Nobody expects Delhi to have better Goan food than Bombay and you don’t have to look further than geography and demographics to see why. And I’m certainly not going to make that counter-intuitive and provocative claim here. The fact is Delhi barely has any Goan restaurants. However, on this trip to Bombay and Delhi I ate better Goan food in Delhi than I did in Bombay. I hasten to add here that when I speak of Goan food I am doing so in the stereotypical sense of the Christian food most associated with Goa. After all, Highway Gomantak is also a Goan restaurant and I’m not making any comparison with my meal there. No, it is to my meals at O Pedro that I am comparing my lunch at Viva O Viva and ruling in favour of the Delhi establishment. And this too should probably not be a surprise as Viva O Viva is the restaurant at Goa Niwas in Chanakyapuri, the official (very large) guesthouse of the Goa state government in Delhi. Continue reading

Enmore 25, 1992 (Golden Devil for K&L)


Yesterday I reviewed a 19 yo Golden Devil exclusive rum for K&L. That one was from Guadeloupe. For this review let’s leap over to Guyana and go up a few years in age. This is a 25 yo Enmore, referred to by some—and few less enthusiastically as the people selling it—as the Port Ellen of rum. I’m not really sure what that means. Enmore and Port Ellen are closed distilleries but so is Dallas Dhu; why is Enmore not the Dallas Dhu of rum? I demand answers! But seriously, you can’t expect me to get excited about something that’s not the Pappy of its category—Driscoll must have been slacking on the job that day.

The history of the Enmore distillery and of Guyanese rum in general is complicated. All the Guyanese distilleries were consolidated into one in the mid-1990s and even before that Enmore produced both column still and pot still rum. This particular release is a single cask of pot still rum and it was bottled at a whopping strength of 63%. I have, as it happens, had another 25 yo Enmore bottled for K&L—that one was from their less fancy Faultline label (is that still on the go?) but I liked it a fair bit. Will this be as good? Let’s see. Continue reading

Bellevue 19, 1998 (Golden Devil for K&L)


From Cognac to rum. This is another K&L selection and another sample from Sku. I know only a little more about rum than I do about Cognac and so I can tell you that Bellevue is a distillery in Guadeloupe (a word that is very hard to spell late at night) but I cannot tell you very much more than that. This was also bottled by Hunter Laing in their Golden Devil series—I think that’s the name used for their Kill Devil line in the US (is that because there’s an American producer named Kill Devil?). Anyway, I know nothing about the characteristics of Guadeloupean rum and so am curious to see what this is like. Let’s find out.

Bellevue 19 (59.7%; Golden Devil; from a sample from a friend)

Nose: A little blank at first but then there’s a pretty standard if muted dark rum profile laced with aniseed and an herbal character (sage?). As it sits it begins to open up with more caramel. Let’s see what water does. Not very much really—no interesting change to report. Continue reading

House of Curry III (Rosemount, MN)


The nice thing about reviewing restaurants on your own blog is that you can re-review places as you desire. Unlike the professionals, who never seem to go back to places already reviewed, we amateurs can return to check in on places, and we can do our (very) small part to continue to promote very deserving restaurants that remain under the radar or which, past initial, passing recognition, don’t get any push on social media from the usual boosters of the local scene. One such is House of Curry, the small but excellent Sri Lankan restaurant in Rosemount. I first reviewed them in 2014 and again last year.  And I am happy to report that in 2019 they are still around and still putting out excellent food. Though I am Indian (and Bengali) and they are Sri Lankan, their cooking is as close as I can get to the flavour of Indian home cooking in the Twin Cities and I enjoy their food more than that of any Indian restaurant in the metro—including Persis in Eagan, who I’d recently anointed the best Indian restaurant I’d eaten at in the area. Continue reading

Duodognon Napoleon II (for K&L)


Last week I had a review of a K&L exclusive Bowmore that I rather liked. May as well take that as a spur to do a week of reviews of K&L exclusives. And as that Bowmore was a bottle recommended by Sku, I might as well make it a week of K&L exclusives that I received samples of from Sku. First up is a Cognac. I know very little about Cognac—as I’ve said before—and so I cannot tell you anything about Duodognon (presumably the producer). I do know that the Napoleon designation means that the brandy is at least six years old. However, I cannot tell you why this is called Duodognon Napoleon II, though I’d guess the prosaic answer is that this is the second Duodognon Napoleon bottled by/for K&L. This was issued in 2016. Sku reviewed it then and seemed to like it: he said it was “nice” and he must have thought so: the review contains more than 10 words, a rarity for Sku. Anyway, I am looking forward to trying a younger Cognac, the two others I’ve reviewed so far having been a lot older. Continue reading

Holbox (Los Angeles, December 2018)


Well, I’m certainly not done with my reviews of meals in Delhi in December but thought I’d get started anyway with my reports from Los Angeles, where I met up with the missus and the brats after the end of my Delhi sojourn. As always, we ate out at least once a day. This was not our first meal out together on this trip but I want to start with it as I am writing this on a cloudy, damp Saturday in April and it feels good to recapture a bit of a much nicer Saturday morning in L.A in late December. And this meal at Holbox was one of our very favourite food outings.We spent the morning at the California Science Center—where you pay for all-day parking—popped out for lunch at Holbox, and then returned to spend the rest of the afternoon back at the Science Center and the African American Museum. A very good day. Continue reading

Smelt Fry at Ranchero Supper Club (Webster, MN)

We moved to Minnesota in 2007. It took us eight years to finally get around to eating lutefisk and only another four to finally go to not only our first fish fry but also to our first smelt fry. “What is a smelt fry?,” you might ask—particularly if you don’t live in Minnesota. Well, it’s a Minnesota tradition, albeit one that doesn’t stretch back further than the middle of the 20th century. Smelt are not native to the Great Lakes region and were not found here till 1946. (The story of the rise and fall of smelt in Lake Superior is a neat little allegory of human impact on nature.) The population is now far reduced from its peak but the smelt fry tradition remains and the catch in March/April is one of the harbingers of spring in Minnesota. Smelt are gathered up by the bucketful, fried and eaten by the handful. The major schisms seem to be between those who behead the fish and those who cook and eat ’em whole, and between those who batter and those who bread. For those without direct access to the tiny fish, smelt fries spring up in church basements and clubs and also in some restaurants. And it was to a restaurant we went, to Ettlin’s Ranchero Supper Club in Webster. Continue reading

Springbank 19, 1995 (for Dr. Jekyll’s Bar)


The last Springbank I reviewed was from a bourbon cask—the 11 yo Local Barley—and I liked it a lot. Here now is another official Springbank from a bourbon cask but one that’s almost twice the age of the previous. This was bottled in 2014 from a refill bourbon cask for Dr. Jekyll’s, a whisky bar in Oslo. I got this sample in a bottle split. I’m not sure how the person who had the bottle laid his hands on it, though I assume it was at auction. Only 100 bottles were apparently released for general sale and disappeared in a matter of hours. I do not know what the price charged for it then was; I’m pretty sure it would have been much lower than the current going rate for cask strength Springbanks. The prices asked for recent independent Springbanks have been eye-watering indeed and official cask strength releases of a lower age in the US are no less aggressively priced these days. Anyway, let’s see what this is like. Continue reading