Brora 25, 7th Release


Speaking of Highlands peat, here’s a Brora. While Ardmore is in the eastern Highlands (some would even say the Speyside), Brora/Clynelish is located in the northern Highlands, well north of Inverness (though not quite as far north as Wick). The old Brora distillery, shut down in 1983 along with so many others, is, as you probably know, in the process of being revived (along with Port Ellen). We stopped at Clynelish on the way to Orkney in 2018 but didn’t have time to do a hard hat tour of the Brora premises. Somehow I don’t think I’ll get the opportunity again. I also don’t think I’m going to have too many more opportunities to drink the whisky produced by the old Brora (which was itself the old/original Clynelish distillery) as it’s now all priced well above my pay grade. I have a few samples and one unopened indie bottle left and that’ll be it. So it goes.

This is an official release. It was the seventh, I think, in Diageo’s special releases of Brora, and the first and only 25 year old released in the series. From what I can tell it has a more up and down reputation than the 30 year olds released before and after it. I’m curious to see what I make of it or if I find it appreciably different than the 30 yo 5th and 6th releases that I have reviewed. Continue reading

Demi (Minneapolis)


Demi is Chef Gavin Kaysen’s third fine dining restaurant (I think) in the Twin Cities metro. He made waves a few years ago when he returned from a long and successful stint cooking in New York to open Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis. That restaurant was an immediate sensation, receiving rave reviews and becoming almost immediately one of the hottest tickets in town. We’ve eaten there twice and enjoyed both meals (here and here). Indeed, we’d say that it is the best more or less traditional fine dining restaurant we’ve eaten at in the Twin Cities (this includes the long-gone La Belle Vie, which we found rather overrated on our one visit there). Kaysen’s second restaurant, Bellecour opened in Wayzata a few years later. It presents a menu in a more straight-ahead French bistro tradition (we have not eaten there yet). Demi, which opened in early 2019, offers a third expression yet of Kaysen’s cuisine. Continue reading

Ardmore 10, 2009 (Old Particular for K&L)


Oh no, it’s another peated whisky. For a change, however, it’s a very recently released whisky and in fact it may still be available—yes, I checked, it is. It’s another from K&L’s recent parcel of exclusives from the Laing companies. As you know, some of my reviews from this batch have endeared me even more to K&L’s staff. What can I say? I’m easy to love.

Anyway, Ardmore: usually good, and usually not very much of it available from the distillery’s owners. Last year I reviewed a 22 year old released to mark the 20th anniversary of the Old Malt Cask line (another Laing property) and really liked it. This one is about the half the age of that one. It’s from a barrel which might bode some risk of over-oaking—barrels are smaller than hogsheads—but it’s a refill barrel. I’m a fan of Ardmore’s brand of fruit and highland peat. Let’s hope it’s on display here. Continue reading

The Categorical Eat Pham (Delhi, January 2020)


We’re coming to the end of our stay in Delhi on this trip (we’ve been here for almost two weeks). Coming “home” to Delhi has become progressively alienating in the 26+ years since I left for graduate school in the US. For the first  few years it was like falling back easily into a mother tongue you don’t speak in your day-to-day life. After that as the Indian economy liberalized and the mediascape and urban landscape began to transform radically, trips “home” began to feel increasingly foreign: familiar roads and places became harder to map, my old points of reference were no longer reliable. And, of course, as my life in the US—work, marriage, children—became more established the question of which was “home” became more blurred. This is, of course, a familiar immigrant story. Though there is a great deal of class privilege encoded in the fact that I have been able to be a regular visitor to India (for weeks at a time) ever since I left, I don’t want to claim that there’s anything exceptional about this sort of thing. But for me this trip has been different. Continue reading

Longrow 14, 2010 Release


Let’s make it two weeks in a row of reviews of peated whiskies. This also rounds out a week of reviews with terrifically low utility. On Wednesday I reviewed a Caol Ila sold exclusively at the distillery in 2017; on Monday I reviewed a Port Ellen released in 2011. Today I have a Longrow 14 that was released in 2010. The last Longrow 14 I reviewed was from the 2011 release, so I appear to be going backwards in time. Someday I hope to review one released less than nine years ago (I don’t seem to have any in the stash). If you’ve had a more recent release perhaps you can tell me if my notes on the 2010 and 2011 releases track with what the 14 yo is like now. Okay, on to the review!

Longrow 14, 2010 Release (46%; from a sample from a friend)

Nose: The usual Longrow goodness. That is to say, sweet, mineral peat along with a bit of coal smoke and below all of that lemon and salt. The lemon gets more preserved as it sits and there’s some savoury gunpowder. A few drops of water brightens the lemon up a bit. Continue reading

2019, A Year in Books IV (Nikki)


Here now is the last in my “2019, A Year in Books” series. I say “my series” but, of course, I have outsourced this task to friends. Here once again is the premise:

“I asked four old friends from graduate school who read more than anyone else I know to make a list of 5-7 books they read in 2019 and would recommend to people for any reason. It doesn’t have to be a list of books published in 2019 and it doesn’t need to be a “Favourite Books of 2019” or “Best Books of 2019” list. I asked them to avoid making their lists heavy on usual suspects but left the rest entirely up to them.”

Here are the first three lists again: Gio, Pete and Mike. The last list is by my friend Nikki, who I’ve also known from my earliest days in the US. In fact, Gio, Mike, Nikki and I were in a seminar on contemporary American fiction in my first term in graduate school. I’m not going to say anything smart alecky about Nikki because I’ve been terrified of her ever since I met her. In fact, let’s just agree her list is best. Continue reading

Caol Ila Distillery Exclusive, 2017


A few weeks ago I reviewed the Lagavulin Distillery Exclusive from 2017. Here now is the Caol Ila Distillery Exclusive from the same year. (Neither of these were “fill your own” casks”.) I visited Caol Ila as well in June 2017—as with the Lagavulin exclusive, I don’t believe I saw this on the shelves at the distillery either. The Lagavulin was made in a somewhat complicated manner, involving moscatel casks (which used to be/is the cask type used in the Caol Ila Distiler’s Edition). I’m not sure, however, how this one is made—Whiskybase does not say. It would be fitting if this involved PX casks (which is what the Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition is “finished” in). I don’t mean to give Diageo any ideas for future releases though; on the other hand, if something like this starts happening I hope you will be willing to serve as witnesses in my intellectual property infringement  suit against them. Okay, enough folly! Let’s get to the whisky itself and see what it’s like.
Continue reading

Krungthep Thai (St. Paul, MN)


I have reviewed a Twin Cities restaurant named Krungthep Thai before. This both isn’t and is that restaurant. Confusing, I know. That Krungthep Thai was located on Nicollet Ave. in Minneapolis—the so-called “Eat Street”; the real Eat Street, of course, is University Ave. in St. Paul. It closed some years ago and Khun Nai Thai (which I have also reviewed) opened in its space. This Krung Thep Thai then popped up on Rice Street. in St. Paul a couple of years later. Both were/are satellite locations of Bangkok Thai Deli, which sits, along with On’s Kitchen, atop the Twin Cities Thai food scene. Now, while we liked our meal at Krungthep Thai mostly fine, we found it to be an inferior facsimile of Bangkok Thai Deli. For this reason, I was reluctant to go try this new incarnation. But curiosity and greed finally overcame my hesitation. Accordingly we descended on them last month with friends we eat out with often. Here is what we found. Continue reading

Port Ellen, Pe5 (Elements of Islay)


The fifth Port Ellen entry in the Whisky Exchange’s Elements of Islay series was released in 2011, I think. And it may have been the last of the Port Ellens released in that series—at least Whiskybase does not list a Pe6. I’ve been sitting on this sample since early 2012. I acquired this sample through a rare act of honesty on my part: I had placed an order for a Karuizawa from TWE (this was back when Karuizawas could be acquired for <$200) and due to a glitch in their systems was charged only a fraction of the price. I alerted Tim Forbes who was then doing web stuff for TWE, and who was also a member of the then-very active Whisky Whisky Whisky forums. He confirmed that I was not in fact a winner of a special lottery and, as appreciation for my letting him know, threw a few fancy samples in with the order, one of which was this one. Why it has then taken me almost 8 years to drink it, I couldn’t tell you. Anyway, being released in 2011 it is at least 28 years old (Port Ellen closed in 1983) and probably a bit older. It’s also from a sherry cask, as three of the other four Elements of Islay Pe releases had been as well. It was very well received at the time. I, of course, did not buy a bottle because I thought it was horrendously overpriced. Cut to the present where the multiplier for any Port Ellen released in 2011 is about 10x. Anyway, let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading

Chana Masala


This is a dish prepared in two ways that are unusual for me. First, it uses non-Rancho Gordo chickpeas. That is because this uses kala chana or black chickpeas (though in practice they’re usually a dark brown). These smaller, darker chickpeas have been eaten in India much longer than the relatively recently arrived garbanzo bean or Kabuli chana—which name likely refers to its direction of entry. Kala chana has an earthier flavour and denser texture than Kabuli chanaa and maintains its shape as it cooks. Rancho Gordo does not currently sell kala chana (though I have heard a rumour this may change in the near future). It is, however, easily found in South Asian groceries and also on Amazon. Non-Rancho Gordo beans means a longer stovetop cooking time but if you use a pressure cooker—as I do—this is not an issue. Continue reading

Lagavulin “Jazz Festival 2017”


The Jazz Festival series is Lagavulin’s second annual series of special releases, bottled to commemorate the Islay Jazz festival every autumn. As I noted in my review of the 2015 Jazz Festival release, this series doesn’t seem to inspire the mania of the summer Feis Ile releases. This is doubtless due to the unpredictable vagaries of the collectors’ market which is anything but rational. Certainly, I liked the 2015 Jazz Festival release a lot. That bodes well for this 2017 release which, like the 2015, is comprised of spirit matured in refill American oak hogsheads and refill European oak butts. This is not the standard regimen for these releases: the intervening 2016 release—which I picked up a bottle of at the distillery in 2017—was matured only in American oak. In practice, however, the 2015 release did not betray much, if any, palpable sherry influence; I’m curious to see if this will be any different in that regard. Let’s see. Continue reading

2019, A Year in Books III (Mike)


Here is the third entry in my “2019, A Year in Books” series, a series I have very cleverly outsourced to friends. Here again is what I said about this series when introducing Gio and Pete’s lists last week and the week before last:

“I asked four old friends from graduate school who read more than anyone else I know to make a list of 5-7 books they read in 2019 and would recommend to people for any reason. It doesn’t have to be a list of books published in 2019 and it doesn’t need to be a “Favourite Books of 2019” or “Best Books of 2019” list. I asked them to avoid making their lists heavy on usual suspects but left the rest entirely up to them.”

And so to the third list, from my friend Mike, who I’ve known pretty much since my first days in the US in 1993. There’s a story I could tell you about Mike and me and a beef curry, a story which could be read allegorically; but I will leave that for another day. Mike is one of the funniest and most evil people I know. He’s also one of the kindest people I know. Continue reading

Bowmore 21, 1996 (Old Malt Cask for K&L)


Let’s continue with the review of the recent K&L exclusive casks. And no, they’re not paying me for all this free, extended coverage of their whiskies. For that matter, they don’t even appear to be enjoying it. Ah well, can’t please everyone.

Speaking of not pleasing everyone, Bowmore is also a distillery that has not always pleased everyone. This is mostly due to folly on the part of the fraction of everyone who have not been pleased. Bourbon cask Bowmore from the early 1990s on is usually a very good proposition. So much so that I’ve even really liked a K&L exclusive cask in that vein. Last year they had an OMC 22 year old that I purchased on Sku’s recommendation while in Los Angeles and loved to the tune of 91 points. I won’t need this to be that good to make me happy but I will also not object if it is. Let’s see. Continue reading

Grand Szechuan, 2019 (Bloomington, MN)


Here is my annual report from meals eaten at Grand Szechuan, the restaurant we eat at more often than any other in the Twin Cities metro. It is probably our family’s favourite restaurant in the area, one we eat at over and over again without repeating too many dishes from their voluminous menu. Twin Cities restaurant reviewers often make inflated claims for the quality of our restaurants relative to those in major cities. Oddly, Grand Szechuan never seems to be brought up in these conversations—odd, because in our opinion it is the one restaurant in the area serving any kind of Asian cuisine that would hold its own in Los Angeles. I’m not saying it would be in the top tier of Sichuan restaurants in Los Angeles but it would be a successful restaurant (and in fact their menu includes things we have not seen at our favourite restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley). Of course, I am referring here only to their Sichuan menu (which is the bulk of their menu). I have no idea what their American Chinese offerings are like; they’re probably good but they’re not the reason to go here. Continue reading