Laphroaig 13, 1998 (van Wees)


Let’s keep the peated-sherried thing going. Here is a review of a high-octane Laphroaig bottled by van Wees in the Netherlands in late 2011. As I mentioned in my review of yesterday’s Ledaig, the word on the street is that Signatory is the source of much of van Wees’ releases—and indeed the numbering convention of this cask seems to map onto that of Signatory’s Ledaig casks. That’s neither here nor there, I suppose. This came out at a time in 2011/2012 when there seemed to be a lot of 13 year old Laphroaig about. I’ve reviewed a few of them—see the bourbon cask releases from Archives and Malts of Scotland; and also  sherry cask releases from Kintra Whisky and yes, another van Wees. I really liked that other van Wees cask (700394 to this one’s 700348). I only have vague memories of this bottle, which I finished before starting the blog, and I think in my head I had run it together with the Kintra Whisky bottle, which I’d found a bit too rough. And so I’m curious to renew this one’s acquaintance (I’d saved a 6 oz sample from the top of the bottle, as had been my wont in those days). God knows there’s not as much indie Laphroaig available now and the price of sherried Laphroaig has risen sharply.  Continue reading

Ledaig 10, 2004 (Signatory)


On Friday I had a review of a heavily sherried Ledaig, an 11 yo from 2005. Here now is another heavily sherried Ledaig, a 10 yo from 2004. It is from the same series of casks of sherried Ledaigs that emerged a couple of years ago. Interestingly, despite having been distilled the previous year this has a higher cask number 900170 to the 2005’s 900162. A while ago I’d reviewed another of these 10 yo casks from 2004—that one was 900176. Now, I know that distilleries usually restart their cask numbering every year but it seems very coincidental that casks filled a year later, and in turn bottled a year later, should have numbers in the same range. The more likely explanation may be that these are Signatory’s cask numbers. They may have acquired a parcel of sherried Ledaigs from 2004 and 2005 and re-numbered them in this 900xxx series. It does appear from Whiskybase that all the 90014x, 90015x, 90016x and 90017x casks were either released by Signatory or outfits Signatory is said to be the source for (van Wees, LMDW). And they all seem to date from 2004 or 2005. Well, this may not be a very interesting mystery but if you do know the answer or have a better theory, please write in below.  Continue reading

The View from the Street (Hong Kong, December 2018)


Maybe you thought my previous slideshows of Hong Kong food markets (here and here) and so forth were excessive and uninteresting. In that case you will really love this slideshow of pictures I took on the streets over the rest of my week-long trip. There are more than 100 of them and none of them are of subjects of any broader significance other than the fact that they caught my (untalented) eye. One of the things I was really struck by in Hong Kong is the verticality of the city. Given the premium on land, buildings go up very tall and very narrow—rather vertiginously so in many cases. One of my favourites is an unremarkable building in Central which is just about a room thick (it’s the not only one of its kind that I saw). I also really like to take pictures of posters and ads on walls and that’s another major genre below. Also featured are the Ladies Market in Mong Kok and other markets and street scenes in Central. I’m putting these up for now without any captions—I’m in Bombay and busy taking unnecessary pictures here too; if any of these interest you, come back later to see what they’re of and where they’re from.  Continue reading

Ledaig 11, 2005 (Single Malts of Scotland)


On Wednesday I had a review of an excellent heavily peated, heavily sherried malt released in 2012 (the Elements of Islay Pl1); today I have a review of another heavily peated, heavily sherried malt, this one released in 2017. This was also bottled, under the Single Malts of Scotland label, by an outfit in the Whisky Exchange portfolio, the erstwhile Speciality Drinks, who are now known as Elixir Distillers. Apparently this is an autonomous entity; I think the Whisky Exchange shop may have its own releases as well that are not from Speciality Drinks/Elixir Distillers—please correct me if I’m wrong. I am a simple man and find all this hard to keep straight, which is why in my “categories” listing on the blog I just bung them all together under “The Whisky Exchange”. Technically, I suppose this is wrong as Speciality Drinks/Elixir Distillers are independent bottlers who supply to more stores than just the Whisky Exchange.

Anyway, this has been a fascinating introduction to this review, hasn’t it? I bet you could read a lot more about it, but it’s time to get to the whisky itself.  Continue reading

Tsim Chai Kee + Mak’s Noodle (Hong Kong, December 2018)

I leave Hong Kong today and so it’s time to finally post my first food report. I’ve been eating like a maniac ever since I arrived—literally, since I arrived: the first thing I did at the airport was eat dumplings at Crystal Jade. As I’m traveling alone on this trip—and as my friends in Hong Kong have busy lives—most of my meals during the days have been eaten solo. And one of the genres that I have been hitting up a lot is one that we could not really do as a family on our last trip in 2016: small establishments that dish out variations on noodle soup and wontons. It’s hard with a family because you invariably have to queue up, then you get seated at very cramped tables, probably with strangers and you’re expected to order and eat quickly, pay and fuck right off so the line can keep moving. With small kids all of this is a challenge. On my own though it’s been very easy.   Continue reading

Roadside Fruit and Veg in Hong Kong (December 2018)


On Sunday I posted a slideshow of images taken on walks around my hotel on my first day in Hong Kong. This may have led you to believe that there would be a separate report for every day after that as well. But when not in meetings, I’ve spent most of my time walking around the city and taking photographs rather than posting them to the blog. But as they pile up in my folders I remember that I’m not yet done posting reports on my trip to Scotland in the summer; and so faced with the prospect of reporting on this trip for the next two years, I’m going to try to speed it up a bit. Accordingly, here is a slideshow of pictures of fruit and veg taken at roadside markets and stalls. Hopefully this will mollify the vegetarians among my readers who may have found the meat pictures in the previous Hong Kong post to be a bit much.  Continue reading

Port Charlotte Pl1 (Elements of Islay)


The malts bottled by the Whisky Exchange in their Elements of Islay line have been of a uniformly high quality—at least, all the ones I have had have been very good. I remember the very first Lagavulin, Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Caol Ila in the series were particularly good (I reviewed those in the early months of the blog: Ar1, Lg1, Lp1, CI1). They were also quite reasonably priced. Since then, as with the whisky market in general, the prices of these releases has risen sharply, making it harder to justify the value of what is after all NAS whisky. Don’t get me wrong, I still buy these when I get the opportunity—now that TWE no longer ships to Minnesota, that opportunity is when I am in the UK—but I am conscious of the fact that I am inclined to cut the Whisky Exchange some slack for their NAS releases that I do not extend to big whisky companies. Anyway, here is my review of the first Port Charlotte released in this series. Unlike the 1s linked above, this was bottled from a sherry cask. It was released in 2012 and I have no idea why I waited six years to open it. I’ve not had any of the others in the series; the Pl2 was from rum casks and the next two from wine casks, and I passed. I see that the Pl5, released this year, is from a bourbon hogshead. I’ll keep an eye out for that one. Anyway, let’s see what this is like.  Continue reading

Midtown Global Market (Minneapolis)


The Midtown Global Market was the first place I ever ate at in Minnesota. This was a little less than a year before we moved to Minnesota, and just a few months after it opened in May, 2006. I was visiting St. Paul on work and my friend Mike and I drove over to check it out. I got some wonderful octopus tacos from La Sirena Gorda and Mike got tacos from Los Ocampo’s counter, if I remember correctly. It was a vibrant, fun space and it made an impression on me that was quite different from the image of Minnesota I’d put together from my years in the western US. (This impression was bolstered later that weekend at a meal at Saigon in St. Paul.) A few months later we had to decide whether to remain in Colorado or make a jump to Minnesota, and this impression of a culturally diverse Minnesota helped make up our minds—it also probably didn’t hurt that it was very warm in the Twin Cities during my visit in early November, 2006.

Well, November isn’t always warm here, and La Sirena Gorda, alas, is long gone—as are some of our other early favourites there—but the Midtown Market is still going strong, with new food outlets and merchants who are excellent in their own right; indeed, it seems very entrenched now in the local scene. Here is a quick look at it for the benefit of those who have somehow never been, or have not been in a while. Continue reading

Loch Lomond 12


Loch Lomond, a curiosity among Scottish distilleries, has not really been on my radar much. Yes, they make a wide range of malts with all their different still setups (which is what makes them a curiosity) but you can seemingly count on the fingers of one one hand the number of these that anyone has ever gotten very excited about. An Old Rhosdhu 24, 1979 from Murray McDavid was the first one I had that I really liked but that was an independent. The official releases were seemingly solidly in the “ugh” to “eh” range for most reviewers. But then earlier this year I drank this Croftengea—one of Loch Lomond’s peated variants—bottled by the distillery for The Whisky Exchange and I just loved it (see that review for a rundown of Loch Lomond’s variations). Unlike the Old Rhosdhu it was young and seemed likely to better represent the distillery’s current output. And so when I saw the current version of the Loch Lomond 12 for <$30 in a Minneapolis store in early November, I picked up a bottle. A 12 yo malt at 46% and for less than $30—it seemed like a good bet. I cracked it open that night and liked it enough to make it the “fruity whisky” pick for the updated version of my “The Well-Rounded Single Malt Bar” list. Here’s why.  Continue reading

Hong Kong, Day 1 (December 2018)


After an exhausting day of travel that included flight delays and damaged baggage before I even got on my 15 hour flight from LAX, I finally arrived at Hong Kong on Saturday morning, feeling a bit like damaged goods myself. And extra surly as—unlike in 2016—I’m here by myself this time; and unlike some people, I do not like traveling alone.

I was greeted by a massive, snaking line at immigration but it moved surprisingly quickly. Emerging with my suitcase (thankfully not beat up further), I made a beeline for Crystal Jade and applied some excellent dumplings to my exhaustion. Then aboard the Airport Express train to Hong Kong Station and a quick cab ride to my friend’s home up in the Mid-Levels, to wait out the time till my check-in at the hotel. Drank some masala chai, called my hotel—who were kind enough to give me an early check-in—and cabbed down to Central, to Wellington St. It was lunch time and so setting my bags down, I ventured forth.  Continue reading

Coming Soon…


By the time you read this I will hopefully be in Hong Kong. I’ll be here a week on work and then in Bombay for another week on work. And then on to Delhi for a couple of weeks to see family and do some research before returning to the US in late December, and then finally back to Minnesota in early January. It’s going to be exhausting but hopefully also fun and almost certainly with a lot of very good eating. Though I’m taking some samples with me to be assured of good whisky, I’m not planning to be doing much reviewing on the trip. But I do have a large backlog of completed reviews that will publish on a regular schedule through the month. I have more reviews ready than I plan to post so if any of these catch your eye more than others, write in below and I’ll move them to the top of the stack. In addition to the whisky reviews you can expect quick reports from restaurants that sling noodle soup and dumplings in Hong Kong and then Goan and coastal food in Bombay.  Continue reading

Springbank 12 CS, Batch 13


After starting the month with a review of a Karuizawa and then going on a run of whiskies above the age of 25, it is time for me to return to reality. What better way to do that than with a bottle from one of the most down-to-earth distilleries in Scotland, still producing whisky that can hold its own with that made in more storied eras. Yes, Springbank remains the gold standard in the world of single malt whisky. And the Springbank 12 cask strength, released in batches, is one of the most consistently good Springbanks there is. Lots of sherry influence without being a sherry bomb and lots of earthy, briny notes that remind you which distillery it is from. I have previously reviewed Batch 7 and Batch 14 (spoiler alert: I liked them both a lot). Here now is Batch 16 Batch 13 (see below), which is what seems to be currently available in Minnesota. By the way, the labels don’t say anything about batches. To find out which batch the bottle you are staring at is from you have to make note of the abv and then go to Whiskybase and see which batch that corresponds to. But unless you’re looking for a specific batch you should know that you are unlikely to be disappointed by any batch of the Springbank 12 CS.  Continue reading

Highlander Inn (Craigellachie, Scotland)


Back to Scotland, and back to a legendary whisky spot in the Speyside: The Highlander Inn in Craigellachie. We arrived here at the end of a long day. We’d left Edinburgh in the morning, in a convoy with our friends and their kids, and stopped for a few hours at Glamis Castle (lovely tour, lovely gardens). We then drove north to the Speyside via Aberdeen. We chose to go on the big highways because, well, when there’s the option of large lanes in Scotland, you take that option. The plan was to stop at Strathisla briefly on the way to the house we’d rented for the weekend in Mulben and then repair to the Highlander Inn for dinner. Alas, as I once said to Robert Burns, the best-laid plans o’ mice and men gang aft agley, and we found ourselves sitting in a horrendous traffic jam outside Aberdeen, caused by an even more horrendous accident that we eventually passed (an entirely incinerated car in the middle of the highway). There was no question of a distillery stop and so we high-tailed it directly to dinner. The sat-nav had us get off the A96 and onto the A920 right past Huntly and this brought us by some nice country roads up to Craigellachie. The roads were narrow, yes, but without the sheer cliffs and falls to the water by Loch Ness, on Skye and on the west coast to make things tense it was a very pleasant drive. And very nice to pass by signs for distilleries all along the way. There’s no doubt when you’re driving there that the Speyside is the heart of whisky making in Scotland.  Continue reading

Balblair 38, 1966


Here’s one last entry in my almost month-long series of reviews of ever-older malts, a series in which I have reviewed as many older malts as Serge reviews every Wednesday.

This is by some distance the oldest Balblair I have ever had, one that was distilled before I was born and which was bottled before I began to get seriously interested in single malt whisky. At the time that this whisky was bottled older malts were not yet hard to come by, and were available at prices that seem downright reasonable in comparison to today’s market. When I first ‘began to get serious about the hobby a few years later I had neither enough knowledge, money nor foresight to consider buying any of these whiskies. Thankfully, I was lucky to encounter a number of people on the WhiskyWhiskyWhisky forum whose far greater experience and knowledge of whisky was to be an invaluable guide. One of these excellent people, Nick Ramsey, once sent me a sample of his favourite Port Ellen, all the way from England, just because I was dithering over my first-ever Port Ellen purchase, wondering if the distillery’s reputation was warranted. And for good measure he threw this sample of a 38 yo Balblair into the box as well. The WhiskyWhiskyWhisky forums—like most forums on food and drink—are these days sadly moribund, and Nick hasn’t been sighted there much of late, but I want to take this opportunity to not just thank him for this sample but to toast the generosity of so many older whisky geeks who so happily helped MUCH MUCH YOUNGER people like myself into greater knowledge and experience.  Continue reading