Clynelish, Distillery Only (2008 Release)


Clynelish is another of Diageo’s iconic distilleries from which very few official expressions are available. There’s the always reliable 14 yo and a Distiller’s Edition—which sees that 14 yo “finished” in oloroso casks, and which is not as easily found in the US as the Lagavulin and Talisker Distiller’s Editions. That’s pretty much it. Diageo have not yet gotten around to releasing a regular NAS Clynelish, though one such did come out as part of their annual Special Release collection a couple of years ago. This one is an official release but when released in 2008, it was only available at the distillery. It is an NAS bottle—-back in 2008 nobody got exercised about NAS releases—and I have no idea how old it is or is rumoured to be in reality. (I purchased the bottle at auction in the UK a while ago.) I’m not sure if Clynelish regularly releases “distillery only” bottles. If all goes according to plan, I might stop at Clynelish in June and I guess I might take a look and see. For now here’s my review of an exclusive from a decade ago.  Continue reading

Caol Ila 20, 1996 (Montgomerie’s)


Here is the second of three simul-reviews this month with Michael K. of Diving for Pearls of whiskies that were bottled as exclusives for Total Wine (and here now is his review). Our first was last week’s Glen Ord 18, also bottled by Montgomerie’s. This Caol Ila—which rounds out a week of Islay reviews—is a bit older. The bottle cost $125; I’m not sure if it’s still around—I didn’t notice it at the store I purchased it from when I was in there again briefly earlier this week. Even though this is at 46% and not cask strength, it does seem like a fair price for a 20 year old peated Islay whisky—there are certainly older Caol Ilas from other independents that are going for a lot more in the US; and next Friday we’ll have a simul-review of a younger Laphroaig whose list price was almost $100 more.

A good price relative to age then, but what is it like in the glass?  Continue reading

“Steamed” Red Snapper with Ginger and Soy Sauce


Before lunch at Ichiddo Ramen last week we popped into Shuang Hur—the large East Asian market a couple of blocks away on University Avenue in St. Paul. We stop in there from time to time, mostly in search of whole fish that aren’t available in mainstream American markets—think anything with heads still attached—and, in particular, mackerel. On this occasion, however, it was some very fresh-looking whole red snappers that caught my eye. I picked the smallest one they had (still pretty large), had them pack it in a bag of ice and headed off to lunch (they also had some Indian mackerel, and I picked up a couple of pounds of those too). Two days later I cooked it for lunch, improvizing my way towards a dish we really enjoy at Grand Szechuan. The result was not identical but it was very good. And it’s very easy too.  Continue reading

Lagavulin 12 CS, 2016 Release


After a disappointing special release Bunnahabhain on Monday let’s move on to another special release from elsewhere on Islay. The Lagavulin 12 Cask Strength is a fixture on Diageo’s annual special release slate, and it is also always one that is guaranteed to be excellent—unlike, say, Ardbeg’s annual releases (see, for example, this year’s Grooves). I’ve recently reviewed the 2017 release and in the past I’ve reviewed the 2009, the 2010, the 2011, the 2012 and the 2013. Here now is my review of the 2016 release, which was also part of Lagavulin’s commemoration of its 200th anniversary. I opened it a month ago for my local group’s March tasting and it was very popular—though I think it might have been beaten by an Amrut Peated CS for overall honours on the night. I’ve been drinking the bottle down steadily since. These notes were taken at the halfway mark but I can tell you it’s been remarkably consistent as the level goes down.  Continue reading

Ichiddo Ramen (St. Paul)

Here is my second report on ramen in the Twin Cities. The first was of UniDeli, the quick service counter in the middle of the excellent United Noodles store in Minneapolis. Today I move across town to the St. Paul location of Ichiddo Ramen on University Avenue. They currently have thrree Twin Cities locations—the others are in Minneapolis—with more set to open in Roseville, Eden Prairie and Maple Grove. (Interestingly, they also have an outlet in Las Vegas.) I’m not sure which of the Twin Cities locations is the original but they all seem to have the same menu. They were recommended to me by a friend in response to my appeal, at the end of my UniDeli write-up, for more Twin Cities ramen recommendations. Accordingly, when I had to be in the vicinity last week for a spot of bidness we made plans to meet up there. Both our partners needed little arm-twisting to accompany us and between us we sampled enough for me to be able to say that I have a decent sense of their quality. That quality, I thought, is better than at UniDeli.  Continue reading

Bunnahabhain 14, 2003, PX Finish


I have not reviewed an official Bunnahabhain in a while—not since the 25 yo, almost two years ago—and this recent special release seems like as good a choice as any for a return. It was released late last year and has been very well received online. It goes without saying in our era of hype, that it all disappeared very quickly.

As per the distillery, this was matured for 11 years in ex-bourbon casks and then transferred to first-fill Pedro Ximinez sherry casks for another three years—which I would say would put it in “double maturation” rather than “finish” territory. I can’t remember if I’ve had, let alone reviewed, any other Bunnahabhains that involved PX casks but I’m intrigued. Bunnahabhain’s spirit plays well with sherry casks, and in theory, at least, the richer, sweeter PX character should be a good match as well. Let’s see if that indeed proves to be the case.  Continue reading

Glen Ord 18, 1997 (Montgomerie’s)


It’s been a while since Michael K. and I did a simultaneous review—in fact, I think, back then Sku may have been blogging for himself and not a liquor store; seems like so long ago now! Anyway, here is the first of three simul-reviews this month with Michael. We’ll be posting them on Fridays. They’re all of whiskies that, I believe, are/were exclusives for Total Wine. This Glen Ord and a Caol Ila 20 (next Friday) were bottled by Montgomerie’s, a brand I’ve not see anywhere except in Total Wine. The third, a Laphroaig 18 (the 27th), was bottled by Berry Bros. & Rudd, and while it doesn’t say anywhere on the label that it is a Total Wine exclusive, I do believe it was listed at the store I purchased these bottles from as a “Spirits Direct” selection, which is a Total Wine thing. By the way, I know nothing about Montgomerie’s other than that their releases are sold at Total Wine, but after purchasing these bottles for a split I coordinated, I noticed that the Montgomerie’s bottles are identical in shape to the distinctive Berry Bros. & Rudd tall bottles. Just a coincidence? Or are they in fact one of BB&R’s private selection lines? If you can confirm or deny, please write in below. As with all Montgomerie’s releases—as far as I’ve noticed—this is at 46%.  Continue reading

Springbank 14, 2002, Bourbon Wood


It has been seven months since my last Springbank review. Well, less than two if you want to split hairs and count my last Longrow review. Either way, it’s been too long. My previous review of a Springbank proper was of a single 15 yo rum cask bottled for The Nectar in Belgium. This one is slightly younger at 14 years of age, involves far more casks—none of them ex-rum—and was available worldwide; indeed, at the time of my typing it’s still available in Minnesota. A whole bunch of fresh and refill bourbon barrels were vatted for a release of 9000 bottles. Springbank clearly loves that number: if I recall correctly, the excellent Madeira release in the US from some years prior also involved 9000 bottles or so. Barrels, being smaller than hogsheads, involve far greater wood contact—and given that some proportion of the barrels were fresh (though how long the previous occupants had spent in them is unknown), there’s a good chance of quite a bit of American oak character coming through in this malt. Let’s see if that’s actually the case.  Continue reading

Tea House II (Minneapolis)


Our first visit to Tea House in Minneapolis was almost three years ago. In my review of that meal I noted that while it was fine on the whole, nothing about it made it worth driving 20 more minutes each way over going to Grand Szechuan. However, after our recent return to Szechuan in Roseville, I figured we should give Tea House another try too—especially as occasional commenter, Jim Grinsfelder always speaks highly of them. Well, we went back a few weekends ago with most of our regular eating-out crew. And I am very happy to say that we liked this meal more than our first. Read on to see what we ate.  Continue reading

Oban Little Bay


Here is the last entry in my quick Oban roundup. On Wednesday I reviewed the Oban 14, and was just about whelmed by it. On Friday I reviewed the Oban Distillers Edition and was somewhat underwhelmed by it. Will the NAS offering from the distillery be the one that gets me to the over? Anything is possible.

I’m not sure when the Little Bay was launched—2014? 2015?—or what its story is (all NAS whisky these days has a story). I used to think that its name was redundant—like “chai tea”—as Oban means “Little Bay”. But it turns out that Oban actually means “Little Bay of Caves” (see the picture of the label from my review of the DE). I guess this means we can someday expect another NAS named Oban Caves. It’ll be extra dark and maybe it’ll be sold to us as being especially good on the rocks. I don’t mean to give anyone any ideas.  Continue reading

Oban Distillers Edition, 2003-2017


After Wednesday’s review of the 2017 release of the Oban 14 (which I was just about whelmed by) here is my review of the 2017 release of the Oban Distillers Edition. As these—unlike the regular 14 yo—carry vintage statements, I am able to tell you that it was distilled in 2003. I have a bit of a spotty history with Diageo’s various Distillers Edition releases, which are basically the regular entry-level age-stated malt + a couple of months in various wine casks. Only the Lagavulin DE, which “finishes” the phenolic 16 yo in sweet PX casks, has consistently done it for me (here and here). I’ve previously also reviewed the 2011 release of the Talisker DE—I didn’t care for that one very much. In general, most of the Distillers Edition releases I’ve tried have seemed to drown the idiosyncratic qualities of the base malt in whatever wine cask the finish has been done in. In this case, the profile of the Oban 14 should theoretically be a good fit with the Montilla fino cask finish. Let’s see if that turns out to be the case.  Continue reading

UniDeli (Minneapolis)


United Noodles is a Twin Cities institution. For those of you not in the Twin Cities, it is a pan-Asian grocery store that stocks a large portion of what a home cook looking to make Japanese, Chinese or Korean food at home might need—and their South Asian selection will get you by as well. From vegetables not sold at regular groceries to skin-on pork belly and fish with their heads still on, from a variety of dried mushrooms to a variety of dried chiles, United Noodles is as close as you can get to a one-stop shop for stocking a pan-Asian pantry. Of course, there are stores dedicated to Korean (Dong Yang), Vietnamese and Hmong (Shuang Hur), and South Asian (a whole bunch off Central Ave. in Northeast Minneapolis, or TBS Mart in Richfield) food but United Noodles is where you can shop for most of what you need of most of those cuisines (plus Thai). And at UniDeli, the quick service counter at the center of the store, you can grab a pretty decent lunch as well, whether you are buying anything else or no.  Continue reading

Oban 14


I began the month and week with a review of a stunt whisky: Ardbeg Grooves, the 2018 edition of Ardbeg’s annual special release. Today I have a review of an altogether more classic malt—one that is always available and has been available for a long time: the Oban 14. It was recently brought to my attention that I have not yet reviewed a single Oban. This is not entirely my fault as there are very few Obans one could review. Until recently, this 14 yo and a sherry-finished Distillers’ Edition were the only Obans that were easily found (no indie releases that I can think of)—there’s a 18 yo as well, but it’s a more limited release (and in a rare twist, I believe it’s a US exclusive). A couple of years ago an inevitable NAS offering, “Little Bay”, joined the regular line-up; but unlike with Talisker, Diageo has not yet made that line-up mushroom further. If you’re in Oban you can go to the distillery and try your luck with the distillery exclusive, but here in the US we only have three or four Obans to choose from. To make up for my neglect of the distillery, I’m going to review most of these in succession. Today, the 14 yo; on Friday, the Distillers’ Edition; and on Monday, “Little Bay”. In one fell swoop I will go from having reviewed no Obans to having reviewed almost all available Obans.  Continue reading

Ardbeg Grooves, Committee Release


In which I start the month with a timely’ish review. The foolishly named Ardbeg Grooves is this year’s entry in Ardbeg’s annual exercise in folly. The regular release comes out on Ardbeg Day, otherwise known as June 2; this higher strength release came out a few weeks ago to whet the appetite of those who cannot get enough of Ardbeg and their folly. Despite being a fool myself, I’ve skipped these shenanigans entirely in recent years; and eventual reviews of their recent annual releases have not made me feel foolish about having done so. However, this year when the opportunity arose to taste the latest “Committee Release” via a bottle split, I decided to go for it. For some reason I thought I’d read very positive reviews of it—though I have not subsequently been able to track down what it is I’d thought I’d read. This whisky apparently contains some significant fraction of spirit matured in ex-red wine casks. The press materials tell me that these casks were charred extensively, producing grooves in them; evidently, Ardbeg’s proprietary cask charring system allows them to produce effects that fit with whatever silly concept they’ve hit on for the year (see also the Alligator). Also, Ardbeg was groovy in the 1960s and whatnot (yes, this is actually part of their sell). Continue reading