Caol Ila 20, 1995 (Signatory for K&L)


Here’s a whisky review on a Thursday for a change. And it’s another Caol Ila—roughly the same age as the previous Caol Ila I reviewed, but distilled just about a decade later. This was bottled by Signatory for K&L in California. As I am generally a sucker for bourbon cask Caol Ila, I was intrigued by it when it was announced, but the high asking price ($150 or so) took care of that. Fortunately (for me, at least), Florin (Slovenian supermodel and future First Lady) purchased a bottle and shared samples with a few of us—see Jordan D’s review of a sample from this same bottle from a year ago. Jordan didn’t care for it overmuch, and nor did Florin (see his comment on Jordan’s review). But there are others who rave about it. Anyway, the easiest way to find out is to pour the sample and drink it. Here goes.
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St. John, Again (London)


I ate out quite a bit when I was in London for a week last August. Of the places I ate at then, there were a few that I wanted to return to with the missus during our much longer stay in London this spring. As it happens, we didn’t make it to Hedone or Noble Rot on this trip, but there was no danger of skipping dinner at St. John. (Hoppers was the other place that I’d wanted to take her too and we made it there as well.) It wasn’t just the two of us at St. John: we were joined by our good friends who live in London and had helped us find our flat and get set up (we took them out to thank them), and at the last moment we were joined by another old friend who lives in the Bay Area and flew in for work. Between us we ate a fair bit of St. John’s menu on the night. Herewith an account of the proceedings. Continue reading

Singleton of Dufftown


Ah yes, my second-ever Dufftown review and, indeed, my second-ever Dufftown. As I know no more about the distillery now than I did when I reviewed the other late last year, and as I already made my Homer Simpson joke on that occasion, I have nothing more to say about it. I will only register the faint hope that this may prove to be better than that K&L cask. The hope is faint because Diageo’s Singleton releases don’t really have strong reputations. They’re intended as entry-level malts and some would and do say that they pretty much taste like blend replacements, or as a way to get blend drinkers to pay a bit more for a single malt without risking turning them off. I believe all of the Singleton releases are 12 years old—which would make them competitors for the Glenlivet and Glenfiddich 12s. (In the US we get the Singleton of Glendullan. I think the Singleton of Dufftown goes to Europe and the Singleton of Glen Ord to Asia—I might have those swapped.) Anyway, let’s see what this one is like anyway.  Continue reading

Food+Whisky in Tarbert (Scotland)


Tarbert is a charming town on the shores of Loch Fyne. It is located just a few miles from Kennacraig where the Islay ferries depart and arrive. On our way to Islay we arrived an hour and a half early and so spent that time in Tarbert. On the way back from Islay we returned to the town for lunch. The town seems to see a fair bit of tourist action and there are quite a few restaurants and b&b’s. Friends who’ve recently stayed in Tarbert without going on to Islay say it’s a worthwhile destination in its own right. I don’t doubt it. It would probably make a good base for exploration of the Loch Fyne area and down to Campbeltown, which is only an hour or so away. Here now is a quick look at the town, a brief account of our lunch and a view of a whisky store I randomly stopped in at. Continue reading

Fasika (St. Paul)


That Minnesota has a large Somali population is well known. Less well known is the fact that there are immigrants here from a number of other African nations as well—as per this article, in 2015 Minnesota had the 9th largest African population in the US and experts believe the number of immigrants—taking foreign and US born populations together—may be twice the reported number . Of this population the Twin Cities metro area was home to almost 25,000 Ethiopians in 2015—a dramatic rise since 2000 when the population was just above 6000. This is reflected in a sizable number of Ethiopian restaurants, many of which—and some would say, the best of which—can be found on or off University Avenue in St. Paul. The University/Snelling area in particular—a key node of “Little Africa”—has a number of Ethiopian businesses. Of these businesses, Fasika is one of the most iconic. After our visit to the Little Africa festival in August we were inspired to eat more Ethiopian food and Fasika seemed like the best place to renew the acquaintance.  Continue reading

Auchroisk 27, 1988 (Cadenhead’s)


One of my great, unexpected whisky pleasures in recent years was the explosion of fruit in an Auchroisk 24, 1990 bottled by Signatory for Binny’s. Ever since then I’ve been on the lookout for Auchroisks of similar age and vintage, in the hopes of striking gold again. Accordingly, when I was in London for a week in the summer of 2016 and saw this bottle at the Cadenhead’s shop, I had few qualms about purchasing it even though the salesman was somewhat vague when I asked if this was indeed a fruity Auchroisk (“it’s smooth,” is all he ventured; but that was an odd experience all around, as previously detailed). I opened it for my local group’s premium tasting earlier this year and after getting back from our much longer sojourn in London in the spring, I drank it down pretty fast. These notes were taken just past the midway point of the bottle. Read on to discover if it too presented a lot of fruit or if it was indeed the quintessence of smoothness.  Continue reading

Linkwood 1984-2014 (Malts of Scotland)


Linkwood, in the Speyside, is one of Diageo’s workhorses. Being included in last year’s collection of overpriced “special releases” hasn’t really raised its profile (in fact, I can’t remember reading any reviews of that bottle). I do remember some of my own reviews, however, and I was not a fan of the last Linkwood I reviewed. That was this 19 yo from 1997 that was part of K&L’s winter 2016 parcel of Signatory exclusives. It was quite a step down from the two previous Linkwoods I’d reviewed (another 19 yo from Chieftain’s and this 16 yo from Signatory). Here’s hoping this much older one (it’s a 30 yo) from 1984 will be much better. I’ve not had very many older Linkwoods, and the only others I’ve had from the 1980s (see this edition of “Quick Hits”) didn’t exactly set my world on fire either.

Well, I guess this has not been the most promising of openings but Malts of Scotland are usually a very reliable bottler. Let’s get right to it.  Continue reading

Bladnoch 22, 1990, Cask 5070


Here is another useless review. This Bladnoch was distilled in 1990 and bottled in 2013 by the Raymond Armstrong regime (they bottled it but it was distilled by the previous owners, United Distillers). The Raymond Armstrong era at Bladnoch, sadly, ended a couple of years ago and the new owners have gone the route of premiumization: the very opposite of Raymond’s approach. Well, this bottle is gone too. It was a single bourbon cask. I purchased it (and a few other Bladnochs) when the sale of the distillery was announced, and I opened it for one of my local group’s tastings last year. It did well enough there but I felt it improved as the bottle stayed open in the months following. These notes were taken towards the very end of the bottle when it had faded a bit again. I wish I’d thought of also recording my notes at the top and middle of the bottle. So it goes.
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Trieu Chau (St. Paul)


Though you wouldn’t know it from my unending stream of reviews of restaurants in London and Scotland—interrupted only by a writeup of the Little Africa festival in St. Paul last month—we’ve been back in Minnesota for almost three months now. And though you wouldn’t also know this from the blog, we’ve been eating a lot of one of the cuisines that Minnesota has far better exemplars of than London: Vietnamese (the other is Mexican). Accordingly, I am taking the opportunity to resume the slow-motion survey of noodle soup purveyors in the Twin Cities metro area that I’d commenced last winter with reviews of Pho Hoa, Pho 79 and Cam Ranh Bay. And what better place to start than Trieu Chau, which has been around for almost 30 years on University Avenue in St. Paul and remains one of the local gold standards for pho and more. No one in the broader Twin Cities area who likes Vietnamese food needs to be told about Trieu Chau but it’s always good to confirm that the old reliables are still reliable. Continue reading

An Tigh Seinnse, Portnahaven (Scotland)


I have been trying to construct a hilarious joke about “An Tigh Seinnse” being the Gaelic name for Bruichladdich’s wine experiments but have failed. In fact, as far as I can make out, it translates as “the public house” or something along those lines (some sources say “the house of singing”), and that is in fact what An Tigh Seinnse is: a cozy pub in Portnahaven, a tiny town at the southwestern end (or one of the southwestern ends) of Islay, all the way at the opposite end of Loch Indaal from the American Monument (a few miles west from Port Ellen). We went to Portnahaven after my tour at Bowmore. We didn’t have anything particular in mind. We knew we were unlikely to see the seals that often lie on the rocks around the bay there—it was a grey and rainy day—but we did want to drive around more of Islay. So we went anyway, enjoying the scenery, and when we got there we happened upon An Tigh Seinnse, just as we were beginning to wonder what we should do for lunch. Herewith a brief account of this meal. Continue reading

Quick Hits: Two Old Whiskies


Okay, after a bunch of still available—if not always easily purchased—whiskies in recent weeks let’s get back to being useless. I have two very old whiskies tonight. The first is the oldest I’ve ever had—not in terms of age, but in terms of when it was distilled. This is a Gordon & MacPhail release of a Glenlivet distilled in 1940. I confess I do not have any idea when it was actually bottled or how old it is (and Whiskybase doesn’t have details either—it’s this one). Regardless, it was very cool to drink a whisky distilled before my parents were born. The other was distilled a couple of years before I was born and it’s from a distillery that is no longer in operation: it’s a 36 yo Glenury Royal from 1968. I don’t believe I’ve had any other Glenury Royals. I actually took these notes in March, before leaving for London—I just forgot that I’d done so and so am only getting around to posting them now. As they were taken from 20 ml samples I’ve not assigned scores to them. Continue reading

Springbank 15, 2000, Fresh Rum Cask for the Nectar


Another 15 yo whisky, and another that may still be available: I’m in severe danger of losing my “untimely reviews” edge. This was bottled by the distillery for the Nectar, a store in Belgium. It’s a single cask release (though the cask number is not mentioned) of a total of 198 bottles. And that single cask was a fresh rum cask. Now, of course, this doesn’t tell us anything about how many years the rum that had previously been in there had spent in that cask or what kind of rum it was (which, of course, is the same with bourbon cask maturation as well). I assume it would have been an American oak cask. I’m not sure what the story is with the low abv (relatively speaking). As it happens, the last rum cask Springbank I reviewed (this 1998-2014 release from Malts of Scotland) also had an abv below 50% (just a coincidence, I’m sure). I wasn’t hugely taken with that one. Let’s see what this one is like. Continue reading

Afternoon Tea at St. Ermin’s Hotel (London)


Do you have to have a formal afternoon tea when you’re in London? No. But if you’re shepherding around a group of people who really want to have it, then you might have to. So it was for me. It turns out that the afternoon tea spectrum in London ranges from £10 (in cafes) to £100 and probably beyond (in increasingly expensive hotels). There are stops at price points all along that spectrum, with increasingly baroque menu offerings, in number and conception. Our budget was £30/head. The other constraints were that we were a large group and that some in the party had wheat allergies. With all of that accounted for, the place that was able to take us on the day that worked best for everyone was St. Ermin’s Hotel in Westminster—a hop, skip and a jump from St. James’ Park and Buckingham Palace, and right next to the St. James’ Park tube station. Herewith a brief account of the experience.  Continue reading

Dinner at the Lochside Hotel, Bowmore (Scotland)


I described this dinner last week as the bad one between two decent meals at the Islay Hotel in Port Ellen. It was, in fact, the worst meal we had on Islay, and probably the worst we had in Scotland—the fish and chips from the food truck outside Fiddler’s in Drumnadrochit at least had the virtue of being much cheaper. We ended up here after our attempt to eat dinner at the Port Charlotte Hotel failed on account of our having failed to make a reservation. The dining room was absolutely empty but they could not seat us. Now, it’s likely they had reservations for every table and didn’t want to risk us going late but there was something about the pause and once-over the manager gave us before saying they couldn’t seat us that made us feel a little odd. But I digress. Leaving Port Charlotte, we thought about trying the Bridgend Hotel but parking was hectic and so we kept going and ended up in Bowmore instead. After parking near the pier we walked up the street which has the restaurants and as the Lochside Hotel came up first we poked our heads in; and when they said they could seat us, we sat down. There was a nice photograph of Pinkie MacArthur on the wall next to my head and this seemed like a good omen. Alas, it was not. Continue reading