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

Joy’s Thai (Lakeville, MN)


We ate at Joy’s Pattaya Thai in Richfield last year and thought the meal was decent enough. However, it is still far enough away from us that it never quite made sense to go there over our favourites on University Avenue in St. Paul (shout out once again to the Twin Cities’ true Eat Street). Imagine our surprise then to discover that a second location of Joy’s has been open for almost three years, just off Cedar Avenue in Lakeville, and just about 15-20 minutes from us. This is yet more evidence that you should not look to me as someone who is very up on Twin Cities restaurant openings and so forth (as with whisky, I have lots of opinions but very little information). But while may be slow to learn about restaurants, once we do we are quicker to go out and check them out. Accordingly, a couple of weeks ago we descended on Joy’s Thai with a number of the friends who’ve joined us on our University Avenue outings. Herewith, an account of our meal.  Continue reading

Caol Ila 34, 1982 (Cadenhead)

After last Friday’s Longmorn, here’s another 34 yo whisky. We go from the Speyside to Islay, to Caol Ila. There have been a number of older Caol Ilas from 1982 bottled in the last 5-7 years. And as per Whiskybase, in 2016 and 2017 Cadenhead put out nine 34 and 35 yo releases. This 34 yo is one of them and while the label describes it as a “small batch” release it’s in fact a single cask, a single hogshead. I guess whoever was printing the labels at Cadenhead that day wasn’t paying attention. It was bottled for the Dutch importer Bresser & Timmer in 2016. Old Caol Ila from the 1980s can be a wondrous thing; and while I haven’t reviewed very many of them, they’ve all been excellent (the one exception being an overpriced Samaroli that was just quite good).

This one, I can tell you, is indeed excellent. I took it to one of my friend Rich’s tastings earlier this month and it held its own against some very high-powered whiskies—well, at least until the early 70s Ardbeg came out. (I’ll have reviews of a few of those high-powered whiskies in the next month or two; though alas not the early 70s Ardbeg.) While not cheap, a Caol Ila like this is about as close as those of us who are not independently wealthy can get to good value for a >30 yo peated whisky from Islay—and, frankly, it stands shoulder to shoulder with Port Ellens of similar age that go for far, far more money. Here now are my notes.  Continue reading

Longmorn 34, 1976 (Malts of Scotland)


Continuing with my run (more of a jog really) of older malts, here is a Longmorn from the mid-1970s. Longmorns of this era have a very strong reputation, especially on account of their intensely fruity quality. As that fruity profile—especially from ex-bourbon casks—is perhaps currently my favourite, I have high hopes of this sample which I received in a transcontinental swap some years ago.

Let’s see if those hopes will be borne out.

Longmorn 34, 1976 (51.5%; Malts of Scotland; bourbon hogshead #5892; from a sample received in a swap)

Nose: Toasted oak and caramel at first with some candied orange peel behind. As it sits there are richer notes of brandied raisins and apricot jam. As it sits rich notes of pastry crust develop and the oak moves in the direction of wood glue. A drop of water pulls out some mothballs and some bready notes.  Continue reading

Potato-Leek-Cheese Gratin


I started making potato-leek-cheese gratins as a side-dish at Thanksgiving a few years ago. And while this year I am not roasting a turkey, I’m making this gratin again. There’ll be a slight change though. In the past I have always used crumbled local blue cheese; this year, however, I will be using goat cheese. This because I am not cooking a turkey at all this year: the centerpiece of our Thanksgiving gathering will be roasted leg of goat (two legs, to be exact), and it seems appropriate to goat it up elsewhere on the table as well. This is a really simple recipe—it’s not original: I’ve over time “averaged” a number of recipes I’ve seen online. There are some that have you boil the potatoes first, some that have you do complicated dances with temperatures. I, being a lazy bastard, do none of those things. But the results are tasty anyway.   Continue reading

Talisker 30, 2015 Release


At the end of my review of the Brora 30, 5th release I noted that older Taliskers share that profile. Here now is an older Talisker. Diageo has released a number of these but as with the 25 yo, the 30 yo stopped being released at cask strength at the end of the last decade. The last Talisker 25 yo at cask strength came out in 2009 (I’ve reviewed it, and probably gave it a slightly low score), and the last Talisker 30 yo was released in 2010. I have a bottle of that 2010 release on my shelves—not sure why I’m waiting to open it. In the meantime I’ve reviewed the 2006 and 2012 releases. I liked both a lot and I’ll be surprised if I don’t like this one as well. Older Taliskers tend to be very much in line with the profiles of the 10 yo and the 18 yo, mellower than the one and more austere than the other. I’m not sure what the fate of the 30 yo is. It’s not part of the 2018 special release slate (which instead includes a much younger Talisker). Then again, they’d skipped 2016 as well and released one in 2017. In any event, I’m sure the next one, if there is one, will cost a lot more than this one did in Duty Free at Dublin airport in 2016 (where a friend went above and beyond to snag one for me; I’d been alerted by international whisky geek bat signal that it was on sale). Anyway, none of this preamble has been very interesting; let’s get to the whisky.  Continue reading

Tay Ho (St. Paul, MN)


At the end of October I published a little tribute to University Avenue in St. Paul—in my opinion the Twin Cities’s true “Eat Street”. My post covered a three mile stretch from just west of Snelling to just east of Western, stopping at Bangkok Thai Deli. In the comments, Ed Bast recommended Tay Ho, a Vietnamese restaurant just a little further east from Bangkok Thai Deli. Embarrassed that I’d never eaten there, I resolved to fix that right away. Accordingly, we descended on them on the following weekend with two of our friends who often join us on our weekend eating jaunts. Here’s how it went down.  Continue reading

Brora 30, 5th Release


Inside this very ratty sample bottle—a recycled 50 ml mini that originally held god knows what—is a whisky with a very high reputation from a legendary distillery. The 5th release of the Brora 30 came out in 2006—almost 25 years after the distillery was closed—and the whisky illuminati rate it very highly. As a blogger of the people I have not had very many of these special release Broras—or very many Broras at all—and so I am not going to be able to offer any insight into its quality relative to the others (I think the only other that I’ve reviewed is the 6th release, which has the same abv—my bottle of which I am still nursing).

As you may know, Diageo has recently revived Brora (and Port Ellen). Construction was ongoing when I was at Clynelish briefly in June. I have no idea what the nature of the whisky produced there will be, and I doubt very many people will be able to compare it to whisky of similar age made at the distillery before it closed, and certainly from its heyday in the 1970s. And it’s going to take a long time for the new production to get to the age of the releases that made its reputation long after it closed. Alas, I will not be around to taste 30 yo whisky from the revived Brora. I can still taste this though.  Continue reading

Bunnahabhain 28, 1987 (Maltbarn)


I reviewed a 28 yo Auchroisk earlier this week. Today’s whisky is the same age but we go south and west to Islay, to Bunnahabhain, and one year in the past, to 1987.

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a Bunnahabhain. Coincidentally, the last one I reviewed was also a 28 yo and also from a sherry cask. That was distilled in 1989 and was bottled last year by K&L in California under their Faultline label. I quite liked it. In theory, this 28 yo, distilled in 1987, should be better as it was bottled by an outfit with a much better reputation, the German independent, Maltbarn—no longer the upstart they once were. This was their 43rd release and I suspect only a bit of the cask was bottled for it. This because there were only 89 bottles in this release and two years later they put out 88 bottles of a 30 yo, 1987 at a very similar abv. In fact, I now wonder if the 121 bottles of the 26 yo, 1987 they’d put out in 2014 was the first release from this cask (similar abv again), and if there’s more being saved for another older release. I guess we’ll never know for sure, but I’ll keep an eye out for more 1987 Bunnahabhains from Maltbarn.  Continue reading

Indian in Edinburgh: Khushi’s


Man, there are a lot of Indian restaurants in Edinburgh. On our second day I began to photograph the exteriors of each one we passed but had to stop because I was doing nothing else. That’s only a slight exaggeration. Of all the Indian restaurants in Edinburgh, Khushi’s is the oldest. It was opened in 1947 by the eponymous Khushi, though it was not called Khushi’s then. It was then the Lothian Restaurant and operated under that name until the mid-1970s. Its location has changed more often than its name, and as far as I can make out, it has only been at its current Antigua St. digs for a few years. I would imagine that when it opened in the new location it featured an all-new look. I say this because their aesthetic is now very much in the post-Dishoom vein. (And, yes, there’s a branch of Dishoom in Edinburgh too.) The walls are loaded with an eclectic mix of images: from reproductions of classic Bombay film posters to pictures from the Indian independence movement to pictures of random urban scenes.  Continue reading

The Well-Rounded Single Malt Bar, 2018 Edition


It has been almost four years since I posted the first version of this list. It was spurred by questions from friends who are not whisky geeks, and are in no danger of becoming whisky geeks, but who wanted some suggestions for a small but balanced selection of whiskies they could stock in their bars. A lot has changed in the whisky world since then. Whisky prices have shot up, many once-standard expressions have gone away, and others have changed. And, of course, newer whiskies have shown up on the market that might be worthy contenders for a list like this one. As such, it seems useful to go back and revisit those selections and see if they still hold up.  Continue reading

Holy Land Market (Minneapolis)


Holy Land, located on Central Avenue in Northeast Minneapolis, is a Twin Cities institution. It is not only one of the most iconic immigrant markets in the area, it is one of the most iconic markets period. When I began my series of posts on immigrant markets I didn’t think I would ever profile a place like Holy Land because, after all, anyone interested in finding out more about these markets wouldn’t need to be told about Holy Land. But then in the last few weeks I had conversations with a number of people who’ve lived here longer than we have and who’d never been to Holy Land. In the hope therefore of reducing by even a little the numbers of the sorry people of whom this is true, here is an extensive look at what you can find in Holy Land and why you should go shop there this weekend.  Continue reading

Auchroisk 28, 1988 (Malts of Scotland)


Let us continue with this series of older whiskies. And following last week’s Tomatin 25, Caperdonich 27 and Ben Nevis 27, let’s stick with the “distilleries known for fruity whisky” theme. Like the Tomatin and the Ben Nevis, this Auchroisk was a recent release, and like the Tomatin it was distilled in 1988 and bottled by Malts of Scotland.

Auchroisk continues to not have much of a reputation, which means that independent releases of its whisky can be had for reasonable prices (there’s not much by way of official releases beyond the occasional inclusion in Diageo’s annual special release rosters; well, I guess there’s a “Flora & Fauna” release as well, but I don’t know how regular that is). I’ve not had so very many Auchroisks but have liked most of the ones I’ve had quite a lot, precisely on account of their fruity nature, especially past the age of 20. This 24 yo from Binny’s, in particular, stands out for its exuberant fruit, and I’m still kicking myself for not having got a second bottle. I liked this 27 yo (also from 1988 but bottled by Cadenhead) as well, but it was not quite as much of a fruit bomb. Let’s see where this one falls.  Continue reading