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

Ardbeg Drum


This was Ardbeg’s 2019 Feis Ile release. I have to admit I stopped paying attention to Ardbeg some years ago. The 10 year old is still an Islay classic and my last bottles of the Uigeadail and Corryvreckan were very good too (albeit neither were anywhere close to being recent releases), but most of the noise emanating from the distillery—or rather from its owners—has seemed for a while to be in the service of high-concept silliness. I thought 2018’s Feis Ile release, the Grooves, was fairly ordinary. Why then am I reviewing the 2019 release? Well, largely because in theory at least bourbon cask Ardbeg finished in rum casks does not seem like a bad idea. (Of course, they say they’ve “rested” their spirit in rum casks; unlike all those other distilleries who make their spirit ride treadmills and run marathons in finishing casks.) Will the reality of this whisky in fact match up with that theoretical promise? Only one way to find out. Continue reading

The Food Commandments


Back in the early months of the blog I issued the Whisky Blogger Commandments. These were met with universal acclaim, made me highly popular, were wholly adopted and ended all problems in and with the whisky blogosphere. I have now decided that it is time to heal the ills that plague the food world in the United States. You might be a food blogger, you might be a cookbook writer, you might be a restaurant reviewer, you might be a features writer, you might be a chef, you might simply be someone who likes to talk about food at parties under the impression that this is something that appeals to normal people: no matter who you are, the following apply to you and will help you become a better person. There is no need to thank me (not that we prophets are accustomed to being thanked). Continue reading

Bunnahabhain 18, 2016 Release


Way back in the early months of the blog I posted a review of the 2012 release of the Bunnahabhain 18. Because I am so current I have for you today a review of a bottle from the 2016 release. I opened this bottle a few months ago but hadn’t gotten around to reviewing it until a chance mention of it in the minor fracas over my comments on K&L’s recent Clynelish exclusive reminded me that I should. As you may remember, I noted of that Clynelish that I did not think it was the best use for $250. After an initial erroneous recommendation of the Springbank 18 as a cheaper sherried alternative—when I last had the Springbank 18 it was far more sherry-driven than it is now—I mentioned the Bunnahabhain 18 in a similar vein. As you will readily imagine, David Othenin-Girard of the K&L spirits department—who apparently is my most devoted reader—was very pleased with this suggestion: he kindly wished me great enjoyment of the Bunnahabhain 18. Accordingly, I am here now with the details of that enjoyment. Continue reading

Top 5 Twin Cities Dishes, Oct-Dec 2019 + The Year in Food


After spending a lot of the summer out of the Twin Cities, I was here for the rest of the year. We ate out on our regular schedule—roughly once a week—and I posted my accounts of most those meals in due course (a few will be reported on this month). Here now is my list of the top five dishes eaten in the Twin Cities in that period. My rules, as always for these lists, are: no more than one dish listed per restaurant; and, as far as possible, only those dishes listed that are reliably on the menu of the restaurant in question. This means that I will not be listing anything from the excellent lunch thalis I’ve eaten at Kabob’s in Bloomington, as the dishes on the thalis vary from day to day. I would, however, recommend that you go eat one of those thalis soon, perhaps even today. As a bonus, in this recap of the last quarter of the year, I throw in for free a list of my best meals of the year in the Twin Cities and also my best meals of the year, period. Continue reading

Looking Back, Looking Forward


In last year’s version of this post I noted that 2018 had been the busiest year thus far on the blog by some distance with both page views and the unique visitor count going up over 2017. Well, 2019 was busier still: page views went up by 24% over 2018 and unique visitors rose 13%. The chief interest of those new visitors, however, I suspect was different than in years past. I suspect that 2019 was the year in which this became more of a food than whisky blog, at least from the point of view of the majority of visitors. Yes, there were more food than whisky posts in my year-end top 10 rankings by page views last year as well but in 2019 there was only one whisky post in the top 10 (the perennially popular discussion of Glendronach’s “single cask” shenanigans) and only eight in the top 50! Given that this coincided with the number of unique visitors rising as well, I suspect it’s less the case that the whisky readers have gone away than that there are just a lot more food readers now. For what it’s worth, I still think of this as a whisky and food blog, in that order, and the number of whisky reviews per week/month/year has remained constant for a number of years now. If that’s what you’re most interested in, that’s not going away. Continue reading

2019, A Year In Books II (Pete)


Here is the second entry in the year-end miniseries on books that began last week. A quick reminder of what this is: 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. If you missed the first one last week, please go and read Giovanna’s excellent list featuring fiction and poetry. Today’s list comes to us from my friend Peter, a dour Englishman, across a page of whose dissertation our beloved friend, teacher, mentor and now tormentor, Jim Kincaid once wrote the terrible sentence, “You write like the Rev. Mr. Collins”. You might think this should disqualify him from making aesthetic judgments but if you’ve read much of this blog you know standards are low here. Continue reading

Lagavulin Distillery Exclusive, 2017


I visited Scotland for the first time in 2017. And on that trip I visited Islay and I visited Lagavulin (here is my account of the excellent Warehouse Experience with the even more excellent Pinkie McArthur). That was in June right after Feis Ile. I picked up a bottle of the Feis Ile release but I don’t believe this distillery exclusive was on the shelves then. It was apparently made in a fairly complicated manner that involved 16 yo spirit finished in moscatel casks and vatted with younger bourbon cask spirit. I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered moscatel-finished Lagavulin before—Diageo must have had some casks surplus to requirements from the Caol Ila Distiller’s Edition (is that even made anymore? I don’t see anything but the Lagavulin and Talisker Distiller’s Editions in Minnesota, not that I’m looking so very hard). Of course, I have no idea what the proportions of the vatting may have been: the moscatel influence may well be minimal. Let’s find out. Continue reading

Roasted Beet Soup with Cracked Cumin


What is this, a roasted vegetable soup blog? Last week I had a recipe for a soup made with roasted carrots; two weeks ago I had a recipe for a soup made with pan-roasted asparagus; this week I have a recipe for a soup made with roasted beets. If you’ve made the two other soups and fretted that they were not carroty or asparagusy enough then you will be happy to learn that this soup is quite beet-forward. It includes very few other ingredients and a relatively light touch with spices. It does, like the other two, require blending the soup.

Is this an Indian dish? You may well ponder this question after eating this soup or even just after reading the recipe. Well, it’s not a traditional preparation. There aren’t a whole lot of soups per se in the broader Indian repertoire (caveat: it’s a large country) and this does not follow any sort of traditional recipe. But to me it tastes very Indian. I could see making a dish of sauteed beets with much the same ingredients, save the stock. I’d say it’s an Indian dish insofar as it deploys an Indian flavour palette and an Indian technique: adding a tadka of cumin seeds and curry leaves at the end just as you would do with most dals. If you like beets, give it a shot. Continue reading

Coming to Terms with Joe Beef


I ate at Joe Beef for the third time this summer. As those who’ve read my earlier reviews of dinners at Montreal’s temple to gastronomic excess (here and here) know, Joe Beef is my favourite restaurant in its genre in North America. I refer to “the curse of Joe Beef” often when contemplating the lesser offerings of more expensive restaurants in the Twin Cities. Going to Montreal and not eating at Joe Beef seemed unthinkable to me. And so when a trip to Montreal with colleagues materialized earlier this year making a reservation at Joe Beef was one of the the first things I did—I would be taking along with me a couple of friends who’ve heard me rave about the restaurant for some years now. It would be my first dinner there in the summer. Let me explain why we then almost didn’t go and why we finally did. Bewarned: I am going to spend rather less time talking about the meal than about other things. Continue reading

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


So far this month I’ve reviewed three of K&L’s recent exclusive casks. They’ve all been 23 yo malts distilled in 1995 (Clynelish, Glen Moray, Allt-A-Bhainne). I liked them all a lot (87 points each) though I had differing estimations of the price to quality ratio each present. Today I have another recent K&L cask but this time it’s a 21 yo distilled in 1996. Will I finally go above or below 87 points?

This is a somewhat unusual whisky in that it’s a Glengoyne from a bourbon cask—most official Glengoyne is sherry cask driven. It’s also unusual because it’s an independent cask of Glengoyne. It’s not a name you see very often from the indies. On Whiskybase it’s the very rare distillery that doesn’t have any releases listed from prolific indies, Gordon & MacPhail and Signatory (and there are only 12 indie releases total listed for 2019). So it should be an interesting proposition all around. Let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading