September was a busy but unusual month on the blog. A lot of readers but not seemingly always reading what people mostly seem to come here to read. The most read post, you see, was an entry from my food poetry series that petered out in the spring; “At the Lahore Karhai“. Usually, my posts about anything literary compete with my jam recipes and reviews of Japanese whiskies for the fewest possible readers. But it turns out this post on the Imtiaz Dharker poem has picked up a lot of views since the summer. Why this should be so, I don’t know. I should be happy, of course: I like the poem a lot and if my post is getting more people into reading Dharker, then great. The literature professor part of me worries though that the post may perhaps be being used as a crib by students somewhere. Is this poem often assigned at school in the UK? It wouldn’t surprise me if that’s the case. At any rate, if you are one of the people who has been reading my thoughts on that poem do write in in the comments on that post. Continue reading
Okay, let’s close out the month with another teenaged malt from a Speyside distillery. Unlike Monday’s Cragganmore, however, this has no wine involvement. This is a straight-up bourbon cask whisky, a Longmorn issued in Chivas’s old Cask Strength Edition series that was originally available only at their distilleries. Every whisky I’ve had in this series has been very good at the least. I’m not sure if the series is still on the go though. I’d hoped to find some releases when I visited Strathisla, Aberlour and Scapa in 2018 but didn’t see any. Anyway, I’m looking forward to this one. All the excitement about Longmorn is about older vintages from the ’60s and ’70s and contemporary Longmorn doesn’t have much of an identity—and not very much of it shows up from the indies anymore either. The few I’ve had suggest that the modern distillate could also produce real greatness if allowed to age up to 30 years or more. Of course, if any such modern Longmorns are ever released in the next few years, I won’t be able to afford them… Continue reading
After four weeks of eating food from restaurants in the South and West Metro (from House of Curry, Grand Szechuan, Pho Valley and Godavari), we finally made it back to St. Paul this weekend. Not surprisingly, we ended up on University Ave.—the Twin Cities’ true “Eat Street”—not too far from Homi, our last port of call in St. Paul. It was another Vietnamese meal, this time from iPho by Saigon. As it happens my very first meal in Minnesota was here when I visited friends in the November of 2006—it was then called just Saigon. We ate there after we moved here the following year as well but somehow not since I started reviewing restaurants on the blog. I’m not sure at what point they tacked on the “iPho by” to their name but it’s been several years. We’ve been tempted over the years but somehow when looking for Vietnamese food in that neck of the woods we usually end up at Trieu Chau. This weekend, however, was iPho by Saigon. How did it go? Continue reading
There isn’t a lot of indie Cragganmore about—especially in the US. I’ve reviewed a grand total of 3 Cragganmores before this one. And so when I had a chance to get in on a bottle split of this Cragganmore from the SMWS I took it even though it’s a madeira finish and even though the SMWS gave it the name “Coconut Curry Down the Douro Valley”. My general antipathy to wine finishes is no secret and I don’t think I’ve yet found anything resembling any kind of curry in any whisky said to be reminiscent of it. Let’s see if this one surprises me on either front.
Cragganmore 16, 2001 (56.4%; SMWS 37.127; madeira finish; from a bottle split)
Nose: Sweet, spicy toasted wood to start—rosewood? cherry wood? On the second sniff there’s some cherry (the fruit), some orange peel, a bit of cinnamon. Gets more floral as it sits (yes, roses). Gets more savoury as it sits and I hate to admit it but I am indeed getting aromas of coconut milk infused with herbs. The savoury notes recede with time and it’s the sweet red fruit that’s ascendant. Water pushes the cherry back, pulls out some cream and makes the whole mellower. Continue reading
I posted a recipe for a spicy tomato chutney a couple of weeks ago. Here now is a variation on it that is less hot but has a more complex flavour. The major things that are in this that were not in the previous are habanero chillies, ginger, Sichuan peppercorn and—wait for it, wait for it—raisins. The latter—I fully admit—were put in there mostly to troll my friend Aparna—a renowned hater of dried fruits being added to anything savoury—but they work really well here. Speaking of haters, when I posted the recipe of the first chutney on a food forum a gent there got very wound up about the fact that the recipe did not follow the convention of listing the ingredients in the exact order in which they appear in the preparation. He was apparently so confused by this that he had to stop reading. This is one of the most hilarious things I’ve come across in a while. You’d have to work really hard, I think, to be confused by that recipe. As for the convention itself, I suppose it may be a useful one. My own recipes rarely follow it, and when I cook from any recipe I set all the ingredients out and then follow the cooking steps—it hardly matters whether I set the ingredients out in the order of the cooking steps. My position, in any case,—as I noted on Twitter—is that you fuckers should be happy I list quantities and cooking times at all, having been “trained” by my mother on a steady diet of “a little” and “some” and “cook till it smells good”. If it really does bother you so much you should apply to management for a refund. Continue reading
Oh, okay, I’ll try a little harder. This is a single bourbon cask bottled by the German outfit, Whisky-Fässle in 2015. That was near the very end of the golden age of independently bottled Scotch whisky, when 20+ yo whiskies of high quality were available for not much more than $100. These days high quality indies of any age at good prices seem very thin on the ground. In fact, I can’t remember the last indie bottle I purchased—not that I purchase much whisky of any kind any more. Anyway! Official Bunnahabhain is usually heavily sherry-bothered and so it’s always nice to try bourbon casks from independent bottlers. I’ve reviewed two others this year: this 6 yo bottled for the Whisky Barrel, and this 30 yo bottled by Old Particular for K&L in California. It pains me to say that I liked the 6 yo more than the 30 yo (but it also pleases me to say that I had not purchased a bottle of the 30 yo). As a better portent, I did like the last Bunnahabhain 1991 I reviewed (this 25 yo, also from K&L)—though that was from a sherry cask. Let’s hope this is as good. Continue reading
The word “keema” refers to both the ingredient—ground or minced meat—and to the stew-like dishes—not a million miles from chili—that are often made with it. In India the most common kind of keema by far is that of mutton or goat. In the US where goat/mutton is not as easily found I mostly use ground beef—though ground turkey does well in these preps too. In fact, I would say that it is in this kind of preparation that beef comes closest to substituting for goat in Indian cooking. That’s just my opinion, of course, and it shouldn’t be taken as implying that beef doesn’t have a place of its own in Indian foodways. No matter what the Hindu fundamentalist dispensation that is well into the process of destroying what remains of India’s secular fabric will tell you, beef is an Indian ingredient too. Continue reading
Benrinnes 21, 1997 (60.6%; SMWS; refill bourbon barrel; from a bottle split)
Nose: Pretty tight at first. As it sits there’s some cereals, some wax, some pepper and some lemon. Softens as it sits and there’s some cream too now. With more time the cereals and wax expand and there’s a sweeter note too—dried pineapple? Softer and creamier with a few drops of water; the lemon turns into citronella and the pepper turns into a light sooty note.
Palate: Pretty much as on the nose and, as expected, hot, hot, hot. This is going to need a fair bit of air and then some water. With time the lemon expands and the wax follows suit and the texture gets more full. Still pretty hot though. Okay, let’s add water. Sweeter at first with water and then there’s a burst of slightly bitter lemon peel. Continue reading
In my review of meals at Kumar’s last fall, I noted the huge blind spot in the mainstream (read: white) press when it comes to coverage or indeed awareness of the Indian food scene in the Twin Cities metro. Their focus remains on places in the Twin Cities proper: North Indian curry houses and the occasional upscale place with a p.r push. Meanwhile the real action, along with most of the region’s growing South Asian population, is in the suburbs. The opening of the local franchise of Kumar’s in Apple Valley—at the top of the Cedar Avenue corridor that is being filled in with new residential developments seemingly every month—was one (more) sign of this. Here now is another: a local franchise of Godavari which opened in Eden Prairie just about a month ago, pandemic be damned. We picked up a large amount of food from them last weekend and ate it on our deck with some friends. Here’s what we thought of it. Continue reading
I reviewed the Balblair 2005, First Release in May and in that review I noted that I do not understand how Balblair’s vintage releases worked. That has not changed. And so I can tell you that this was distilled in 1990 and released in 2015 and that it was described as the “Second Release” even though there was another with the appellation released in 2014 and again in 2016. Just typing this made my head hurt and glad again that Balblair has now moved to regular age-stated whiskies (though given the jump in price the occasional headache may have been a good deal). This was matured in a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks but my understanding is that the sherry is more pronounced. On the one hand, the last sherried Balblair I had—this 10 yo—did not do very much for me. But on the other, the last Balblair 1990 I had was from a single sherry cask—this 21 yo—and I really liked that one. Let’s hope that the shared vintage and general age makes this more likely to be on the level of its sibling. Continue reading
On Wednesday I had a review of the first of two casks of very old cognac bottled by Pasquet for the Facebook group, Serious Brandy. I liked that one a lot. Here now is the second cask. The word on the street is that it is fruitier than Cask 1, which is music to my ears. Let’s see how it goes.
Pasquet Lot 62, Cask 2 for Serious Brandy (40.3%; Petite-Champagne; from my own bottle)
Nose: Big sticky fruit notes from the get-go with apricot, marmalade, fig jam; some honey in there too along with butterscotch and pastry crust. Certainly not as much oak here as in the sibling cask. Water seems to push the fruit back and pulls out more of the oak-pine complex that develops on the palate. Continue reading
Before I became a pickling fool I used to be a jam-making fool. My jam making has slowed to a trickle in recent years with one exception: peach chutney/jam. I make one version or the other of it every year. Ginger always goes into it (as in this jam with bourbon from five years ago) but the rest usually depends on what’s at hand. This year what was at hand was a lot of habanero peppers from my community garden plot and so I decided to throw them in. To cut the heat I added apple cider vinegar and then at the end I randomly decided to roast and powder some cumin seeds and toss them in too. One of the reasons my peach chutney varies from year to year is that I never write down whatever seat of the pants improvization I come up with. This year, however, some of the friends I gave a lot of the chutney to liked it so much that I wrote it down the next day. I don’t know if I’ll make it the exact same way again next year—I probably won’t—but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t make it like I did, is there? Continue reading
After Monday’s Old Crow, not-malt whisky week continues with the first of two cognacs that were bottled for the Facebook group, Serious Brandy. Serious Brandy was set up by Sku some years ago and has been his primary spirits focus since he regrettably shut down his blog in 2017. It’s a very good resource on brandy. Earlier this year Steve announced the group’s first exclusive pick. I should say picks, rather, as there were two of them: two casks of cognac sourced by the Pasquets (their own distillations are a bit younger). Not sure who the producer was but this is from the Petite-Champagne region and made from the ugni blanc grape. These are both casks that were filled in 1962 and bottled this year—making them 57 or 58 years old. At that age most malt whisky would long have turned into oak extract, but cognac takes to extreme aging a lot better. Cognac’s pricing for 58 year old spirit is also a lot better than whisky’s and so, despite having backed away from expensive whisky purchases a while ago, I decided to put my money down for a bottle of each of these. Orders were finally able to be placed in early August and after a few weeks of anxious waiting, the bottles were finally in hand last week. I’ve opened and tasted both a couple of times since arrival. Here now is my review of Cask 1. Continue reading
This week’s pandemic takeout reports sees us remaining in Dakota County. After last week’s excellent takeout from House of Curry in Rosemount, we move a bit further west in physical terms to Apple Valley and a bit further east in culinary geography to Vietnamese food. On the way back from a Costco run I stopped at Pho Valley in that massive complex between Cedar Avenue and Co. Rd. 42 and picked up some spring/egg rolls, some soups, a banh mi and some grilled meat. It was our first time getting takeout from them, whether during or before the pandemic. I am pleased to report that while nothing was amazing everything hit the spot. Continue reading
After a long run of peated malts let’s do a week of things that are not unpeated and which are also not in fact malt whisky. First up, a bourbon. This is a 1980s release of Old Crow. The current Old Crow release is a bottom-shelf mainstay and has not had a good reputation since Jim Beam purchased the brand from National Distillers in the 1980s. This sample, however, which came to me from the Artist Formerly Known as Sku, is from the pre-Beam National Distillers period. This is from one of several 375 ml releases from the era. Despite the foregoing, I know nothing about how old Old Crow was made then—I’m just hoping this will be a drinkable bourbon. Let’s see.
I inaugurated this series on Bombay cinema two weeks ago. Last Sunday saw the first entry proper: an annotated list of 10 essential films from the 1950s. I was supposed to post the 1960s entry this week. However, all too predictably, I have not had the time to get to it. My term starts up on Monday and I’ve been going a bit out of my head getting ready for another 10 weeks of teaching over Zoom. But do not despair! I do have a 1960s list for you. It’s just not going to be annotated this week—I hope to get around to doing that by next Sunday. Wait, there’s more! One of the things I’ll be doing in this series on an ongoing basis—beyond the lists for each decade—is highlighting music in Bombay cinema. Today: a brief consideration of musical hybridity in 1950s and early 1960s films, and in particular, the adoption of swinging jazz and rock and roll. Continue reading
As I’ve noted before, the Lagavulin entrty is my favourite in Diageo’s Distillers Edition series. The extra few months in PX sherry casks complements the original spirit very well in my view. My ratings of the 1993-2009 and 1997-2013 releases, which are the previous ones I’ve reviewed (here and here), are appropriately high. This one is from a couple of years earlier still: it was distilled in 1991 and released in 2007. I’ll be shocked if I don’t like it a lot as well.
Lagavulin 1991, The Distillers Edition, 2007 Release (43%; from a sample from a friend)
Nose: Big phenolic notes mixed in coastal notes (seashells, kelp). The sherry comes up from below with notes both sweet (raisins) and salty. The sweeter notes—including pipe tobacco now—come to the fore after a minute or two in the glass and then dominate. With more time there’s some citrus as well (orange peel). A few drops of water emphasize the fruit: apricot and fig now along with the orange peel. Continue reading
I’ve been on a preserving tear over the last few months, filling jars with pickles and chutneys of various kinds. The greatest beneficiary has been the missus who has been heard making demands at lunch that the full array of pickles be placed on the table. The secondary beneficiaries have been various undeserving friends. In some ways it is easier to make pickles (by which I mean achaars as we call them in North India) in large quantities, and since I’m making so many, we have more than we can eat ourselves. The only real roadblock is the ongoing shortage of lids and bands for Ball jars. Ideas for pickles, I have no lack of. This is largely because I have a copy of Usha’s Pickle Digest. I’ve been making pickles from the book and also improvizing some recipes of my own. Such, for example, was the carrot-garlic pickle I posted a recipe of a few weeks ago. And such too is this spicy tomato chutney. While the carrot-garlic pickle was more of a pure improvization, this one starts out as a mashup of two adjoining tomato pickle recipes in the Pickle Digest. To that mashup I add a few twists of my own. The results, if you’ll forgive the immodesty, are outstanding. Continue reading