In late August I published the first of a threatened series of posts that nobody had asked for: a round-up of recent writing in mainstream American publications on South Asian food (which effectively, and unfortunately, continues to mean Indian food). If you haven’t already read that, you can find my explanation of the impetus for this series and a bit of my own background vis a vis this subject there. Here now is the second installment. This covers things that floated into my distracted field of vision in September and October. Those who worry that the first post may have misrepresented my normal relentless positivity will be glad to know that on this occasion I come almost entirely to praise. This despite the fact that two of the pieces I am covering today are on subjects whose coverage in American outlets can normally be counted on to raise my blood pressure (mangoes and Instant Pots). But, alas, even my positivity has limits and I will end on a more critical note than I begin on: and again it has to do with my reservations about the limits of the genre of the personal, familial narrative in discussing Indian food. Continue reading
I have waited a long time for a moment that has seemingly finally arrived: a critical mass of writers of South Asian descent writing in mainstream American publications on South Asian food. This development—if I am correct in so describing it—has been accompanied by a greater attention in general in mainstream American publications—whether focused on food or not—on South Asian food conceived of in ways different from those in earlier eras. Greater attention is paid now to regionality, to street food, to what we might call contemporary articulations of traditional food. Of course, these things are not happening in a vacuum: they mirror broadly the transformation of food and restaurant culture in the US in the same period. The rise of regionality, the greater attention to vernacular traditions, the re-articulation of foods from these sources into elite foodways (and the writing about them): this has all been happening in US food culture more generally in the post-Bourdain, now post-Chang era. But I’m Indian and so I tend to be more parochially focused on what’s happening with the Indian, or more broadly, South Asian food scene here. But before I get to the current scene, a little unreliable history. Continue reading
It’s been a long time since I’ve annoyed a lot of people, which is a bit of a branding problem when you write a blog titled My Annoying Opinions. I’m afraid I’m not going to be entirely true to my branding in this post either, as I will not be offering any opinions here. Instead, I’m going to ask you, my readers—the few, the embarrassed—to share stories of the most ridiculous things you’ve ever been told or heard being told by someone trying to sell your or someone else a whisky. Could be a salesman in a shop, a distillery employee, a tour guide, a “brand ambassador”, a buyer, a marketer, an importer, an industry blogger or a bartender. You don’t have to name names (especially if doing so might open me up to legal action). And to be fair to everyone else let’s try to keep the citation of David Driscoll blog posts to a minimum. Continue reading
Yesterday I came across this piece on mangoes on the Lucky Peach website by one Rupa Bhattacharya. It is described as follows: “An unprompted email from a father with a lot of good information”. Now, while I’m not generally well-versed in the genre of unprompted emails from fathers, this one actually contains quite a bit of bad information and so here I am. My apologies to Rupa Bhattacharya for callously critiquing her Father’s Day post and to her father, who seems like my kind of bullshitter, ranging in one brief email from exact mathematical analyses of the correct firmness at which Central and South American mangoes seem designed to be eaten (75% apparently) to description of soil types to origin stories for the names of mango varietals. As to whether any of this is actually correct is, as any good bullshitter will tell you, besides the point. The better question is why a serious (?) food magazine would publish such an anecdotal piece and slap a “Guides” tag on it. I’ll ask this question again at the bottom but first let’s get the good/bad information out of the way. Continue reading
The first day of the month is usually the day I look ahead to the coming month, present a long list of potential whisky reviews and ask for help shortening that list down. I can’t do that this month. This is not because I am joining the group of whisky bloggers who are reconsidering blogging about whisky (more on this below), but because I am not able to confidently predict when my nose will be back in action. If you’ve been following the blog in the last few weeks you know that my nose has been stuffed up—at first I thought it was a by-product of viral bronchitis, then I thought it was a sinus infection, now I think it might have to do with tree pollen, which there is a lot more of (by several orders of magnitude) at our new house than there was around the old. I have normal days (on one of which recent ones I wrote up the Glenfarclas 30) but they’re not followed reliably by other normal days (yesterday was off again, today seems on so far). For someone whose life revolves as much around food and drink as mine does this is a rather unnerving state of affairs and I’m in a state of ongoing low-grade panic about it. Continue reading
Beam is bringing out a 13 yo rye that is to cost $300 and naturally Sku is planning to quit blogging about whiskey as a result. It’s the right thing to do. After all these years of blogging about easily accessible bourbons that anyone can buy and drink and reasonably priced 10 yo single malts, you can see why the prospect of an expensive 13 yo rye just doesn’t sit with him. Naturally, his announcement has set off a great deal of ferment in the whiskey world, nowhere more so than at the TTB, who are now facing the prospect of actually having to pay someone to remind the world of their existence on a regular basis. And K&L are doubtless wondering if doubling down on armagnac right now was a good idea—what if Sku’s malaise spreads and he stops blogging about brandies as well??! And, of course, the rest of us are wondering where we will now get the kind of loquacious, ebullient flights of fancy Sku was known for. Well, I can’t solve all the dilemmas posed by Sku’s threatened retirement but with your help I can at least try to ensure that he doesn’t stop blogging altogether. Please respond to this poll that asks: “What Should Sku Blog About Next?” Continue reading
Here is my threatened follow-up post on some of the issues that came up when I was idly looking up the history of Colonel E.H. Taylor for my review of his namesake Small Batch bourbon released by Buffalo Trace. Before I get into it, let me first say what this is not and what it is.
It is not scholarship or even journalism: if I were doing either of those things I would spend months or weeks researching the subject. I would read every book on bourbon history to see to what extent and how this material has already been written about; I would investigate the archives of the distilleries and of the relevant locations (Frankfort, KY, for example); I would read historical studies of the Civil War and Reconstruction; I would interview experts like Chuck Cowdery, Mike Veach and Reid Mitenbuler. I have done none of these things because this is not scholarship or even journalism (and should not be confused with or held to the standards of those enterprises).
What this is is a blog post: it’s exploratory, it’s speculative, it’s a clearing of space in my own head which might possibly lead to more detailed exploration down the road or it might not; hopefully it will invite responses from people who can fill in all the things I would know if I’d done the research and point me to other places to look; and, even if it’s all redundant, hopefully it will spur some discussion: there are subjects which even if already known benefit from regular discussion and I think this might be one of them.
I went on about this a little bit on Twitter earlier this evening but I can’t resist putting it all together in a blog post as well with a little more detail (this is why I am so beloved). I don’t know if you’ve seen it but the Daily Beast today published a piece by someone named Aaron Goldfarb on Single Cask Nation’s single cask releases that is quite laughable in many respects.Single Cask Nation, if you don’t know, is the independent bottling concern/club started by ex (?) whisky bloggers Joshua Hatton and Jason-Johnstone Yellin of Jewish Whisky Company (they also operate the Whisky Jewbilee events). Goldfarb appears to be someone who writes about spirits on a regular basis but it’s hard to tell from this if he actually knows very much about the ins and outs of the Scotch world. But I do expect a little better from The Daily Beast (is that an error?). Okay, what are my problems with the piece? Read on.
Prominent in the shared language of whisky geeks is the idea of “distillery character”. It comes up often in reviews, including mine. See, for example, my review of a very old Teaninich where I say that some old whiskies seem “more like examples of “fruity distillates put into refill bourbon wood for a very long time” rather than exemplars of distillery character”; or my review of a port-matured Benromach where I note that not having tried very many Benromachs “I can’t really speak to distillery character”; elsewhere in a review of a port-matured Springbank I put the term in scare quotes that clarify nothing, suggesting that due to Springbank’s approach to double maturation their “distillery character” always comes through in their whiskies of the type. And these are only some of my recent reviews in which I use the term. All of this would suggest that I believe in distillery character. But in fact I don’t. Or rather I don’t really know what it is I, or other people, mean when I/they refer to “distillery character” or if there’s any consistency in how we do it. Continue reading
The storied Islay distillery, Spewmoor today announced the 3rd and final edition in its successful Chairman’s Butt series. The first two limited editions of 300,000 bottles each sold out within hours of their release in 2012 and 2014, with customers falling over themselves to purchase bottles at £100 each and then to turn around and sell them to each other at £250 each. The first two releases, noted Hamish McGammon, Director of Cynicism at Spewmoor’s parent company Chundery, comprised 10 year old whisky matured in sherry casks specially chosen and blowtorched to impart a colour that would match the darkness of the board of directors’ souls and to distract drinkers from the strong aromas and flavours of sulphur in the whisky itself. Given the excitement with which these releases were consumed (and the breathless reviews and scores they received), the company was persuaded to release one final limited edition of 500,000 bottles in Europe, North America, South America, Oceania, Asia, Africa and Antarctica only.
We all drink Scotch whisky only to appear sophisticated. If you have a bourbon in your hand and someone asks you what you’re drinking you invariably have to say a name that sounds like it belonged to a minor Civil War general and then you worry that they might think you’re wearing confederate flag underwear. And if it is a Canadian whisky then you will likely become the butt of cruel jokes. But if you’ve got a glass of Scotch in your hand you get to hit your interlocutor with an unlikely combination of consonants and guttural sounds that make you sound like Sean Connery, or at least Mike Myers’ impression of Sean Connery. It doesn’t matter how you pronounce names like Laphroaig or Auchentoshan because nobody else knows how to pronounce them either. The problem comes when you’re asked what the name means (and anyone who’s been around drunks knows that we, I mean they are very interested in etymology).
In as bad a case of pandering as you’re likely to see all week I will have on the blog tomorrow a recipe for a turkey kofta “curry”. If you serve it at your Thanksgiving meal you’re likely to provoke great outrage from your family and friends, and that’s before you try to sell it as an Indian recipe—then again, family conflict is one of the great Thanksgiving traditions and so perhaps this is indeed a proper Thanksgiving recipe. Before I get to the recipe, however, I want to say a few quick things about an actual recent, local Thanksgiving-related outrage. I am referring to #GrapeGate.
So, the 2015 Whisky Bible awards list is out (ahead of the Bible itself). And as always many whisky geeks are falling over each other to see who can get their underwear in the most self-righteous and virtuous knot possible over Jim Murray’s latest excesses. And some of the luminaries of the whisky blogverse have also chimed in. The Whisky Sponge had a characteristically biting takedown right before the announcement; Serge Valentin of Whiskyfun has run a little graphic announcing that “the best whisky in the world simply does not exist“; and even Sam Simmons (aka Dr. Whisky) has roused his blog from suspended animation to note that Murray’s “controversial choices…are no promotional accident“. And here I am, just as predictably, with a contrarian response.
Let me note first of all that the Sponge at least is consistent—he mocked the Bible last year as well; and he also mocks everything else to do with the whisky industry and those who peddle, promote and obscure its twaddle. It’s less clear why Serge is so exercised about the idea of “the best whisky in the world”—after all, one might say that the Malt Maniacs Awards do much the same as Murray’s lists albeit in different language; and, of course, it’s not clear why the notion of someone proposing a “best whisky” should be so outrageous per se in a world where there’s a best everything, from movies (Crash!) to polka albums to butter sculptures. As for the good Dr. Whisky, one wonders if he and the rest of the Scotch whisky industry—Simmons is a brand ambassador for Balvenie—are as quick to note the promotional aspect of Murray’s announcements in years when Scotch whiskies are at the top of his lists and/or he’s not taking shots at the Scotch industry’s practices (as he did this year). Continue reading
Every year right around this time Diageo provide some public services by testing the state of the whisky bubble and the emotional state of whisky geeks everywhere, while simultaneously providing some high concept comedy to ease our strain in these troubled times. Herewith an annotated guide to the Diageo Special Releases for 2014.
Let us begin with the two categories that make the most sense. The prices listed are the recommended retail prices that are posted in the UK now—they’re usually lower in the US, and the sales situation is also usually different in the US (things hang around longer than they do in the UK or EU). Continue reading