The View from the Street (Hong Kong, December 2018)


Maybe you thought my previous slideshows of Hong Kong food markets (here and here) and so forth were excessive and uninteresting. In that case you will really love this slideshow of pictures I took on the streets over the rest of my week-long trip. There are more than 100 of them and none of them are of subjects of any broader significance other than the fact that they caught my (untalented) eye. One of the things I was really struck by in Hong Kong is the verticality of the city. Given the premium on land, buildings go up very tall and very narrow—rather vertiginously so in many cases. One of my favourites is an unremarkable building in Central which is just about a room thick (it’s the not only one of its kind that I saw). I also really like to take pictures of posters and ads on walls and that’s another major genre below. Also featured are the Ladies Market in Mong Kok and other markets and street scenes in Central. I’m putting these up for now without any captions—I’m in Bombay and busy taking unnecessary pictures here too; if any of these interest you, come back later to see what they’re of and where they’re from.  Continue reading

Edinburgh Whisky: The Whisky Trail + Robert Graham


Here is a contribution for the Captain Obvious Hall of Fame: there are a lot of whisky stores in Edinburgh. And I can say this despite barely having gone off the Royal Mile in my four days there. At the top of the Royal Mile is the Scotch Whisky Experience—as underwhelming as it is maximalist in design—and at the bottom is Cadenhead’s—as excellent as any Scotch whisky institution can be. In between, and on adjoining streets are a panoply of other establishments where you can buy or drink whisky. Today I have brief looks at two of these, one closer to the touristed epicenter of the Royal Mile, and one closer to Cadenhead’s in both location and ethos.  Continue reading

Edinburgh Whisky: The Scotch Whisky Experience + The Whisky Shop + the Bow Bar


It’s been three months since we got back from the UK and I’ve barely scratched the surface of my planned Scotland posts, to say nothing of my London food posts. I’m going to try to get at least most of the Scotland stuff done by the end of October. There’ll be a few posts on eating in Edinburgh, a few on eating in the Speyside and on Orkney, and starting with this one, there’ll be a few posts on whisky stores in Edinburgh (following my brief look at the excellent Cadenhead’s store there, which I’d posted in June). This post combines a look at two places: the Scotch Whisky Experience at the opposite end of the Royal Mile from Cadenhead’s, and the Victoria St. location of the Whisky Shop, not too far away. In different ways these are both quite different from Cadenhead’s; I wouldn’t really suggest shopping there over Cadenhead’s or Royal Mile Whiskies (report coming soon) but it was still interesting to go into both places.  Continue reading

Touring Tomatin


Tomatin was the first distillery I ever visited. This was last summer on our first trip to Scotland. We were driving from Glasgow to Drumnadrochit and after a nice visit at Blair Castle we had time for a quick stop at Tomatin. I wrote up that quick stop last year—we didn’t go past the shop, where I filled a bourbon cask from their “bottle your own” selection. We didn’t spend much time there but I liked the feel of the place and hoped I’d have a chance to return. That chance came on our unexpectedly early return to Scotland this June. It was on our last day, on our drive back from Edderton to Edinburgh, where we boarded a plane to London; it was raining but the distillery was warm. And thanks to Tomatin welcoming small children on the tour, my entire family was able to go on the tour with me. And they all loved it.  Continue reading

Highland Park, Windily


I toured Highland Park this June and it turned out to be one of the better tours I’ve been on. But when planning the trip I’d not planned to tour it at all. This because I’d read numerous reports from whisky geeks about the experience at the distillery being soulless and so on. As all of this seemed of a piece with the relentless premiumization the owners have been engaged in for the last half-decade or more, I tended to believe it. However, when I had a drink in Edinburgh with James he recommended it highly. I still didn’t make a reservation but decided I’d give it a go if the chance presented itself once actually on Orkney. And it did.  Continue reading

Scapa, Soggily


We had incredible luck with weather in Scotland this year. Last June, it rained a lot on both Skye and Islay. This year we spent two weeks in Edinburgh, the Speyside, the northern highlands and Orkney and encountered only two days with rain worth noting; one was our last day, on our drive back from the highlands to Edinburgh. The other was our first full day on Orkney. The day started out nice and sunny and we had a lovely time visiting Skara Brae and the breathtaking cliffs at Yesnaby. It started raining lightly after lunch but it didn’t bother us as we walked across the low tide path to the Brough of Birsay (utterly stunning). By the time we got to the Ring of Brodgar it had begun to piss down and as the family grew damper their enthusiasm for being out also dampened. Accordingly, I dumped them back at our B&B (the highly recommended Foinhaven farmhouse) circa 4 pm and went off by myself to take a look at Scapa, just about 15 minutes away. It was drizzling throughout, it was not far from closing time and so I did not linger or even think about a tour. Here is a quick look courtesy my cellphone camera.   Continue reading

Pulteney, Properly


Our day began in Dornoch. We’d spent the night at the Dornoch Castle Hotel. In the morning I’d enjoyed a micro-tour of their micro-distillery (report coming soon) and after checking out we spent an enjoyable hour or so at the small but charming Dornoch Historylinks Museum located right behind the hotel (I recommend it highly if you visit Dornoch, especially with kids). We then headed north. Our final destination for the day was Orkney but our ferry wasn’t till the evening. We were taking the NorthLink ferry from Scrabster to Stromness. They sail three times a day and there was no way on earth we were ever going to make it to the 8.45 am departure. The next departure is at 1.15 pm, which would mean we’d need to check in by 12. That too would have meant a hurried departure from Dornoch plus rushed lunch along the way. So we decided to take the evening ferry at 7 pm. This meant we could have a leisurely day along the coast and it also allowed for some distillery stops. The first stop was at Clynelish and the second was at Pulteney in Wick.  Continue reading

Scenes from India Fest, 2018 (St. Paul, MN)


Last year, at just about this time we spent a good part of the day at the Little Africa festival in St. Paul. We were planning to do the same again this year but in the weeks prior I learned that India Fest was scheduled on the same day. I’ve been vaguely aware of India Fest—organized by the India Association of Minnesota—for some time now but had never previously been moved to attend. But now that our boys are getting older we’re trying to expose them to as much of their parents’ Korean and Indian heritage as we can and so we decided to go. And a very interesting event it turned out to be.  Continue reading

Clynelish, Casually


Clynelish was my fifth DIageo distillery visit, and the second of this trip (after Cragganmore), and I wasn’t sure what to expect. While my visit to Lagavulin last year had been a highlight—both for the Warehouse Experience and for the general vibe at the distillery—and my brief stop at Cragganmore likewise very pleasant, I feared that the more perfunctory attitude I encountered at Talisker and Oban might make an appearance again at Clynelish. I was very happy to be proved completely wrong. We stopped here on our way from Dornoch to Wick. The distillery is located only 30 minutes or so from Dornoch, and it’s a lovely drive there up the coast. Given my expectations—and also the fact that I had a tour booked at Pulteney at 2 pm that day—I had not planned for a tour at Clynelish and so what I have for you is my usual look at the grounds and at the Visitor Centre/shop.  Continue reading

Balblair, Briefly


Balblair was my third distillery stop on the day of my visit. The day had begin with a tour of Aberlour. Then on the way out of the Speyside we stopped briefly at Glenfarclas. A couple of hours later we were at Balblair. If you’re ever planning a trip in this part of Scotland and wondering about distillery visits, you should know that it’s very easy to get to Balblair. It’s less than an hour from Inverness and mostly on a nice big highway. It’s very easy to combine it with a visit to the Loch Ness area. And if you so chose, you could stop at Dalmore and Glenmorangie along the way. We did not stop and arrived at Balblair about an hour and a half before closing time.  Continue reading

Glenfarclas on the Go


Having just written up a Speyside distillery that I did tour (Aberlour), let me hit you with one last distillery visit that did not involve a tour. This was my second stop at Glenfarclas in as many days. You may recall that my friend Daniel and I went to Glenfarclas on the Sunday afternoon of our Speyside jaunt only to discover that they are closed on Sundays (and also on Saturdays—at least in June). We then went to Cragganmore instead. The next day, after we’d toured Aberlour and lunched at the Mash Tun, Daniel and his family drove back to Edinburgh. We drove to Dornoch but decided to go a bit south rather than north to meet the A9. This resulted in the only sustained bit of very narrow road driving on this trip, as our sat nav took us through a slightly more picturesque route than we were looking for to get to the A9. It also meant that we were going to be driving past Glenfarclas rather than Benromach on the way, and so we paused for about 15 minutes for me to walk around the distillery grounds and in the visitor centre.  Continue reading

Touring Aberlour


Here is my sixth report on a visit to a distillery in the Speyside and it’s finally one that I toured. (Previous stops were at Cragganmore, Glenfiddich, Strathisla, Glen Moray and Glen Grant.) I was very much looking forward to this visit as I’d heard a lot about their distillery exclusive bottles and was hoping to taste and purchase one of each, and certainly at least the ex-bourbon cask they’re said to always have on offer. And the tour itself has a very good reputation—it’s one of those that is always recommended by whisky geeks to people making their first visit to the Speyside. Well, I was disappointed on one score and pleased on the other.  Continue reading

Cragganmore at Closing Time


Cragganmore was the third distillery I visited on our Sunday in the Speyside in June. I’d not actually had any plans to visit it. The plan was Strathisla in the morning, followed by Glenfiddich, and then the afternoon at Ballindalloch Castle. After Glamis Castle on the way to the Speyside, however, we weren’t feeling like another castle tour and so decided to just hang out in their gardens—which include extensive play areas and activities for kids. When we got there, one of the gents at one of the activity tables asked my friend Daniel and me if we’d been to Glenfarclas yet (it had somehow come up that we were interested in whisky). No, we said. You should really go, he said, it’s just a few miles away. And so off the two of us went. And found that Glenfarclas is closed on Sundays. Rather than go right back we decided to drive a few miles the other way to Cragganmore, which we’d established was open on Sundays. We arrived just about 20 minutes before closing but got a warm welcome.  Continue reading

At Glenfiddich


There was no way I was going to go to the Speyside and not stop in at either of the region’s two most historically significant names. The most significant distillery, of course, is Glenlivet. But Glenlivet was just a bit too far out of the way for our mostly non-whisky-obsessed group. Glenfiddich has the added attraction of being situated right by the ruins of Balvenie Castle. And so it was an easy choice to go to the distillery that pioneered the marketing of distillery-released single malt whisky in the early 1960s. Accordingly, we drove right there from Strathisla. The two make for quite a contrast, especially in quick juxtaposition. Continue reading