Ballechin 17, 2004, Refill Fino (WhiskySponge)


Here is the second of three reviews of single casks of Ballechin—or peated Edradour—released recently by Whisky Sponge. See here for a review of the first cask (a first-fill bourbon barrel) and read the comments on that post for some discussion of the ethical issues that these releases raise. If you have any thoughts about any of that please add them to the comments on that first review so it all stays in one place.

Ballechin 17, 2004 (55.5%; WhiskySponge; Edition 36B; Refill Fino Sherry Butt; from a bottle split)

Nose: Dry, farmy peat with some sweet notes around the edges of the smoke. Gets more organic and vegetal as it sits—definitely something rotting in the undergrowth in the middle distance, the aroma being wafted over on a briny, sea breeze (yes, I know where Edradour is located). Water softens the whole up: the farmy peat abates and there’s a touch of vanilla now. The salt expands again with time. Continue reading

Holbox, Again (Los Angeles, Dec 2021)


One of our favourite meals on my last visit to Los Angeles before the pandemic was at Holbox, the seafood-centered counter at Mercado La Paloma from the people who first brought us the excellent Chichen Itza. We have been plotting a return ever since, never expecting that it would take another three years. Of course, dining out on this trip was complicated. While proof of vaccination is required for dining in at restaurants in Los Angeles proper—the mandate is not really being followed elsewhere in LA County—our preference was also for dining outdoors whenever possible. Thankfully, both sets of caution were in evidence at this meal: proof of vaccination was checked stringently on entry to Mercado la Paloma to order our meal and there was excellent outdoor seating out front on a lovely, sunny day. And so, our meal. Continue reading

Ballechin 17, 2004, First-Fill Bourbon (WhiskySponge)


Back in the middle of 2020 I posted reviews of a trio of whiskies from Edradour. Let’s begin 2021 with reviews of a trio that bear the name Ballechin, aka peated Edradour. Until that trio of Edradours in mid-2020 I had actually only ever reviewed Ballechins from the distillery. And with only one exception—this Signatory release—I had only reviewed official releases, including a number of the cask variations (port, oloroso, marsala, madeira) released during the spirit’s initial march to the first 10 yo release. Since then a number of older Ballechins have hit the market from various indie bottlers. which leads us to this trio which represents the oldest Ballechins I have yet tried. This trio, furthermore, has been bottled by WhiskySponge, the outfit that bears the nickname of its proprietor, Angus MacRaild. The Whisky Sponge first became known to the general populace via the excellent eponymous blog that lampooned the excesses of the industry—and occasionally published more serious commentary as well. Somewhere along the line Angus M. seems to have become an indie bottler himself—more evidence that I really am out of touch with malt whisky developments is that I only noted this relatively recently. He also became a contributing writer on Serge Valentin’s Whiskyfun a few years ago. Now Angus seems to be an upstanding type but I have to confess I find a little messy the situation of one independent bottler regularly reviewing releases from his competition on what is undoubtedly the most influential whisky buying guide around—especially for indie releases. Continue reading

Coming Soon…


Yesterday I published my look back at 2021 on the blog. Today I have for you the customary look at the month ahead. This post contains both the usual long list of potential whisky reviews to be posted on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays and the poll to select recipes to be posted on Thursdays. As always, make your nominations for the whisky reviews in the comments below; and vote for up to four recipes in the poll. Tuesdays will continue to feature restaurant write-ups. And through January there will likely be a bonus restaurant write-up during the weekends as well. This because I have a large backlog of reports from our recent Los Angeles trip and don’t want to still be posting them in March. Having eaten out so much in Los Angeles—where outdoor seating and a proof of vaccination requirement for dining in were both common—I’m not sure if we’re going to be eating out at all now for a while but I hope to get back to Twin Cities metro takeout reports soon. Continue reading

Looking Back at 2021 on the Blog


I started last year’s version of this post by saying, “I hope 2021 will not be like 2020 for too long”. This year I will not make any forward-looking statements.

We were lucky in 2021 in our household and extended family—in the US, India and Korea. Others we know were not. If 2021 didn’t mean a return to normalcy in our everyday lives—though we almost achieved it in patches—the blog kept chugging on normally. At the start of the pandemic in the US in 2020 I’d thought it unlikely I’d keep at it but in both years it’s been the routine I’ve clung to. Approaching its ninth anniversary in March, I think it’s safe to say the blog will make it to its 10 anniversary in 2023 (assuming I do as well). Readers don’t seem to be losing interest either—though it is very likely that in the last 2-3 years my old whisky readership has largely been replaced by a food readership. At least that’s what the numbers continue to suggest. Continue reading

Longmorn-Glenlivet 1971-2004 (Scott’s Selection)

The two Glenfarclas 28, 1992s I reviewed this week (here and here) were both very good but stopped just short of true excellence in my view. And so it’s time to bring out a guaranteed heavy hitter to close out the year. Not because this year has been anything to celebrate but in the hopes that it might augur better things for next year. This too is a Speysider, albeit a little older and distilled a long time before the two Glenfarclas. This is one of the great Longmorns bottled by Scott’s Selection in 2003 and 2004 for the US market. I’ve previously reviewed the 1968-2003, the 1967-2004 and the 1968-2004. This is the youngest of the set, distilled in 1971 and bottled in 2004. (The other in the group is the 1967-2003 of which I have a bottle in reserve.) Like most of the great Longmorns of that era, this features a heavy dose of fruit, most of it tropical. I know this because this is not my first bottle. These were all still widely available when I first began to buy a lot of whisky and I bought a pair each of this and the 1968-2003. The first bottle was finished before I launched the blog; here now is the second. My spreadsheet tells me I paid all of $162 for this back in December 2011. Those were indeed the days. Here’s to better days in 2022 as well. Continue reading

Paneer Mirch Masala


First things first: home-made paneer is the best and it is very easy to make. As I’ve said before if you have the skills to bring a liquid to a slow boil and then stir it then you have the skills to make paneer—see here for the method I learned from a friend, the late, great Sue Darlow. But if you don’t have the time to make paneer at home by all means go out and get some from your local desi store. For that matter, Costco has giant blocks of paneer too these days—I’ve not tried it; if you have and have an opinion please do share in the comments. In short, use whatever paneer you have but if nervousness is the only thing stopping you from trying to make your own then just know it’s not difficult. Anyway, when I make paneer my default uses for it are either palak-paneer or matar-paneer. This summer, however, I started making paneer-mirch masala in yet another attempt to use up the endless flood of Hungarian hot wax peppers from my vegetable garden. I played around with a number of variations with spices, the amount of tomato, the amount of gravy etc. and this is my current favourite version. Give it a go. Continue reading

Plausibly Speyside’s Finest/Glenfarclas 28, 1982 (OMC for K&L)


Having reviewed what was said to be “possibly” Speyside’s finest it’s time to move on to what might “plausibly” be Speyside’s finest. The first was rather good, just held back by a bit too much oak and a thinnish texture. Will this one improve on those and other points? Let’s see.

Plausibly Speyside’s Finest/Glenfarclas 28, 1982 (46.4%; OMC for K&L; refill bourbon barrel; from a bottle split)

Nose: More muted than the other at first with a leafy note with some dusty oak behind. Starts to open after a few beats with lemon and pear and some powdered sugar. With time the pineapple begins to emerge more fully on the nose as well. A few drops of water soften it up and pull out some cream—the dusty oak is long gone. Continue reading

Sushi Nozomi II (Los Angeles, December 2021)


If dim sum is one of things we most look forward to eating in Los Angeles, so is sushi. My views on Minnesota sushi being just about as beloved as my views on Minnesota dim sum, I will say no more about that. I will instead only reiterate that it is very easy to find good sushi all over Los Angeles county—you don’t need to go to the temples of sushi in order to eat very good fish served atop very good rice. And if you’re in Torrance one of the best choices for that combination is Sushi Nozomi. I’ve previously reported on a meal eaten there six and a half years ago, a bit on the run on the way to the Long Beach Aquarium. We stopped in again on this trip—Torrance being much closer to our new base of operations in Seal Beach than to our previous in Koreatown—and this meal was even better. Herewith the details. Continue reading

Possibly Speyside’s Finest/Glenfarclas 28, 1992 (Sovereign for K&L)


I’ve decided to end the year with a trio of older whiskies. First up, an indie Glenfarclas. Glenfarclas has long (always?) disallowed the use of its name on independent bottlings and it’s quite common to see variations on “Speyside’s Finest” used instead. This 28 yo bottled by Sovereign for K&L this year is named “Possibly Speyside’s Finest”. There’s another bottled alongside named “Plausibly Speyside’s Finest’ (which I might possibly/plausibly review on Wednesday). Now which is a more reassuring qualifier in this context: “Possibly” or “Plausibly”? This follows, by the way, on the heels of last year’s K&L cask which was named “Perhaps Speyside’s Finest”. What’s next? “Purportedly”? “Potentially?” “Perchance”?

As with many indie Glenfarclases (Glenfarclas? Glenfarcli? Glenfarcleaux?), this is from a bourbon cask. It’s always interesting to try whiskies that depart significantly from the home distilleries official profiles. Yes, it’s true that the distillery has also bottled a few ex-bourbon casks in their Family Casks series (for example, this one) but you know what I mean: Glenfarclas is generally synonymous with sherry cask maturation. Anyway, let’s see what this one is like. Continue reading

Favourite Dishes Eaten in the Twin Cities Metro: Oct 1-Dec 31, 2021


December is not yet over but as I will be in Los Angeles till the end of the month dinner at Sooki & Mimi was my last meal in Minnesota for 2021. Which means I can give you the usual quarterly round-up of meals eaten in the Twin Cities metro in the last three months before those months are completely up.

When 2021 started I think we all hoped/expected that by the middle of the year we’d be back to something approaching normal life, which in the world of dining out would have meant going back to dining in person at restaurants as the norm. Of course, most restaurants in the Twin Cities went back to this even in the face of the rise of the delta variant in the late summer and many, many diners did too. We did not until early December, waiting till our younger boy had also received his shots. And so this list is also dominated by meals eaten as takeout and outdoors at restaurants. That doesn’t mean, of course, that we didn’t eat a lot of good stuff, because we did. Continue reading

Dim Sum at Capital Seafood (Los Angeles, December 2021)


This was not the first restaurant meal we ate on this trip to Los Angeles (now at the halfway point) or even the second, third, fourth or fifth. But today is Christmas and having posted a review of a Christmas-themed malt yesterday I feel I should keep the Christmas spirit flowing with a review of a meal at a Chinese restaurant. And so this brief account of a meal at the Arcadia location of Capital Seafood.

Dim sum is always one of the things we most look forward to eating when we visit Los Angeles. (I will spare you another installment of my very popular views about dim sum in Minnesota.) We usually hit up one of our San Gabriel Valley mainstays—Sea Harbour, Elite or Lunasia—but in these times the most important criterion for us is outdoor dining and from what I could find out it appears that Capital Seafood’s Arcadia location might be the only place in the SGV that has a patio and takes reservations for parties of eight and up. As we were going to be a party of eight I called a week ago and made the reservation for a patio table. Continue reading

“A Fine Christmas Malt”, 16 yo, The Whisky Exchange 2021


Today is the day before Christmas and therefore I have for you a whisky with Christmas in its name. This is the 2021 edition of the Whisky Exchange’s “A Fine Christmas Malt”. It is 16 years old and ostensibly from a mystery distillery. However, at the bottom of the product page for this whisky on the TWE website the links offer “More from Highland Park”. I think this means that this is a Highland Park. Actually, I know it is but don’t ask me how I know: if word gets out that he’s been so indiscreet someone might have to shave his beard. I rather liked the last Highland Park I reviewed of this general age: a 17 yo bottled for K&L. Unlike that one this is not a single cask but a vatting of bourbon and sherry casks. A friend visiting London in November muled a bottle back to me. I was expecting it to be sold out by now but somehow it is still available—oh, when will the war on Christmas end? On the other hand, this means I am reviewing yet another currently available whisky. I truly am the king of timely whisky reviewers. Continue reading

Roasted Moog Dal with Rosemary


When I was a child—back in the Devonian—I did not really care for moog dal. Mushoor dal was my absolute favourite, with chholar dal and kali dal rounding out the triumvirate. There was something about the flavour of moog dal that I just did not care for. Perhaps it was on account of the fact that my mother usually cooked it with vegetables and vegetables were a separate and entire class of things I did not care. Well, unsurprisingly, I grew to love moog dal as an adult; more surprisingly, perhaps, my kids absolutely love it. They will tolerate mushoor dal but it is moog dal they actually get excited to eat—all the rest are currently rejected. And so I make moog dal often. To keep things interesting for them—and for us—I experiment ever so often with tadkas. This, by the way, has been a major development in their relationship with dal. It used to be that they only wanted moog dal made without tadka (which can be very good, by the way). But now they put up with and even enjoy the flavour of various tadkas. This one in particular was a favourite in the early winter this year as my rosemary plant was slowly dying after having been dug up and brought indoors. Yes, I add a few sprigs of rosemary to the tadka. It goes really well with the flavour and aroma of the dal, which in the Bengali manner is dry-roasted before it is cooked. Continue reading

Balvenie 15, Sherry Cask 12243


The week began with a review of the current batch of the Kilkerran 8, CS which was put together from first-fill oloroso cask matured spirit. Today’s review is of another sherry cask-matured whisky. This one, from Balvenie in the Speyside, is almost twice the age of the Kilkerran. The old Balvenie 15 Single Barrel series was one of my favourites back when I got into malt whisky in a big way. Those were all single bourbon casks. A little less than 10 years ago or so that series was discontinued in favour of a new 15 y sherry cask series. Unsurprisingly, these releases cost a lot more. The lowest price in the US right now seems to be just under $100 though in most states they cost a lot more than that—in Minnesota the lowest price shown on Winesearcher is currently $130 before tax. The only other cask in the series that I’ve reviewed so far was certainly not a whisky I’d want to pay $130 for—or for that matter even much less. Now, it’s true that there are very few whiskies any more of any age or cask type that I’m willing to pay those kinds of prices for. Will this one turn out to be one of them? Let’s see. I’m not sure when this was bottled, by the way—I assume sometime in the last couple of years. Continue reading

Sooki & Mimi (Minneapolis)


As you probably know, Sooki & Mimi is the new restaurant from Ann Kim of Young Joni fame (she won a Beard award for her food there). You probably also know that it is one of the buzziest restaurants to have opened recently in the Twin Cities. The buzz really picked up two months or so ago when the New York Times included it in a list of the most exciting restaurants in the country or some such. You see, here in Minnesota we are so confident in our identity that we manage to both tell the New York Times they know nothing when they say things about us we don’t like and to fall all over ourselves in excitement when they offer the slightest bit of praise. Well, we are famously a very emotional people here in the upper midwest and it probably shouldn’t surprise anyone that we can be so volatile. Continue reading

Kilkerran 8 CS, Batch 5


There have been a few general batch-numbered releases of a Kilkerran 8 CS in recent years. Going off the Whiskybase listings it would appear that the first couple of of these appeared in 2017 (I am not counting previous single cask releases or releases available only at the distillery). The 2017 (Batch 1 and Batch 2) and 2018 (Batch 3) releases were from bourbon casks. I was not the biggest fan of Batch 1 and have not tried the second or third batches. Batch 4 was released in 2019—I reviewed it earlier this year and after an unpromising opening rather liked—and was matured in re-charred oloroso sherry casks. After a year’s break, 2021’s release (Batch 5) is once again from oloroso sherry casks but this time they were first-fill oloroso casks. This is the release I am reviewing today as the first in a week of sherry cask whiskies. On Wednesday I’ll check in with a Balvenie single sherry cask and I’ll close out the week appropriately on Friday with The Whisky Exchange’s recent “A Fine Christmas Malt”. But first let’s get into this one. Continue reading

Twin Cities South Asian Restaurant Rankings, 2021 Update


Just about a year ago I published my first-ever “Highly Subjective Ranking of Indian Restaurants in the Twin Cities Metro Area“. That list was occasioned by recognition of the fact that the Indian food scene in the Twin Cities at the end of 2020 was almost wholly transformed from what it had been like when we arrived in Minnesota in 2007. And also by the fact the mainstream food media and their readers continue to be largely unaware of these developments. Now I don’t pretend to have a very large reach on this blog but I was happy to see that post shared and re-shared by many people on various Twin Cities food groups on Facebook. And though it was posted with just a week left in 2020 it quickly rose into the top 5 most read posts of the year. And it’s been read consistently in 2021 as well (it’s currently in the top 3 most read posts of the year). Here now is an updated second edition. Continue reading