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

Glendronach 10, 2002, Virgin Oak


Behold, I, a wise man from the East, bring to you this day tidings of a whisky born of virgin oak!

Glendronach—the distillery that understands the word “single” in a manner different from the rest of us—is almost entirely associated with sherry cask-matured whisky. Very little non-sherried Glendronach ever seems to make out into the world, but some does from time to time. This cask is one of them. However, it is not likely to be one that can give me a sense of what Glendronach’s spirit is like away from the heavy influence of sherry that has become their calling card. This because not only is it not a sherry cask, it is a virgin oak cask, and chances are always good with virgin oak casks that the oak—not yet tamed by serial maturations of whisky—will be very talkative if not entirely overpowering. Let’s see if that proves to be the case here. Continue reading

2019, A Year in Books I (Gio)


A while ago I’d said that I’d write more about books on the blog and then, as is my wont with things I promise to do, I didn’t really do it. But now I’ve found the perfect solution: farm that task out to friends who read a lot and like to talk about books a lot. In particular, to four friends from graduate school—people I’ve known since 1993—who are among the most voracious readers I know. I asked them to annotate a list of 5-7 books they read in 2019 that they found compelling for some reason and would like to recommend to others. They don’t have to be books published in 2019, I said, and they don’t have to be a list of favourite/best books of the year; and I asked that the list not be dominated by “usual suspects”. Beyond that I’ve left it up to them. First up is a list from my friend Giovanna. Gio grew up following the Italian national football team and so her aesthetic sense is a little suspect but we’ll try not to hold that against this list. Continue reading

Bowmore 14, 1996 (A.D. Rattray for BevMo)


This Bowmore was released at a time almost a decade ago when one of the most popular memes in whisky geekdom was to complain about Bowmore’s distillate being marred by overly perfumed and soapy notes. The only thing that was more popular was to complain about sulphur. Now, it’s true that through most of the 1980s Bowmore’s distillate was seemingly marred by these qualities but it was almost entirely gone from 1989 onwards. The proof of this could be seen in none other than A.D. Rattray’s releases of Bowmore distilled in the early 1990s. Perhaps due to family connections to the distillery, Rattray, more than any other indie bottler available in the US, seemed to have a line on not just a lot of casks of 1990s Bowmore but a lot of excellent casks of Bowmore. I’ve reviewed a few of these (see this 20 yo from 1991 and this 20 yo from 1990). This particular cask, bottled for BevMo in California is a bit younger and from the middle of the decade. This is not the only Bowmore 14, 1996 Rattray bottled for BevMo. In the days before the blog I purchased and finished another cask with a much longer number. My spreadsheet doesn’t note that cask number and Whiskybase has no record of it but I know it was real! I’m also pretty sure I would have saved a 6 oz reference sample from that bottle, as that was my standard practice at the time. Well, if I like this one a lot that will be sufficient motivation to try and dig that out from the vault.  Continue reading

Roasted Carrot Soup with Tamarind


The very first vegetable soup I ever made was a carrot soup, the recipe for which I found, of all places, on the Williams-Sonoma website. That bookmarked link no longer goes anywhere but the recipe lives on in my kitchen as a sort-of template for a large number of vegetable soups: carrots cooked with sauteed leeks in stock till softened, pureed and given some brightness with acid. The recipe I have for you today differs in some important ways—there are no potatoes in this, the acid comes from tamarind, and I add toasted spices and finally the nutty zing of a mustard seed-curry leaf tadka. But the structure is still the same. My thanks to whoever it was that put that recipe up on the Williams-Sonoma site back in the day. Continue reading

Lat14 (Golden Valley, MN)


As I recently noted, the last few years have seen a dramatic upswing in high-end Twin Cities restaurants featuring the cuisines of minority communities. If—as I observed—in the case of Mexican cuisine(s) this phenomenon seems to involve mostly non-Mexican chefs and restaurateurs, in the case of Southeast Asian cuisines the situation is different. Young Joni, whose chef Ann Kim won the Beard award for “Best Chef: Midwest” this year, is probably the most celebrated of these restaurants. Hai Hai, whose chef Christina Nguyen, was nominated for the same award, is not too far behind. (For what it’s worth, we enjoyed our meal at Hai Hai a lot more than our meal at Young Joni.) Lat14, which opened last year in Golden Valley, is the most recent entry in the broad genre. We were there with friends a few weeks ago, and ate a goodly portion of the menu. Here is my review of that meal. Continue reading

Old Blends: Ballantine’s, Late 1940s/Early 1950s


A year and a half ago I was posting regular reviews of blended whiskies from bygone eras. I did not find all of these blends to be very good, or even necessarily all offering so very different profiles from what’s available today. The experience was nonetheless educational. I’m not sure why I stopped—I still have quite a few of these samples from the big bottle split I participated in at the time. I’m going to get these reviews back on track till they’re all gone. Here now is a an older version of a blend from a familiar brand name: Ballantine’s. This sample is from a bottle that was released either in the late 1940s or early 1950s—as always, I’m not sure how these things are figured out; you have to work on trust when going in on splits like these. Modern Ballantine’s has malt from Glenburgie at its core; I assume this has been true for a while now (if you can confirm or deny, please write in below). I’d guess Glenburgie’s malt in the 1940s or 1950s was also quite different from what they’re making now. Anyway, let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading