Oban 14


I began the month and week with a review of a stunt whisky: Ardbeg Grooves, the 2018 edition of Ardbeg’s annual special release. Today I have a review of an altogether more classic malt—one that is always available and has been available for a long time: the Oban 14. It was recently brought to my attention that I have not yet reviewed a single Oban. This is not entirely my fault as there are very few Obans one could review. Until recently, this 14 yo and a sherry-finished Distillers’ Edition were the only Obans that were easily found (no indie releases that I can think of)—there’s a 18 yo as well, but it’s a more limited release (and in a rare twist, I believe it’s a US exclusive). A couple of years ago an inevitable NAS offering, “Little Bay”, joined the regular line-up; but unlike with Talisker, Diageo has not yet made that line-up mushroom further. If you’re in Oban you can go to the distillery and try your luck with the distillery exclusive, but here in the US we only have three or four Obans to choose from. To make up for my neglect of the distillery, I’m going to review most of these in succession. Today, the 14 yo; on Friday, the Distillers’ Edition; and on Monday, “Little Bay”. In one fell swoop I will go from having reviewed no Obans to having reviewed almost all available Obans.  Continue reading

Ardbeg Grooves, Committee Release


In which I start the month with a timely’ish review. The foolishly named Ardbeg Grooves is this year’s entry in Ardbeg’s annual exercise in folly. The regular release comes out on Ardbeg Day, otherwise known as June 2; this higher strength release came out a few weeks ago to whet the appetite of those who cannot get enough of Ardbeg and their folly. Despite being a fool myself, I’ve skipped these shenanigans entirely in recent years; and eventual reviews of their recent annual releases have not made me feel foolish about having done so. However, this year when the opportunity arose to taste the latest “Committee Release” via a bottle split, I decided to go for it. For some reason I thought I’d read very positive reviews of it—though I have not subsequently been able to track down what it is I’d thought I’d read. This whisky apparently contains some significant fraction of spirit matured in ex-red wine casks. The press materials tell me that these casks were charred extensively, producing grooves in them; evidently, Ardbeg’s proprietary cask charring system allows them to produce effects that fit with whatever silly concept they’ve hit on for the year (see also the Alligator). Also, Ardbeg was groovy in the 1960s and whatnot (yes, this is actually part of their sell). Continue reading

Coming Soon…


In the post I made on the blog’s 5th anniversary I noted that I was no more inclined to start reviewing more standard/current releases now than I have been in the past. Accordingly, I am pleased to note that this month’s long list of potential whisky reviews contains a larger number of whiskies that are either always available or still available in Minnesota. I’m not sure how this happened but it’s not likely to happen again in the near future. I also noted recently that the most-read posts on the blog in recent months are food-related, and so I thought I’d confirm that in March eight of the top 10 read posts were either restaurant reviews or recipes. Of the two whisky posts, one was the ever-popular discussion of Glendronach’s “single cask” shenanigans and the other was my review of the Glendronach 25, 1968. So, if I went with what most people apparently like to read on this blog, I’d post only about food. As such, you should be grateful that I post any whisky reviews at all, and that I cover any distilleries other than Glendronach.  Continue reading

Top 5 Twin Cities Dishes, January-March 2018


I present this with apologies to Heavy Table for ripping off one of their features (imitation is the sincerest form of flattery etc.). I’ll only be doing this four times a year, not every week—so not very much ripping off. It’s a simple idea: the best five dishes I’ve eaten in the last quarter of the year in the Twin Cities. The emphasis is on dishes that are still/always available. If I’ve eaten something I liked a lot at a restaurant whose menu updates often, I will not include it here unless I ate it so recently that it would still be available for an appreciable amount of time to whichever poor schmuck might actually be influenced by one of my posts to go seek it out. This first installment accordingly does not include anything I ate at my birthday dinner at Spoon and Stable (the fusili with lamb ragu that I really liked is already gone). It does include a number of tasty things you can still find easily for much less than you’d pay at Spoon and Stable.  Continue reading

Tobermory 20, 1994 (Wilson & Morgan)


My first review for this month was of a Tobermory distilled in 1994 and bottled by the Italian independent, Wilson & Morgan. Let’s close out the month’s whisky reviews with another Tobermory distilled in 1994 and bottled by Wilson & Morgan. This is two years older than the previous—and where that was from an ex-bourbon cask, this one is from an oloroso sherry cask. Sherry cask Tobermorys have heretofore been the ones I’ve liked the best and I’m hoping that trend will continue with this one. Let’s get right to it.

(By the way, though this may seem like a very untimely review, I believe this is still available in Europe.)

Tobermory 20, 1994 (50%; Wilson & Morgan; oloroso sherry cask #5043; from a purchased sample)  Continue reading

Ben Nevis 17, 1999 (The Whisky Agency for Casa de Vinos)


I’ve been going on for some years now about how Ben Nevis’s historically iffy reputation has been poised to turn around and it seems like that time is finally here. Official releases of Ben Nevis fetch top dollar and indie iterations are also seeing rises in price. This is largely because Ben Nevis is one of the most reliable sources of exuberant tropical fruit in single malt whisky—and in their case it’s often mixed with malt and cocoa and a certain wild edge; altogether it makes for a very idiosyncratic combination. I keep an  eye out for indie Ben Nevis, especially from bourbon casks and in the late teens age-wise (see, for example, this other 17 yo Ben Nevis from Cadenhead that I absolutely loved). Accordingly, I purchased this one in the UK that was bottled by the German outfit, The Whisky Agency, for an Australian importer named Casa de Vinos. I’m not sure if the entire run was bottled for the Australian market or if some of this cask was released in the EU as well. Anyway, I opened this last month for one of my local group’s tastings, expecting it to be a highlight. To my dismay, it was rather flat. I set it aside to see if some air in the bottle would do it any good, and here now are my notes a few weeks after it was opened.  Continue reading

Szechuan II (Roseville, MN)


At the end of last week’s review of an excellent dinner at Demera I noted that this week’s review would be of a disappointing Sichuan meal. This is that meal, eaten at Szechuan (in Roseville). I should say right off the bat, however, that it was not by any means a bad meal; it was, however, disappointing on account of some changes in the menu and how it was presented on their website when we decided to go eat there. This menu presentation raised our expectations in a specific way and those were far from met. Anyone unencumbered by those expectations—which would be almost anyone else eating there—would have far less to complain about. What am I talking about? Read on to find out and then keep reading to see what we actually ate and what we thought of it.  Continue reading

Bowmore 17, 1997 (SMWS)


On Saturday, to mark the fifth anniversary of the blog, I posted a review of the second release of the Bowmore Devil’s Casks. That official sherried Bowmore ended up being a bit too sulphurous even for my generally sulphur-tolerant palate. It was a good whisky, I thought, but it could have been a lot better. Today, I have a review of another heavily sherried Bowmore. This one was bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, and I believe it was bottled for the 2015 edition of Feis Ile. I purchased my bottle a couple of years ago at auction in the UK. It wasn’t cheap—though much cheaper than it is now—but I am a big fan of Bowmore and few propositions in whisky are more enticing to me than high-quality sherried Bowmore. The early reviews certainly made this out to seem like one of those. Spoiler alert: when I opened the bottle I found it to indeed be a high-quality sherried Bowmore. The bottle is now sadly empty. Here are my notes (taken when only about a quarter of the bottle remained). Continue reading

Bowmore 10, Devil’s Casks, 2nd Ed.


I made my first post on this blog on March 24, 2013—I didn’t actually tell anybody about it till a while later but March 24 is the anniversary of the blog. My very first review on that day was a review of a Bowmore—the Legend—and I’ve marked every anniversary since with another Bowmore review. On the first anniversary I reviewed the first release of the Devil’s Casks, and now on the fifth anniversary I have a review of the second release (I don’t remember in what year this was actually released). I don’t know that I planned to be blogging for five years when I started out—my life is littered with things I started with great enthusiasm and then abandoned—but here I still am. Truth be told, adding food to the mix probably saved me from getting burned out. I’m not quite as engaged with the whisky world as I was when I started the blog and I’m not sure that whisky blogs (or food blogs, for that matter) are even particularly relevant anymore. I certainly read fewer blogs than I once did and can’t imagine why anybody reads mine.  Continue reading

Glenburgie 29, 1983 (Signatory)


Glenburgie remains one of the great unsung Scottish distilleries. Almost all their production goes into Chivas Bros.’ blends—mostly into Ballantine’s, I believe. I don’t believe there is any official Glenburgie beyond entries in the 500 ml “Cask Strength Edition” series sold in the group’s distilleries’ shops. This lack of recognition is really a shame as bourbon cask Glenburgie is almost always at least very good and can be very, very good indeed. I’ve not reviewed very many on the blog but Glenburgies always catch my eye and I purchase them when the opportunity arises. I can’t remember when it was that I purchased this one (my usually dependable spreadsheet fails me on this occasion) but it is the oldest Glenburgie I’ve yet had. Older doesn’t always mean better: sometimes it can just mean oakier (of course, it also always means “more expensive”). This one, I am happy to say, is very good—I opened it for my local group’s premium tasting earlier this year and it went down a treat. Here now is my review.  Continue reading

Littlemill 12


As you may know, in recent years malts from the closed lowlands distillery, Littlemill have become among the most sought after whiskies on the market. This mania, I should quickly clarify, is focused entirely on much older casks from the late 1980s and early 1990s that began to come to market in the early years of this decade. There was something very ironic about this development because when Littlemill was in fact open nobody had very much positive to say about it. I joke sometimes that more unsung or disliked distilleries should close down to turn their reputations around, but in Littlemill’s case this seems to be what’s happened. The truth, of course, is more likely to lie in the fact that once the distillery had closed, more of its surviving casks accidentally aged to a quality that was previously undiscovered in the official releases. For example, in this 12 yo, which is as unloved an OB release as you can hope to find. Having been warned away from it when I first began to pursue single malt whisky, this will actually be my first time tasting it. Will the bad reputation be warranted? Or will I regret not having tried it when bottles could easily be found on shelves in whisky stores everywhere? Let’s see.  Continue reading

Demera (St. Paul)


Here is only my second review of an Ethiopian restaurant in the Twin Cities. I reviewed Fasika last fall and had planned to get to more Ethiopian places before the year ended. Alas, as with most of my well-intentioned plans—okay, all of them—I didn’t stick to it. And so my review of Demera comes 3-4 months after I’d thought it would. It is also located on University Avenue in St. Paul, a mile or two away from Fasika. It doesn’t have the reputation or name-recognition of Fasika—and it’s not easy to spot or easy on the eyes from the outside—but based on our recent dinner, I might say the food is better here.  Continue reading

Balblair 2003, First US Release


So few Balblairs reviewed on this blog. It’s almost as though I have something against Balblair. But I assure you that this is not true. I am pro-Balblair; while I could not say that some of my best friends are Balblairs (I barely even know any people named Blair), I am certainly Balblair-positive. Which is not to say that I have been infected by Balblair, merely that I am positively inclined towards Balblair. Why is this? you ask. Well, I cannot say. It’s not the case that I’ve had any Balblairs that have made me want to rhapsodize (though I do have a sample of one from the mid-1960s that might fit that description). But their whiskies are always solid and they put vintages and age markers on them, and generally don’t engage in much marketing malarkey. I am hoping to stop at the distillery on our planned trip to Scotland in June, and may even attempt to convey my appreciation of these qualities to a befuddled distillery employee. But enough folly! What Balblair is this? It is a 11 or 12 yo from the 2003 vintage. The first US release, says the label from the industrious Michael K.—which leads me to believe that there may have been another twelve or seventeen releases since. Well, I don’t know if any of those have been any good but I will soon be able to tell you what I think of this one.  Continue reading

Glendronach 25, 1968


A third 25 yo whisky to end the week and this is an official release with a rather big reputation: a Glendronach distilled in 1968 and bottled in 2003. I’ve had small pours of it on a couple of occasions before; this large sample came to me from the ever-generous Sku. This is a throwback to Glendronach’s past, distilled and bottled before the Billy Walker era (which itself ended last year). Indeed this whisky was bottled when the distillery was still owned by Allied Distillers and before it was mothballed in 1996. It’s an old-school sherry monster that does more at 43% than most others of its kind do at cask strength, and I’m looking forward to making its acquaintance again.

By the way, the usually restrained Johannes van den Heuvel gave this whisky 97 points! I’m not sure when in his whisky tasting career he rated this or what he would make of it now. Anyway, let’s get to it.  Continue reading