Loch Lomond 12


Loch Lomond, a curiosity among Scottish distilleries, has not really been on my radar much. Yes, they make a wide range of malts with all their different still setups (which is what makes them a curiosity) but you can seemingly count on the fingers of one one hand the number of these that anyone has ever gotten very excited about. An Old Rhosdhu 24, 1979 from Murray McDavid was the first one I had that I really liked but that was an independent. The official releases were seemingly solidly in the “ugh” to “eh” range for most reviewers. But then earlier this year I drank this Croftengea—one of Loch Lomond’s peated variants—bottled by the distillery for The Whisky Exchange and I just loved it (see that review for a rundown of Loch Lomond’s variations). Unlike the Old Rhosdhu it was young and seemed likely to better represent the distillery’s current output. And so when I saw the current version of the Loch Lomond 12 for <$30 in a Minneapolis store in early November, I picked up a bottle. A 12 yo malt at 46% and for less than $30—it seemed like a good bet. I cracked it open that night and liked it enough to make it the “fruity whisky” pick for the updated version of my “The Well-Rounded Single Malt Bar” list. Here’s why.  Continue reading

Hong Kong, Day 1 (December 2018)


After an exhausting day of travel that included flight delays and damaged baggage before I even got on my 15 hour flight from LAX, I finally arrived at Hong Kong on Saturday morning, feeling a bit like damaged goods myself. And extra surly as—unlike in 2016—I’m here by myself this time; and unlike some people, I do not like traveling alone.

I was greeted by a massive, snaking line at immigration but it moved surprisingly quickly. Emerging with my suitcase (thankfully not beat up further), I made a beeline for Crystal Jade and applied some excellent dumplings to my exhaustion. Then aboard the Airport Express train to Hong Kong Station and a quick cab ride to my friend’s home up in the Mid-Levels, to wait out the time till my check-in at the hotel. Drank some masala chai, called my hotel—who were kind enough to give me an early check-in—and cabbed down to Central, to Wellington St. It was lunch time and so setting my bags down, I ventured forth.  Continue reading

Coming Soon…


By the time you read this I will hopefully be in Hong Kong. I’ll be here a week on work and then in Bombay for another week on work. And then on to Delhi for a couple of weeks to see family and do some research before returning to the US in late December, and then finally back to Minnesota in early January. It’s going to be exhausting but hopefully also fun and almost certainly with a lot of very good eating. Though I’m taking some samples with me to be assured of good whisky, I’m not planning to be doing much reviewing on the trip. But I do have a large backlog of completed reviews that will publish on a regular schedule through the month. I have more reviews ready than I plan to post so if any of these catch your eye more than others, write in below and I’ll move them to the top of the stack. In addition to the whisky reviews you can expect quick reports from restaurants that sling noodle soup and dumplings in Hong Kong and then Goan and coastal food in Bombay.  Continue reading

Springbank 12 CS, Batch 13


After starting the month with a review of a Karuizawa and then going on a run of whiskies above the age of 25, it is time for me to return to reality. What better way to do that than with a bottle from one of the most down-to-earth distilleries in Scotland, still producing whisky that can hold its own with that made in more storied eras. Yes, Springbank remains the gold standard in the world of single malt whisky. And the Springbank 12 cask strength, released in batches, is one of the most consistently good Springbanks there is. Lots of sherry influence without being a sherry bomb and lots of earthy, briny notes that remind you which distillery it is from. I have previously reviewed Batch 7 and Batch 14 (spoiler alert: I liked them both a lot). Here now is Batch 16 Batch 13 (see below), which is what seems to be currently available in Minnesota. By the way, the labels don’t say anything about batches. To find out which batch the bottle you are staring at is from you have to make note of the abv and then go to Whiskybase and see which batch that corresponds to. But unless you’re looking for a specific batch you should know that you are unlikely to be disappointed by any batch of the Springbank 12 CS.  Continue reading

Highlander Inn (Craigellachie, Scotland)


Back to Scotland, and back to a legendary whisky spot in the Speyside: The Highlander Inn in Craigellachie. We arrived here at the end of a long day. We’d left Edinburgh in the morning, in a convoy with our friends and their kids, and stopped for a few hours at Glamis Castle (lovely tour, lovely gardens). We then drove north to the Speyside via Aberdeen. We chose to go on the big highways because, well, when there’s the option of large lanes in Scotland, you take that option. The plan was to stop at Strathisla briefly on the way to the house we’d rented for the weekend in Mulben and then repair to the Highlander Inn for dinner. Alas, as I once said to Robert Burns, the best-laid plans o’ mice and men gang aft agley, and we found ourselves sitting in a horrendous traffic jam outside Aberdeen, caused by an even more horrendous accident that we eventually passed (an entirely incinerated car in the middle of the highway). There was no question of a distillery stop and so we high-tailed it directly to dinner. The sat-nav had us get off the A96 and onto the A920 right past Huntly and this brought us by some nice country roads up to Craigellachie. The roads were narrow, yes, but without the sheer cliffs and falls to the water by Loch Ness, on Skye and on the west coast to make things tense it was a very pleasant drive. And very nice to pass by signs for distilleries all along the way. There’s no doubt when you’re driving there that the Speyside is the heart of whisky making in Scotland.  Continue reading

Balblair 38, 1966


Here’s one last entry in my almost month-long series of reviews of ever-older malts, a series in which I have reviewed as many older malts as Serge reviews every Wednesday.

This is by some distance the oldest Balblair I have ever had, one that was distilled before I was born and which was bottled before I began to get seriously interested in single malt whisky. At the time that this whisky was bottled older malts were not yet hard to come by, and were available at prices that seem downright reasonable in comparison to today’s market. When I first ‘began to get serious about the hobby a few years later I had neither enough knowledge, money nor foresight to consider buying any of these whiskies. Thankfully, I was lucky to encounter a number of people on the WhiskyWhiskyWhisky forum whose far greater experience and knowledge of whisky was to be an invaluable guide. One of these excellent people, Nick Ramsey, once sent me a sample of his favourite Port Ellen, all the way from England, just because I was dithering over my first-ever Port Ellen purchase, wondering if the distillery’s reputation was warranted. And for good measure he threw this sample of a 38 yo Balblair into the box as well. The WhiskyWhiskyWhisky forums—like most forums on food and drink—are these days sadly moribund, and Nick hasn’t been sighted there much of late, but I want to take this opportunity to not just thank him for this sample but to toast the generosity of so many older whisky geeks who so happily helped MUCH MUCH YOUNGER people like myself into greater knowledge and experience.  Continue reading

Joy’s Thai (Lakeville, MN)


We ate at Joy’s Pattaya Thai in Richfield last year and thought the meal was decent enough. However, it is still far enough away from us that it never quite made sense to go there over our favourites on University Avenue in St. Paul (shout out once again to the Twin Cities’ true Eat Street). Imagine our surprise then to discover that a second location of Joy’s has been open for almost three years, just off Cedar Avenue in Lakeville, and just about 15-20 minutes from us. This is yet more evidence that you should not look to me as someone who is very up on Twin Cities restaurant openings and so forth (as with whisky, I have lots of opinions but very little information). But while may be slow to learn about restaurants, once we do we are quicker to go out and check them out. Accordingly, a couple of weeks ago we descended on Joy’s Thai with a number of the friends who’ve joined us on our University Avenue outings. Herewith, an account of our meal.  Continue reading

Caol Ila 34, 1982 (Cadenhead)

After last Friday’s Longmorn, here’s another 34 yo whisky. We go from the Speyside to Islay, to Caol Ila. There have been a number of older Caol Ilas from 1982 bottled in the last 5-7 years. And as per Whiskybase, in 2016 and 2017 Cadenhead put out nine 34 and 35 yo releases. This 34 yo is one of them and while the label describes it as a “small batch” release it’s in fact a single cask, a single hogshead. I guess whoever was printing the labels at Cadenhead that day wasn’t paying attention. It was bottled for the Dutch importer Bresser & Timmer in 2016. Old Caol Ila from the 1980s can be a wondrous thing; and while I haven’t reviewed very many of them, they’ve all been excellent (the one exception being an overpriced Samaroli that was just quite good).

This one, I can tell you, is indeed excellent. I took it to one of my friend Rich’s tastings earlier this month and it held its own against some very high-powered whiskies—well, at least until the early 70s Ardbeg came out. (I’ll have reviews of a few of those high-powered whiskies in the next month or two; though alas not the early 70s Ardbeg.) While not cheap, a Caol Ila like this is about as close as those of us who are not independently wealthy can get to good value for a >30 yo peated whisky from Islay—and, frankly, it stands shoulder to shoulder with Port Ellens of similar age that go for far, far more money. Here now are my notes.  Continue reading

Longmorn 34, 1976 (Malts of Scotland)


Continuing with my run (more of a jog really) of older malts, here is a Longmorn from the mid-1970s. Longmorns of this era have a very strong reputation, especially on account of their intensely fruity quality. As that fruity profile—especially from ex-bourbon casks—is perhaps currently my favourite, I have high hopes of this sample which I received in a transcontinental swap some years ago.

Let’s see if those hopes will be borne out.

Longmorn 34, 1976 (51.5%; Malts of Scotland; bourbon hogshead #5892; from a sample received in a swap)

Nose: Toasted oak and caramel at first with some candied orange peel behind. As it sits there are richer notes of brandied raisins and apricot jam. As it sits rich notes of pastry crust develop and the oak moves in the direction of wood glue. A drop of water pulls out some mothballs and some bready notes.  Continue reading

Potato-Leek-Cheese Gratin


I started making potato-leek-cheese gratins as a side-dish at Thanksgiving a few years ago. And while this year I am not roasting a turkey, I’m making this gratin again. There’ll be a slight change though. In the past I have always used crumbled local blue cheese; this year, however, I will be using goat cheese. This because I am not cooking a turkey at all this year: the centerpiece of our Thanksgiving gathering will be roasted leg of goat (two legs, to be exact), and it seems appropriate to goat it up elsewhere on the table as well. This is a really simple recipe—it’s not original: I’ve over time “averaged” a number of recipes I’ve seen online. There are some that have you boil the potatoes first, some that have you do complicated dances with temperatures. I, being a lazy bastard, do none of those things. But the results are tasty anyway.   Continue reading

Talisker 30, 2015 Release


At the end of my review of the Brora 30, 5th release I noted that older Taliskers share that profile. Here now is an older Talisker. Diageo has released a number of these but as with the 25 yo, the 30 yo stopped being released at cask strength at the end of the last decade. The last Talisker 25 yo at cask strength came out in 2009 (I’ve reviewed it, and probably gave it a slightly low score), and the last Talisker 30 yo was released in 2010. I have a bottle of that 2010 release on my shelves—not sure why I’m waiting to open it. In the meantime I’ve reviewed the 2006 and 2012 releases. I liked both a lot and I’ll be surprised if I don’t like this one as well. Older Taliskers tend to be very much in line with the profiles of the 10 yo and the 18 yo, mellower than the one and more austere than the other. I’m not sure what the fate of the 30 yo is. It’s not part of the 2018 special release slate (which instead includes a much younger Talisker). Then again, they’d skipped 2016 as well and released one in 2017. In any event, I’m sure the next one, if there is one, will cost a lot more than this one did in Duty Free at Dublin airport in 2016 (where a friend went above and beyond to snag one for me; I’d been alerted by international whisky geek bat signal that it was on sale). Anyway, none of this preamble has been very interesting; let’s get to the whisky.  Continue reading

Tay Ho (St. Paul, MN)


At the end of October I published a little tribute to University Avenue in St. Paul—in my opinion the Twin Cities’s true “Eat Street”. My post covered a three mile stretch from just west of Snelling to just east of Western, stopping at Bangkok Thai Deli. In the comments, Ed Bast recommended Tay Ho, a Vietnamese restaurant just a little further east from Bangkok Thai Deli. Embarrassed that I’d never eaten there, I resolved to fix that right away. Accordingly, we descended on them on the following weekend with two of our friends who often join us on our weekend eating jaunts. Here’s how it went down.  Continue reading

Brora 30, 5th Release


Inside this very ratty sample bottle—a recycled 50 ml mini that originally held god knows what—is a whisky with a very high reputation from a legendary distillery. The 5th release of the Brora 30 came out in 2006—almost 25 years after the distillery was closed—and the whisky illuminati rate it very highly. As a blogger of the people I have not had very many of these special release Broras—or very many Broras at all—and so I am not going to be able to offer any insight into its quality relative to the others (I think the only other that I’ve reviewed is the 6th release, which has the same abv—my bottle of which I am still nursing).

As you may know, Diageo has recently revived Brora (and Port Ellen). Construction was ongoing when I was at Clynelish briefly in June. I have no idea what the nature of the whisky produced there will be, and I doubt very many people will be able to compare it to whisky of similar age made at the distillery before it closed, and certainly from its heyday in the 1970s. And it’s going to take a long time for the new production to get to the age of the releases that made its reputation long after it closed. Alas, I will not be around to taste 30 yo whisky from the revived Brora. I can still taste this though.  Continue reading

Bunnahabhain 28, 1987 (Maltbarn)


I reviewed a 28 yo Auchroisk earlier this week. Today’s whisky is the same age but we go south and west to Islay, to Bunnahabhain, and one year in the past, to 1987.

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a Bunnahabhain. Coincidentally, the last one I reviewed was also a 28 yo and also from a sherry cask. That was distilled in 1989 and was bottled last year by K&L in California under their Faultline label. I quite liked it. In theory, this 28 yo, distilled in 1987, should be better as it was bottled by an outfit with a much better reputation, the German independent, Maltbarn—no longer the upstart they once were. This was their 43rd release and I suspect only a bit of the cask was bottled for it. This because there were only 89 bottles in this release and two years later they put out 88 bottles of a 30 yo, 1987 at a very similar abv. In fact, I now wonder if the 121 bottles of the 26 yo, 1987 they’d put out in 2014 was the first release from this cask (similar abv again), and if there’s more being saved for another older release. I guess we’ll never know for sure, but I’ll keep an eye out for more 1987 Bunnahabhains from Maltbarn.  Continue reading