Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Stronachie 12 year Highland & Churchill: San Francisco, CA (USA)

This Sunday my co-blogger and I were out with friends who took us to the relatively new Churchhill bar at Market & Church in San Francisco.

I loved the decor - shiny wood tables, pool, Christmas lights! We had a round of cocktails first (menu on paper fixed to a piece of metal - nice), and for the second round I decided to check out their Scotch. One friend had a beer, another a second cocktail and my co-blogger some rum.

They served it up in a cute little canning jar:

Stronachie 12 year tasted like a classic Highland. Smelled divine, tasted smooth, and was affordable at this establishment at only $10. I enjoyed nearly the entire pour myself, and wouldn't have minded another! 

It seems to run about $50 a bottle. Which, if I had tasted this side-by-side with Oban 14 year, I am pretty sure I can see myself happily drinking Stronachie at home instead and saving myself a little money. (and enjoying having something a little different to share with friends who come over!)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

New York Times Islay tasting

A quick post related to The New York Time's recent article, even though this is the co-blogger who is not a fan of Islay Scotch.

1) I can't believe Laphroaig 10 year was first on their list. (and also their best value - I'll give it that)

2) I'm annoyed that they didn't print the full list of the 20 they sampled.

3) Apparently I need to taste Corryvreckan again. Perhaps they didn't taste Uigadail, but I'm pretty sure that's my favorite Ardbeg expression. (of the ones I have been fortunate to try)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

2010 Whisky Tasting & Pairing at City Club (SF)

Last year, The Whisky Shop & City Club of San Francisco teamed up with Ed Kohl. Like this fall, we were welcomed with a blood & sand made with Isle of Skye 8 year. 

Food on the menu that evening:
bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with chorizo
baked oysters on the half shell with bacon & creamy bechamel
peppered beef tenderloin with a blue cheese sauce on toast
white & red pepper puree & shaved reggiano on toast

One of these days I'll learn to eat more before I go if its just appetizers paired with the Scotch!

First up was Auchentoshan (Lowland). Unfortunately I didn't record which one, but it wasn't the Three Wood because I've had that before and its not my thing (though my co-blogger likes it just fine).

Next up was Highland Park (Orkney), which was okay. Kilchoman (new Islay) was not pleasant but I'm not a peat girl. I liked Smokehead (Islay) better (and would later buy a bottle for my co-blogger). Maybe this just wasn't my night, because even Edradour (Highland) wasn't making me swoon. It smelled pretty molasses-y but was pretty fire-y.

I wasn't enthusiastic about the food pairing, they definitely did a better job this year than last year. On the upside, Ed gave a great talk! Now I wish I could have a pour of Scotch ... if only I weren't sick & congested!

2011 Whisky Tasting Dinner at City Club (SF)

Ah, if only I could be seated at a table like this every week:
The Whisky Shop in San Francisco is a fabulous establishment, with hundreds of bottles of Scotch (and Whiskey) for sale. They team up with the City Club of San Francisco every now and then for amazing evenings of education & drinking. I've attended twice before, and the drinks were paired with appetizers. This time we were in a smaller room and had a full on meal paired with our malts. 

You might notice the empty martini glass... that was a yummy blood & sand created with Isle of Skye 8 year. We then dived into a delicious (if bony) char-grilled Monterey sardine with polenta croutons while tasting Chieftain's Allt'A'Bhainne 16 year old (Speyside), Chieftain's Braevall 1996 14 year (Speyside), and Chieftain's Rosebank 1990 20 year cask strength 108 proof (Lowland). Hard for a little girl like me to keep up!

But this was not a leisurely afternoon at a bar with my Scotch partner, so I had to move on to the next course. Coffee-cabernet braised Long Valley Ranch short ribs with cippolini, parsnip-potato puree, and Broccoli di Ciccio. Oh this was heavenly, but I couldn't finish it! We were tasked with trying Chieftain's Longmorn 1994 17 year (Speyside), Chieftain's Auchroisk 1995 16 year (Speyside) and Isle of Skye 12 year (Island/Speyside).

As one might guess, I was having a hard time keeping up, so I don't have many tasting notes for you. I managed to write "yum" after Allt-A-Bhainne, "peach, yes!" after Braeval, "whoa" after Rosebank, "oh! nice!" after Longmorn and "smiles" after Auchroisk.

We weren't done yet. Time for some Washington apple crisp with Tahitian vanilla gelato (see why I couldn't finish my short ribs? a girl has to prioritize...) paired with Smokehead (Islay) and Chieftain's Caol Ila 14 year Jamaican Rum Finish cask strength 110 proof (Islay). WOW, they were amazing!

If only I could have slowed down the pace a bit so I could have had time to eat & drink everything... Oh well, here's to the next tasting night!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Zotter: Scotch Whisky chocolate bar: "Highland Harvest"

I love chocolate. And Scotch. I was delighted to find Zotter's whisky cream filled bar in Probieren Geniessen in Mannheim, Germany when I took a day trip there in October.

Cute shop, they sold more than just whisky, and you could bring or buy a small vessel to fill! Or buy an entire bottle.

Anyway, the chocolate was lovely. I wish I'd purchased 2 bars so I could taste some more as I write this post! Google found me Chocablog's review, which you can read here. Good picture of the bar itself, too.

I'm making truffles with a friend on Black Friday. Perhaps I should try mixing in some Scotch?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Singlebarrel: San Jose, CA (USA) & Scotch-based cocktails

Pardon for the lapse in posts. I've been lazy.

So, I love me a fancy cocktail, however I haven't explored many Scotch-based cocktails. The ones I have heard about or tried were all mixed with Islay Scotches, not my favorite type (but beloved by my co-blogger).

In San Jose the other weekend with a good friend, we checked out Singlebarrel. This establishment has been open about a year and a half and at 7ish in the evening, was already sporting a line out the door. I thought this was ridiculous, I'm in San Jose, right? But it was all about to make sense.

The very nice ID-checker/guard/host explained to me, as a Singlebarrel n00b, that we would go downstairs, talk to the bartenders about what we like, and that a lovely cocktail would be suggested to us. Oh, and to spit out any gum we might be chewing because their real cloth napkins are made by some lady in the South.

We waited our turn and proceeded down the stairs. Nearly too dark but perfect for the mood, kind of like Bourbon & Branch. However, too dark for me to easily read the bottles of Bourbon, Scotch, etc that were displayed behind the bar. You could just teasingly see the beautiful bottle shapes and colors of the delicious liquids within. Loved the suspenders & caps sported by the bartenders. My friend and I found stools at the bar which we were allowed to perch & stay on (if standing, you must leave the bar area after you receive your drink, and head to the spacious lounging area). I had two rather sweet/girly drinks (yummy in their own right), but my friend had two cocktails with Laphroaig. Great establishment, this place. I hope to go back!

Anyway, what I'm trying to get at is that I need to research/create a yummy Highland or Speyside based cocktail to order so I can encourage these bartenders that not all Scotch-based cocktail needs to be done with Islay... *grumble* In the meantime, here is a link to a recipe for Butter, Lemon, Smoke, featuring Peat Monster.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Duncan Taylor The NC^2 Range 15 yr Ben Nevis

That's a mouthful. Some of these scotch whiskies don't have concise names. Duncan Taylor is an independent bottler. NC^2 apparently stands for non-chill-filtered and non-coloured. And Ben Nevis is the distillery (not the mountain), in the Highland region. Aged fifteen years in oak casks, with a final abv of 46.0%.

The color is pale piss, but it gets better moving to the other senses. The nose made me think of milk chocolate and grass and some kind of fruit I can't identify. Maybe melon? I think I only know the smell from liquid hand soap, so maybe that's confusing me.

The taste is tangier than any whisky I've tasted. I taste that melon or whatever it was from the nose. And I experience it again while exhaling. The mouthfeel was interesting. Seemed tingly, and not because of the alcohol. Just a little bitter at the back of the tongue. Not unpleasantly; more like lemon zest.

Overall, a very good and interesting whisky, good and interesting enough to warrant its own post; don't be deterred by my unfortunate choice of descriptors (like piss and soap). It doesn't have much of an Internet presence however, as I discovered while trying to see what other folks had to say. I bought it for about $75 at the Whisky Shop in San Francisco, which deserves its own post one of these days.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cooperage Wine & Whiskey Bar: Philadelphia, PA (USA)

Sorry its been so long since we've posted! This week I'm in Philadelphia for work. As usual, I slacked on planning any off-hour "fun" for myself short of trying to schedule video dates with my co-blogger.

In my research for scotch + Philadelphia, this establishment kept popping up. Yelpers said the service was slow, but everyone loved their mac n cheese. The menu looked good and within my budget, so I grabbed my umbrella (ah, warm summer rain!) and went out the hotel doors.

A while later, this blogger arrived in the restaurant/bar inside of Curtis Center (note: the location through me off a bit, especially compared to Google maps which made me think I was looking for something directly on the corner of 7th and Walnut) damper than she would have liked (I packed sandals and flats, not rain boots!). It was a nice place - I liked the decor and the big pillows on the bench half of the tables. Though a bit dark inside for my taste, given they are more of a true bar/restaurant blend than a bar. I ordered the mac, the soup of the day, and a bottle of Original Sin hard cider. I was really tempted by a chocolate stout they had but figured that wouldn't make sense with dinner.

Anyway, that's as far as I got. I was too tired to order another cider or a glass of scotch, and too annoyed at Philadelphia's high prices. And its not just Cooperage. I walked by Village Whiskey last night to check out the scene. I guess I just don't understand why their prices have to be as high or higher than some of the fancy-pants places in SF? Especially when their selection is nothing to write home about.

Address: 123 South 7th Street, Philadelphia, PA

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Nikka All Malt

This one is a blend, and at 40% abv, it is quite quaffable. I think it would be good for any whisky beginner, especially if the budding enthusiast comes from a rum background. Because, of all the whiskies I've had, this one reminds me the most of a fruity rum. Fruity nose (my worst sense, and thus my lack of adjectives). It is really light on the palate. And it has a candy flavor, hence the similarity to rum.

I picked this one up at some whisky store in Stuttgart, Germany. I forget the name of the place, but it's fairly close to the town center, and maybe one street parallel to the main pedestrian drag. It costs about a song: I think it was 24 euros. This was a pleasant surprise for me, as most Japanese whiskies are spendier, though the Yamazaki 12 year doesn't exactly break the bank. I have no idea about availability in the US. Incidentally, I've noticed far fewer Suntory/Yamazaki whiskies in Germany, and more Nikkas, whereas in the US, the opposite seems to be the case. In the US, Yamazaki 12 and 18 and the Hibiki blend are about the only Japanese whiskies you can find, but they're much rarer here. The Yamazakis are quite good by the way, but I haven't had them recently enough to offer any notes.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Widder Hotel Bar: Zurich, Switzerland

At the recommendation of a friend, we sought out this well-stocked bar while in Zurich at the very end of April this year. This establishment made me wish I had packed a fancy dress!

Enter the bar from the hotel or from the street (through a hallway, with restrooms down the stairs before you enter the bar) and you'll find yourself in quite swanky surroundings. Red leather half-booths & chairs along a wall, baby grand in one corner (we enjoyed live music later, even if the songs wouldn't have been at the top of our list), large bowl chilling bottles of bubbly at the bar. As usual, we aimed for the bar so we would have a view of the beautiful bottles of Scotch.

And plenty of Scotch here (see the link below if you want to oooh and ahhh at their inventory) - an excellent opportunity to try something extraordinary, if your travel budget allows! Paul and I read the list and decided on the Glen Ord 12 year and Caol Ila moscatel cask. We ordered 2 cL pours (about .68 ounces) to conserve our Swiss francs, but that detail got lost between bartenders and we ended up with the 4 cL pours. While this did mean our bill was 38 SFr, I would say it was worth it for the fancy-pants experience and since we were in vacation-mode. No shortage of water refills here, or of bar snacks (a lovely assortment of dried fruit & nuts). Appreciated, considering we were obviously tourists.

As usual, the average age here is older than us, mid 30s and up. Folks mostly came pre-coupled. We were there late in the afternoon/early evening on a Saturday and it wasn't too busy, just how we like it. Ttis post is based on one visit, so I can't speak to the general feel of the place late at night or during the week.

Address: Rennweg 7, 8001 Zurich (near the Rennweg tram stop off of Bahnhofstrasse, just E of Lindenhof, the old castle)
Menu online:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bray Head whisky tasting

As a sequel to my coblogger's post on Bray Head, I thought I would write my first post here about a whisky tasting I attended Saturday at that same bar. So far as I've found, Bray Head is the best place for whisky in Karlsruhe. To be honest, as a starving postdoc it's been hard for me to make much use of the ample selection there (spendier than some of the places in San Francisco Jeanine and I will discuss in future posts), so I was pleasantly stunned by the value of the tasting. The tasting consisted of seven 2 cl pours, along with a nice potato soup, for 35 euros. And these were not your everyday drams by any means. I warn readers that the following and all future tasting notes by me are those of a rank amateur. But here goes.

Ferghal (the proprietor) started us off with the only Irish whiskey of the night, the Connemara Sherry Finish. No age was given, and it was 46% abv. I really couldn't come up with a way to describe this one: it just tasted and smelled like a really good Irish whiskey. Very pleasant, if simple, and with just a hint of the sherry in the finish.

The second pour was an Islay Selection the Whisky Agency's Liquid Library. Out of the Laphroaig distillery, and aged 11 years in former Bourbon casks, 59.6%. With that level of booze, it clearly needed water. After the water, it had a thin mouth feel, and tasted only lightly peaty. I couldn't detect the bourbon. Fairly simple. Not bad, but not my favorite Islay.

The next was another Islay Selection from the Liquid Library, this time from Bunnahabhain. A mature 32 years, 45.8%. This one was excellent. Smelled grassy to me, with just a bit of citrus cleaner. Very smooth. Tasted like a Speyside to me, again with grass and citrus, and a pleasant finish. I would definitely consider owning this one, if I could find it at postdoc prices.

Number four was from Bruichladdich: Port Charlotte An Turas Mor. 46%, and a tender seven years. Smelled of peat, with a faint touch of stinky cheese. Sweet and peaty, with the sweetness present more in the beginning and the peat following. A bit of water doused the peat. Quite good, and according to the Nets, I might be able to find it on the (relative) cheap.

Moving away from Islay, the next was Talisker 57 deg. North. It had a lovely gold color, and was 57% abv. No age was given. This was intense, and needed about a tablespoon of water before I started to like it.  I still didn't get much out of the whisky, as evidenced by my patchy notes. It had cinnamon notes.

Back to Islay for Ardbeg's Airigh nam Beist "the Beast". 46% alcohol, and I believe 16 years old. It's a good whisky, tasting of peat (of course) and caramel. That said, it's hard for me to not compare it to the Uigeadail, which is cheaper (last I checked) and I think has more character. I think Airigh nam Beist is milder however, if that is preferred.

Finally (seven whiskies!), there came a Whisky Agency bottling from the Tomatin distillery. 51.3%. This one spent a whopping 34 years in refilled sherry butt, which imparted to it a pleasant reddish color. The wood is really evident in the nose. The taste was quite fruity and just a little tart. The wood returned for the finish. Either I or the whisky evolved over the next few minutes: when I returned to it after a pause, I tasted caramel in the front. Really a fantastic dram, and probably my favorite of the tasting.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Oban 14 year: Highland single malt: love & pairings

I've been fortunate enough to try many Scotches in the past two years, and so far this is my favorite! A lovely nose, beautiful color, delicious & completely smooth... I'll stop there because there are lots of excellent tasting notes online. So go them look up or just take my word for it and try it. :-)

Oban 14 year is relatively common, but not the first single malt a bar is likely to stock (which usually is an Islay. I wish I knew why.). Its usually about $12-$16/glass. Don't spend more than about $70-75 per  750mL bottle in the US. I once found an independent store with Oban 14 year on sale for about $50 each and bought two bottles - score!

Anyway, I usually enjoy this classic malt by itself. But its great paired with creamy goat cheese - yum! I recommend Humboldt Fog if you can find it - its one of my favorite cheeses with or without Scotch. Do you have any experiences to share with pairing Oban? I'd love suggestions!

I also had success adding Oban to salad dressing. Try preparing a vinaigrette with apple cider vinegar, olive oil, mustard, salt, pepper. Add some chopped green onions, minced garlic and Oban - delicious with mixed baby greens, oranges, dried cranberries and toasted hazelnuts! Those of you who are also fans of nuts & fruit in your salads should try mixing it up - I bet substituting in pine nuts would be fabulous, for example!

Finally - if you happen upon a bottle of Oban 32 year in a bar, and if you have a couple of Andrew Jackson's that you can spare (or, as in my case, a friendly, tipsy bartender), then I highly recommend ordering a pour. What a story unfolds on your tongue!! I believe this was a special bottling that is hard to find nowadays, and that I may never experience again...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Scot & Scotch: Switzerland: should you need a bottle while in Zurich

My fiance and I love to explore a new city, wandering streets & seeing what we stumble upon! Guidebooks and recommendations from friends can be helpful, too. However, there's nothing like finding something unique on your own.

For example, when in Zurich for the weekend last month, we barely planned anything. Two screenshot maps from Google, and a few suggestions from a bit of internet searching. From across one river, we noticed an interesting wall of some kind, with lots of people at the top that I feared was a hoard of tourists. It wasn't until I looked online afterwards that I learned we had found Lindenhof. Its the site of an old castle, on the west side of Limmat in Zurich. A perfect place to pause for a picnic or at drink and take in the views of the city!

Well tucked away just south of Lindenhof is a lovely little store called Scot & Scotch. I loved the dark wood and cozy space, fine bottles of whisky displayed on shelves and low tables. Really somewhere I would have loved to linger! The only downside is that everything in Switzerland is expensive (except maybe local cheeses & mass produced brands of Swiss chocolate), so if visiting this city, Scot & Scotch is probably best saved for window shopping or browsing their more unique stock. Some bottles were obviously open, so I suspect tastings are offered to regular customers or those with more serious shopping intentions.

(P.S. if you make it there, you may also be interested in checking out Vagabunt, which is just a bit NE from Scot & Scotch. Primarily secondhand men's accessories in great condition, including cufflinks, leatherware, silk ties, etc. Sadly, when I dropped in there weren't any flasks! Schipfe 39)

Address: Wohllebgasse 7, Schipfe, 8001 Zurich

Monday, May 16, 2011

Bray Head: Karlsruhe, Germany: like your neighborhood Irish pub, only better

I love casual establishments like Bray Head! Here's a great place where you can stop in for a beer or other drink, have some food, and enjoy a fine single malt. As this is an Irish pub, you'll have no problem ordering or asking questions in English.

Secure a seat at the bar if you wish to admire the lovely bottles of Scotch, Japanese whisky, and Irish whiskey. There's a vast selection here, sure to satisfy if you are simply the mood for Laphroaig 10yr or an Irish Bushmills. If you feel like having something rare such as Ardbeg Supernova or Adelphi's Breath of Speyside (I had it in April, but might be gone by now!), have a look at the shelves or ask for the whisky menu (with prices), organized by region. You'll have the option of a 2 cL or 4 cL pour. If you're not picky, there's always the 3 Euro Whisky of the Week! Finally, they have whisky tastings now and then if you are lucky enough to live in town or are planning a trip in advance.

Non-whisky notes: The local stout is excellent. Look at the chalkboard to the left of the bar or the menu if you're hungry - I recommend the fries/pommes (and you won't get charged for ketchup or mayo). Several TVs on for sports fans. Simple bar stools, unless you're by the front window or out back during nice weather. No indoor smoking. Clean ladies room. Moderately lit, including candlelight. Mixed clientele of Germans & expats. Mostly men in their 30s-50s, with women typically coming with a partner. Think Cheers, not a pick up hot spot.

Address: Kapellenstra├če 40, 76131 Karlsruhe, Germany (Durlachor Tor tram stop)