Thursday, March 31, 2011

Whiskey Friday: A Little Macallan I Picked Up on a Whim

Call it an impulse purchase, like the Kit Kats near the register at the grocery store. How could I resist a 64 year old Macallan in a lovely decanter? Sure it was expensive, but when was I going to get another shot at it, another chance for this experience of a lifetime. In order to give you, my readers, a view into this exclusive experience, I now shed the anonymity with which I purchased this lovely elixir, and give you my review:

Macallan Cire Perdue, 64 yo, 42.5% abv ($460,000)

The nose smells like crystal and ambrosia, manna from heaven, the sound of one hand clapping and the flutter of the wings of a butterfly. The palate reverberates with harmony and contentedness, triumph and exhilaration...If you are drinking this you have arrived, you have triumphed, but mid-palate there emerges a pang of remorse, the melancholy of a life gone by, the misty, foggy morning in which you realize that your innocence no longer beckons you from afar. The finish is tinged with regret at the lack of second chances, regrets that in a moment of great bravado, you bought a very precious bottle of whisky and now you live in a cardboard box under the freeway with three pillows, an old blanket and an empty, albeit lovely hand-blown crystal decanter that luckily holds more than a liter which is very useful given the paucity of public restrooms in Los Angeles.

Cire Perdue is a taste memory you will not soon forget.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Whiskey Wednesday: The Revival of American Blended Whiskey?

It seems as though nearly every spirit category has made a comeback in premium form in the last ten years. First it was single malts, then tequila and bourbon, followed by gin, rye, rum, mezcal, absinthe and now Canadian Whisky. Well, I try my best to be ahead of the curve, so I am getting out front in order to become the go-to blogger in my own category: American Blended Whiskey.

I am hereby announcing that American Blended Whiskey will be the next big thing. Now, I'm not talking about those high quality blends of straight whiskey that High West puts out. I'm talking about the real thing. To quote the official regulations, blended whiskey is:

[A] mixture which contains straight whisky or a blend of straight whiskies at not less than 20 percent on a proof gallon basis, excluding alcohol derived from added harmless coloring, flavoring or blending materials, and, separately, or in combination, whisky or neutral spirits.

For you non-lawyers out there, that's 20% whiskey (usually bourbon) and the other 80%composed of vodka and "harmless coloring, flavoring or blending materials." Mmmmmm, blending materials.

Think about it. Premium bourbon is huge but premium vodka is even bigger, so it only makes sense that combining the two would be the next big thing. It's only a matter of time before we start seeing 30 year old Kessler's in a hand blown plastic handle.

So from now on, Sku's Recent Eats will be your go to stop for reviews, history and commentary about American Blended Whiskey. Here are some of the posts I'm working on:

  • The Story of the Seagram's Seven, seven rectifiers jailed for their craft - putting neutral spirits and food coloring in their Bourbon.

  • Why plastic bottles are superior to glass.

  • How Kirin ruined Four Roses.

And I'll be doing some home experiments as well. I got me a bottle of Stagg, a bottle of Absolut and some old Easter egg dye, so I'm ready to go. Stay tuned!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Grills Without Borders: Border Grill Downtown

Border Grill has long been an LA area fixture. Long before Babita and Rivera, Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken were cooking up high end Mexican treats in Santa Monica. Recently they converted their pan-Latin downtown spot, Ciudad, into another outlet of Border Grill. I've often been to the Santa Monica BG, but this was my first trip to the downtown spot, on Figueroa directly across from the Westin Bonaventure Hotel.

The look, feel and menu are pretty similar to the Santa Monica location. I haven't been to Santa Monica recently enough to know if the new things I found on the menu are specific to the downtown location or available in both, but along with the old standbys (green corn tamales, conchinita pibil, plantain empenadas among others) was a roasted potato rajas relleno, a potato rajas (in cream) stuffed in a poblano pepper and topped with a salad of quinoa, greens, tortilla strips and their tangy salsa verde and tomato salsa. Good stuff and something I'd never seen on the Santa Monica menu. This was a nice dish, fresh and tangy, though I wish the pepper had just a bit of heat.

My favorite dessert at the Santa Monica branch is the Mexican chocolate cream pie. The version downtown is similar except that instead of a meringue crust, it has a chocolate cookie crust. The cookie crust is good, but I prefer the meringue.

Basically, though, this place is a pretty identical to Santa Monica, so if you are a fan of that location but live further east, this is a good deal for you, and walking in without reservations, I was able to get a table for 5 on a Friday night. That's hard to beat.

Border Grill Downtown
445 S. Figueroa St.
Los Angeles, CA 90071
(213) 486-5171

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Farcical Cuisine

What's more ludicrous than a $12,000 bottle of whiskey, more pretentious then a dinner at Joel Robuchon and weighs more than Mario Batali?

It's Modernist Cuisine, the new five volume, 2,400 page, $650 molecular gastronomy cookbook by Microsoft tycoon Nathan Myhrvold. Yes, you read correctly. It is a $650 cookbook.

The photos, judging from the website and numerous reviews, appear to be stunning, and for some reason, feature lots of things cut in half, but does the world really need this overhyped monstrosity? No less, I suppose, than we need $12,000 bottles of whiskey.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Whiskey Wednesday: Whiskey, Age and Oxygen Part 2

Two years ago, I started a little experiment to discern how oxidation impacts whiskey in an open bottle. The query I was addressing was the age old question of how long your whiskey will last once you crack open the bottle. As I said in that post:

Answering this question is harder than you might think and there are different schools of thought. Once you uncork the seal and pour a glass, you let oxygen into the whiskey bottle so oxidation is a possibility. Just how long such oxidation takes and under what circumstances is not clear.

It is common lore among whiskey fans that once a bottle is half full or less, you should drink it within 18 months to prevent oxidation and a change in flavor. Others, however, swear that whiskey can last for years at a low level and have virtually no ill effects.

So, to test this out, on December 30, 2008, I opened a new bottle of Longmorn 16 and poured it into three mini bottles. One I filled to the top such that virtually no air was left in the bottle, a second I filled approximately half way, and a third I filled to about a quarter of the way full (see picture above).

These bottles have been quietly sitting in my closet for the past two years and two months, and now it has come time to find the results of our experiment. I poured an equal measure of each whiskey into tasting glasses.

I started by tasting the whiskey from the full bottle, just to gauge my taste. This bottle had minimal oxygen exposure so it becomes the control. Part of the reason I chose Longmorn 16 for this experiment is that it's fairly subtle in flavor profile; it isn't strongly peated or sherried, flavors which can cover up many flaws. It is lightly sherried, and its general character is malty and grassy.

Now to the half bottle. The nose and flavor were pretty much identical to the full bottle. I found no discernible difference between the full bottle and the half full bottle.

And finally, the quarter fill. The nose on the quarter fill was much lighter and less forceful than on the others. While the same notes were there, they were much harder to pick up. Upon tasting it, the flavor of the quarter filled bottle was much weaker than the other two. It was lighter in character, and some of the stronger and sweeter notes had dulled, giving way to a base (as opposed to acid) type of taste. Overall, while there were certainly traces of the same flavor notes, there was a lack of dimension and complexity and a general dulling of flavor in the quarter filled bottle compared to the other malts.

I have to say that I am surprised as I had always been skeptical of the theory that whiskey would deteriorate in the bottle over two years, but this one certainly had. I don't want to overstate the deterioration. It was still plenty drinkable, but as I noted, it lacked the sharpness of flavor found in the fuller bottles.

To conclude, it seems that somewhere between a half bottle and a quarter bottle there is a point at which deterioration takes place. While it would take more exacting experimentation to find that precise point (which may well vary based on all sorts of factors), I think it's safe to say that the results of this experiment support the general thesis that it is a good idea not to let a bottle that is much less than half full languish in the cupboard for a two year period.

I guess it's time for me to start draining some of those low fill bottles in the closet.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Cheese Pick: Der Scharfe Maxx

This week's cheese pick is Der Scharfe Maxx, a pungent, raw milk, Swiss cow cheese made by the Studer Dairy and aged six months. I love this stuff. It really knocks you out with a deep stink, but the taste has everything you love about Swiss cheese, magnified by ten. Drink it with a sweet white wine, or better yet, beer...yum.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Home Affogatos

One of the best things about having a home espresso machine is the ability to make affogatos. It's shocking how something this simple can be this delicious. To wit: one small scoop of vanilla ice cream, one shot of freshly pulled espresso; I add a dollop of wet whip cream. Heaven in a cup.

Hey, pour in a shot of Irish Whiskey and this would make for a great St. Patrick's Day treat, sort of an Irish Coffee on steroids.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Whiskey Wednesday: Sneak Preview of My New Podcast

Whiskey podcasts have been really catching on lately, so much so that I'm going into the podcast business myself. As far as I'm concerned, you just can't get too much whiskey news, so this will be a daily, two hour program. It may be unorthodox, but since I am still working with the technology to get this up and running, I am releasing my first script exclusively to my readers to get some feedback and constructive criticism. The script doesn't include the main story, only the introductory and concluding segments (the bracketed phrases are production notes). Now please keep in mind that while I've been blogging for a while, I'm new to podcasting so I've borrowed a few ideas from other podcasts, though hopefully it won't be too obvious.

Please let me know what you think. Here it is:


Welcome to DiageoCast, the 80 proof podcast featuring news and interviews from the world of whiskey, sponsored by Diageo, the company that owns all the whiskey.

Coming up in a few minutes, I spend 45 minutes nosing and tasting whiskey while you listen. Then I'll describe what I'm tasting and interview a barely intelligible Scottish guy. I'll also have the calendar of events, the emails of the week and the What I'm Drinking Today department.


Time now for the emails of the week, brought to you this week by Red Stag - it tastes like Cherry Coke. Our first email comes from John Birks of Cheraw, South Carolina. John writes, "Dear Sku, after my grandfather recently passed away, I found a bottle of something called Dewar's White Label in his attic. There is no date on the bottle but judging from the looks of it, it appears to go back to at least the late twentieth century. I don't drink Bourbon, so I would like to sell this bottle for several million dollars. Please advertise it on your program." Sure thing John, and I'm sorry to hear about your father. If anyone is interested in John's bottle, please email me or post a message on my blog or Facebook page.

Our next email comes from Big&manly, who writes, "You can be big BIG BIG, just click the link below." Thanks for the note Big&manly, and you're right, whiskey is really big these days, though I'm not sure what it has to do with your link; maybe you pasted the wrong one.

And finally, Dr. Clement Okon sent this email: "Dear Mr. Sku: I write to you in greatest confidence and in need for urgent assistance with disposal of $18 million from treasury of my nation of Nigeria. Please send your banking number and pin for 100% secure transaction and I will disperse to you." Well, thanks for the email Dr. Okun and I will send that information right away. It's great to have fans as far away as Nigeria, and I hope you are able to buy a few great drams there.


Time now for the calendar of events, brought to you by Southern Comfort. WhiskyLive Saudi Arabia opens on April 4 in Riyadh; Tom's Lounge in Toledo, Ohio is going to be pouring Johnnie Walker Red for $2 every Thursday in April from 2-4:00 pm; and five guys in Calgary, Alberta are getting together to drink a case of Canadian Club next Saturday night while their wives are out of town.

This week's calendar of events was brought to you by Southern Comfort: It's been a long time since that night in college when you got sick and passed out in your own vomit. Isn't it time to give Southern Comfort another try? SoCo - it's not just for vomiting anymore.



And now it's time for the What I'm Drinking Today Department, where I taste and score whiskey. For our first broadcast, I thought I would kick off with some famous drams.

The Black Bowmore is a world famous malt distilled in 1964. The nose has sherry, caramel and cinnamon. The flavor has peat, sherry and honey. This is one of the best whiskies I've ever tasted. I'm giving the Black Bowmore a score of 98.

Well, Black Bowmore isn't the only black whisky. Loch Dhu, from the Mannochmore distillery, is known as the "black whiskey" for its rich, dark color. The nose is of trash and rotting fruit. The flavor has vinegar and prunes. This is terrible, one of the worst whiskies I've ever tasted. I'm giving Loch Dhu a score of 92.


Well that's it for our first podcast. Don't miss tomorrow's episode when we talk to the guy who makes the nails that go in whiskey barrels.

Diageocast is brought to you by Diageo. It comes to you from the regrettably charming town of Hollywood, California. I'm Sku, reminding you that when you drink, please drink Diageo. Thanks for listening.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Korean Country Cod 'n Dumplings: Mapo

Mapo is a Korean country style kitchen at Sixth and Normandie. The meal starts with a full dozen panchan, including at least three kimchi variations. This is one of those cases of so much panchan, you barely need to order anything, but you should.

I immediately honed in on the braised cod, which reminded me of the similar mackerel dish at Seongbukdong, and it is like a less funky version of that dish. The cod is braised to a point of tenderness that you don't see that much in Western cooking, soft oily pieces spill out, but be careful, it's full of pesky little bones. Large slices of daikon soak up the spicy, salty sauce which is actually quite mild compared to the rich, pungent version at Seongbukdong. It's a milder, but just as wonderful dish.

The hand made noodles are the thing here and the soup with pulled dough morsels is filled with a handmade spaetzle or chicken 'n dumplings type noodle. These were very tasty, but I bet if you had leftovers (we didn't) they would soak up the soup and become plump and even more wonderful.

The various grilled mackerel dishes also looked very good; we'll check those out on the next visit.

3611 West 6th St.
Los Angeles, CA 90020

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Cheese Pick - Le Puits d'Astier

Le Puits d'Astier just showed up at the Cheese Store of Silverlake. It's a French sheep milk cheese formed as a large wheel with a hole in the middle. The rind is a yellowish color. It's more subtle than you might expect from the look of it.

The cheese has a light, milky smell. The palate is surprisingly mild at first bite, but as you chew it, a sheepiness emerges and eventually coats the mouth in a warm and pleasing way, giving a light barnyard tone which ends at the petting zoo. Great stuff.

Check it out.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Whisky Wednesday: The Whiskeyist Manifesto

It's amazing how much great whiskey content there is on the webs these days. There are hundreds of blogs, great podcasts like Mark Gillespie's WhiskyCast and the K&L Spirits Journal podcast, and even vlogs.

One of the better sites out there, with one of the more original names, is Jason Pyle's Sour Mash Manifesto, which combines blogging and vlogging. Based in Tennessee, Jason is to American whiskey as Ralfy is to Scotch. He does on-line tastings of a variety of American whiskeys, along with commentary and interviews. His site has been on-line for about a year and is really hitting its stride. Recently, he did an excellent set of interviews, really extended conversations, with Four Roses Master Distiller Jim Rutledge, which is a must watch for any Four Roses fan.

Check it out!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Red Velvet Cookies in Studio City: Xtreme Desserts

After selling their sandwich cookies at Farmers Markets for several years, Extreme Desserts has opened a retail shop in Studio City, in the Trader Joe's strip mall at Ventura and Laurel Canyon.

I reviewed their signature red velvet sandwich cookie back when they were only selling at Farmers Markets and found it quite good. They now have a whole line up of sandwich cookies, brownies and even some small cakes.

The red velvet is still the signature and is about as I described it, like an oreo made of red velvet cake. My favorite though, was probably the pecan pie cookie. The cookies on the pecan pie were more cookie like and the filling was a rich, nutty pecan pie filling. It did a great job of presenting pecan pie in cookie form.

They've only been open for a few weeks, and the shop is still pretty bare bones, so I'm guessing there will be more to come.

Xtreme Desserts
11990 Ventura Blvd. (at Laurel Canyon in the strip mall with Trader Joe's)
Studio City, CA 91604
(818) 505-1759

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Farmers Market Pork - Jimenez Family Farm

It's amazing how much protein you can get at the Sunday Hollywood Farmer's Market these days. A few years ago, it was just produce. Now you can get fish, oysters, bison, butter, cheese, pork, beef, sausages and more.

One of my favorite meat purveyors is the Jimenez Family Farm stand. Located on the east side of Ivar, north of Selma, it used to be my go-to place for lamb. Oh the lamb roasts and steaks I made from their gamy, domestic lamb. Apparently though, they no longer carry lamb, so instead I went for some pork. Well, the pork was as good as the lamb. A bone-in shoulder, roasted with a nice wet rub, turned crisp on the outside with sections of white and red on the inside. This was beautiful stuff.

They also have goat and rabbit, which I'll have to work up some never for as I've never before cooked them.

Check it out!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Whiskey Wednesday: I'd Like to thank the Maltcademy

I'm pretty skeptical of whiskey awards, and I've spent a fair amount of time mocking them, including those put out by Malt Advocate. This year, though, John Hansell just got done announcing the awards on his blog, and I have to say, I was impressed with the awards, both the choice of winners and the thought that went into them. From a whiskey fan's perspective, Malt Advocate's awards ring true. Here's my quick take on the whole list:

Best Buy Whiskey: Tie -Evan Williams and Very Old Barton BIB

I heartily agree that Very Old Barton's six year old 100 proof bottled in bond, which goes for around $13 is one of the best buys in whiskey. Unfortunately, it's only available in the central US, something that Buffalo Trace, which recently bought the Tom Moore distillery that makes Barton, will hopefully change. As to Evan Williams, it's a reasonable enough choice, but not one I've ever been to excited about. For something in the under $15 range, I'd probably opt for Pikesville Rye(also by Heaven Hill, which makes Evan Williams).

Artisan Whisky of the Year: Kilchoman (Summer 2010 Release)

Many are familiar with my skepticism about artisan whiskey, but if you had to pick one, Kilchoman is not a bad choice. The newest Islay distillery is clearly in it for the long haul. While their whisky tastes young, it has some solid qualities. It's definitely one to watch.

American Whiskey of the Year: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection

Okay, I thought this one was a bit of a cop out. First of all, it's naming five whiskeys as whiskey of the year. While the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection is always great, they just don't change that much from year to year. They are certainly always among the best American whiskeys of the year (at least some of them), so that's legit, but I was more interested this year in the Parker's Heritage Collection ten year old wheated Bourbon. Was the Parker's better than this year's BTAC? Well, it was certainly better than some of them, and competitive with the others.

Canadian Whiskey of the Year: Forty Creek Confederation Oak

This is another one I have a quibble with. I have no problem with the whisky itself. By all accounts, it's supposed to be excellent, but I don't know. I haven't tried it because it's not available. In fact, while I've heard rumors about its availability, I have not seen a confirmed sighting of this whisky anywhere in the US. This presents a problem as one of the requirements for winning a Malt Advocate award is that the whisky be available in the United States. So does Forty Creek Confederation Oak qualify? It's possible that they had a very limited release, but as I said, I haven't seen one anywhere, on-line or otherwise. Have you?

Irish Whiskey of the Year: Redbreast 12

This one is interesting in that Redbreast 12, a pure pot still whiskey from the Midleton Distillery, has been available in the US, and often acknowledged as one of the best Irish Whiskeys, for years. This year, though, Midleton released a new pure pot still, Redbreast 15 year old, which had previously had a very limited non-US release only. Giving the award to the old 12 year old could actually be seen as a sort of slap in the face to the new, older version, which was released with much fanfare after years of consumer demand for it.

Scotch Blend of the Year: Compass Box Flaming Heart

This is one I heartily agree with. This stuff is wonderful, a good, solid choice.

Single Malt Scotch of the Year: Glenfarclas 40

I haven't tried this one yet, but it's a classy choice. I'm a Glenfarclas fan, so as soon as I can get a deal on it, I'll grab one. Don't get me wrong, for a 40 year old distillery bottling the going price of $460 is a great deal, but it's still $460.

World Whisky of the Year: Amrut Fusion

This was sort of a no-brainer. There just aren't that many world whiskeys on the market in the US, and Amrut made a big splash this year with their initial release to the US market. Personally, my favorite was the cask strength, unpeated single malt, but most reviewers preferred the Fusion, a blend of their peated and unpeated malts.

Pioneer of the Year: David Perkins and High West

On this one, they really hit out of the park. I've long been a fan of David Perkins and his great rye whiskey. He deserves the pioneer title for a number of reasons. He is one of the only people blending straight American whiskeys from different distilleries the way blenders do it in Scotland. He not only blends ryes but, in his Bourye, he blended rye and Bourbon. He was one of the first to source the great ryes being made at the Lawrenceburg distillery in Indiana and really feature them. And in his spare time, he makes fun stuff like an amazing peach vodka and a barrel aged Manhattan. There was some grousing in the comment section on John Hansell's website that Perkins doesn't distill his own whiskey, but in fact he is now distilling, and while he has only released some new make so far, he isn't rushing the ageing process by using wood chips, small barrels or other ageing parlor tricks. I'll look forward to tasting his whiskey once it's been in the barrel for a bit. This one was a great pick.

Industry Leader of the Year: Glencairn Crystal

What can I say, I own a dozen of these, including my fancy monogrammed ones. They are the thing to drink whiskey with.

Distillery of the Year: Heaven Hill.

This is sort of a funny one. I'm a big fan of Heaven Hill and they have shown some great innovation and put out consistently great whiskey, including the aforementioned Parker's Heritage Collection. There are years when they would have deserved this title, but I'm not sure this year would be the year. Still, it's clear from reading John's commentary that while this is the Distillery of the Year award, this is really more of a lifetime achievement award. Sort of like when the Academy gives the Oscar to an actor or director for a lesser role because they realize they have wrongfully ignored them in the category for a long time, like when Denzel Washington won Best Actor for Training Day instead of Malcolm X or when Scorsese finally got the Oscar for The Departed after they ignored all of his really great movies. On that note, Heaven Hill clearly is worthy, so I'm not complaining.

Nice job to John Hansell and the Malt Advocate staff. Now all they need is an awards show.