Brennivin, a nice summer drink

Darius, Donnie, Dad, Joey and Arwin tried Brennivin. Darius thought that he wouldn’t drink by himself because he doesn’t like licorice. Donnie felt it was ambivalent and just okay. For Dad, it was not his cup of tea. Joey tasted it as mild licorice with some other subtle spices. He thought it as not a single malt scotch  and it was better than vodka. It has its place for the right occasion, thus, it is a nice summer drink. Arwin thought of it as not a lot of flavor and he preferred fernet branca.

Brennivín is an Icelandic schnapps, considered the country’s signature alcoholic beverage. Having a national beverage seems to bede rigeur for small countries who want to  maintain their cultural identity. Iceland is no exception. It is made from fermented potato pulp, and flavoured with caraway seeds. It is sometimes called svarti dauði (“black death”). (Source:

At times it is drunk as a “chaser” after sampling “hákarl”, which consists of putrefied shark meat, to mask the meat’s taste. The word brennivín literally translates into English as ‘burning wine’, and comes from the same root as brandy, namely brandewijn which has its roots in the Dutch language. (Source:

Despite its unofficial status as national beverage and a traditional drink for the mid-winter feast of Þorrablót, many Icelanders do not regularly drink it. The drink has a strong taste and high alcohol content and carries an equivocal reputation despite the fact that Iceland lives huge taxes on most alcoholic beverages, brennivín is actually one of the moderately priced liquors available in the national alcohol store.

Brennivin today is mostly enjoyed as a patriotic drink, most notably on St. Thorlac’s Day (December 23), a holiday that honors the patron saint of Iceland. It’s a popular souvenir sampled then brought home by Iceland’s growing number of tourists.


The Laddie Ten – Bruichladdich, smooth

The other day, Joey, Dad and I tried The Laddie Ten. Joey said it has a sweet smell with some peat and hint of vanilla. Dad thought it was not his cup of tea. I said it was like an oban, smooth and not boring.

The very first 10 year old whisky to be wholly distilled, aged and bottled following Bruichladdich’s resurrection in 2001. In many ways this marks the beginning of the new era and this will be snapped up by connoisseurs and collectors. A true milestone bottling.

At Bruichladdich, we believe the whisky industry has been stifled by industrialization and self-interest – huge organisations have developed that require a stable status quo to ensure that their industrial processes can run to maximum efficiency, producing the maximum “product” with the minimum input and variation, all to the lowest unit price. We reject this. We believe that whisky should have character; an authenticity derived from where it is distilled and the philosophies of those who distil it – a sense of place, of terroir that speaks of the land, of the raw ingredients from which it was made. (Source:

The Laddie Ten, this whisky, this spirit, malted from only Scottish barley for authenticity, slow-fermented for purity, trickle-distilled for creamy texture and cask-filled at 70% for extra flavour, has been quietly slumbering in our loch-side warehouses for the last 10 years, and we are immensely proud to offer this landmark dram to you now.The true beginning of a new era. (Source:

This 10 years old ‘Laddie Ten’ has been praised by a lot of people as a high-quality, low-cost whisky. It’s unchill-filtered and not coloured, as all bottlings should be these days.

Trader Joe’s 2012 Vintage Ale – Unibroue, a good holiday drink

Mark, Timo, Ravi, Lucy and Jane tried Trader Joe’s 2012 Vintage Ale. Mark thought it tasted like a combination of sweet chocolate and a porter.  It tasted clove like. He rated it as 7 because it has lots of character but not too sweet like Belgian. Timo gave 4 because it was strongly flavored. While Ravi rated it 6. Both Mark and Ravi agreed that it is a good holiday drink. Lucy liked its sweetness and gave 7. Jane thought it as pine needles and aromatic.

Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale has appeared once a year since 2005. It’s a Belgian strong ale, running about 9% ABV and is contract brewed by Unibroue, the highly regarded Quebec maker of Belgian beers. From the very beginning, Unibroue has carved out a special niche in the beer world with top quality products and a brand rooted deep in Quebec culture. It made history by becoming the first North American beer maker to use a brewing method inspired by the two-centuries-old tradition developed by Trappist monks in Europe—particularly in Belgium. Over the years, Unibroue has remained faithful to its origins even as it has grown to become an icon of the brewing world. (Source:

The Vintage Ale is made with dark Belgian malts and spices, each year’s batch being slightly different. Most years, the 750 ml (25 ounces) corked bottles are labeled as “ale on lees,” meaning there’s a layer of yeast sediment in the bottle for further fermenting, assuring the flavor will continue to evolve. (Source:

This dark beer pours an incredibly thick and resilient head that slowly dissipates as the beer settles. It smells slightly fruitier and sweeter than its counterpart being. Indeed, it is a thinner and more noticeably effervescent drink than its cousin, but the two share many similarities. The almost tropical flavors presented in this beer are balanced by a hint of citrusy hops and a moderate darkness, yet nothing too intense to frighten away more timid drinkers. This is a highly drinkable beer and while it’s got a great deal of intricacy and flavor, it’s hardly intimidating. The bottle might be attractive to a wine drinker.  Classy and simple.  So there’s that.  And it’s awfully lovely to look at after it’s poured: that big, off-white head, under which the beer–a rich brown, reminiscent of the color of dark figs–bubbles excitedly from its high carbonation. If you’re in a Trader Joe’s and find yourself curious, grab a bottle. It’s a great price and a great beer, whether you’re a well seasoned palate or a curious individual who seldom drinks craft beer. Grab it while it lasts and enjoy!

Kirkland Signature Pale Ale – Gordon Biersch Brewing Company, earthy

The other day, I tried Kirkland Signature Pale Ale. It tasted as earthy but smooth.  Mark rated it as 6. No Sierra or anchor steam.  It was a good attempt at classic pale ale.

This is a classic, American-Style pale ale that displays all of the complex bitterness and aroma from the hops of the Yakima Valley in Washington State. By using a top-fermenting ale yeas strain we bring out the floral and herbal flavor profiles. A clean, malty body is developed from the pale and light caramel malt. ABV 5.4% Bitterness 35 IBU. Contract brewed for Costco by the Gordon Biersch Brewing Company under the brewer name Hopfen Und Malz (for the west coast market) and since mid 2009 by Matt Brewing as “New Yorker Brewing Co.” (for the east coast market. (Source:

Dan and Dean opened the first Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Palo Alto in 1988. Since then, Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurants have opened across the United States and world to include locations from California to Florida and even Taiwan. In 1997, Gordon Biersch opened a state-of-the-art brewery and bottling facility in San Jose, CA in order to begin bottling and distributing its famed, German-style beers. Today, Gordon Biersch Brewing Company is a brewing industry leader with 22 years of experience and counting. The microbrew trend continues to grow, and the company is actively expanding its distribution nationwide. Since 1998, Gordon Biersch Brewing Company has more than doubled its production, increasing its capacity to 3.1 million gallons of beer annually, making Gordon Biersch Brewing Company the largest brewery in the San Francisco Bay Area (Source:, 2012)

Kirkland Signature Pale Ale pours a deep amber with quite a bit of white head which is retained for longer than most pale ales. The beer has some malt to it and quite a bit of hops. The flavor is a little on the thin side – almost like a paler version of an American Pale Ale.

Thorn St. Brewery, must stop and enjoyable place

I decided to try some beers at the Thorn St. Brewery. First was Bohemian pilsner. It was quite drinkable but bland. Second was Pale ale. It was subtly bitter. Stout was tasty. Third was Red iPad, it tasted more butter, subtly. Then I also tried Session IPA. It was very good. Also, Agave amber was a great in chocolate flavor. I tried Coconut porter, it was just okay. Lastly was American strong, it was good but hard to call it a beer.

The location at 3176 Thorn Street was up until early 2012 a local outlet called Home Brews and Gardens. The shop was loved by local patrons but owner Dennis O’Connor realized that he liked making beer a lot more than he did selling supplies to do so. He teamed up with avid home brewers and fellow San Diego natives Dan Carrico and Eric O’Connor to start the project that would transform the former local home brew shop into Thorn Street Brewery. The renovated space has been transformed into a beautiful tasting room with a 7 barrel brew house in a large open naturally lit back room. Local designer Pat Wilkening (Red Craft Custom Design) has been instrumental in the creative development of the property and has created something truly unique in the neighborhood. (Source:

Beers like—stout, coffee stout and strong ale—offered more diversity, but were universally dull, flavor-wise. The strong ale tasted a bit boozy and sweet and the stout was roasty but a bit thin while the coffee-infused version of that variety packed more flavor but tasted more like chocolate milk than java. Overall the beer isn’t bad. It’s just unremarkable. (Source:

Thorn Street’s back room had a spacious area that houses the brewing equipment as well as its own separate bar, plus plenty of seating, tables, and upturned barrels. Toys and board games give the young-at-heart something to do while they catch up with friends or unwind from a hard day. It’s one of the nicest tasting spaces of any comparably sized brewing company in the county. It is a warm, fun social hub with a lot to offer. Add exceptional beer and there’s little more a craft beer fan could desire. It is their sincere hope that their hard work will result in a place that people can truly feel cozy and welcome in.

Royal Stag – Pernod Ricard, a generic whiskey

The other day, Joey and Ravi tried Royal Stag Whiskey from India. Joey felt that it was drinkable and mixable. Ravi thought it was a solid whiskey that is drinkable but wasn’t anything special.  In short, it was the essence of a generic whiskey.

Royal Stag was created in 1995 from a blend of Indian spirits and imported Scottish malt. The first brand in India without artificial flavoring, it has become a key whisky and a benchmark among the country’s power brands. In 2011, Royal Stag sold 12.4 million cases and continues to grow. It is usually served on ice or with water. It is available in 1L, 75cl, 37.5cl, 18cl, 9cl and 6cl formats. The launch of super-premium Royal Stag Barrel Select in December 2011 added to the brand range. (Source:

Royal Stag have an exceptional smoothness, taste and malty-flavor. This is one of the very few blended Indian whiskey in this category that can be taken on the rocks. Its consistent smoothness and flavor uplifted its status in the market.

Seagram is now part of Pernod Ricard due to worldwide takeover. Pernod Ricard produces and distributes many prestigious brands in many categories of alcoholic beverage. Some of world famous brands of this group are: Ricard, Seagram’s Gin, Chivas Regal, Royal Salute, Larios, Clan Campbell, Havana Club, Jameson, Martell, Ramazzotti, Wyborowa, Wild Turkey, Jacob’s Creek and Wyndham Estate. These brands are either global leader or one of the top selling brands of a select market. Pernod Ricard group is marketing more than 100 famous brands around the globe. Royal Stag is one such brand being marketed in India and Nepal as per requirement of these markets. (Source:


Allagash Curieux (Bourbon Barrel Aged Strong Ale) – Allagash Brewing Company, good with food

Anne, Matt, Ravi and Jane tried Allagash Curieux. Anne tasted it as fruity crisp but for her iPas were better. Matt thought that bubbles can take the fat off the food. In short, it was good with food. Ravi didn’t like the first sip but it grew on him. It was sour but he subtlety like it. Jane felt that it was drinkable.

Allagash Curieux was the first foray into barrel aging. Curieux is made by aging tripel ale in Jim beam bourbon barrels for eight weeks in cold cellars. The aged beer is then blended back with a portion of fresh tripel. The resulting beer is soft with coconut and vanilla notes, with hints of bourbon. (Source:

At first you get a dark and heavy taste of a true dark ale with hints of honey and wheat, but then you kind of get punched with a taste of the bourbon. This is a brew that would be best enjoyed by itself. Beer is moderately carbonated, full bodied. Alcohol heat is fairly strong. Generally a pretty soft, smooth beer. A very enjoyable beer. Really pretty hard to compare it to standard tripels, as the barrel-aging adds in whole new features.

Allagash Curieux is manufactured by Allagash Brewing Company which started in 1995, as a one-man operation in a small space on the outskirts of Portland, Maine. Founder Rob Tod had worked in a brewery setting before and recognized a void within the craft brewing movement. While both German and British styles had become prevalent throughout the U.S., the ever-creative Belgian-styles were very difficult to find. Through his travels, Tod had sampled many of these unique beers and felt that the flavors and traditions of Belgium needed to be shared with the American drinking public. He designed a small 15-barrel brew house, gathered the finest array of authentic raw materials and began his quest towards the production of traditional Belgian style ales. Rob sold his first batch of beer in the summer of 1995. (Source:

Today, Allagash has six year round beers in its portfolio, seven yearly releases and numerous one-offs and keg only releases. They continue to be successful by pushing the limits of beer and themselves. They have always strive to produce the finest Belgian inspired and experimental ales this side of the Atlantic. Allagash began as New England’s original Belgian-Style brewery and have grown into one of the industry’s most distinguished and well-respected brands.

Polite Provisions/Soda & Swine Review of Soft Opening – Creative but too much sweetness.

We visited my sister-in-law in the Normal Heights area of San Diego and were lucky enough to be walking by a much anticipated local bar, Polite Provisions, which features quite the array of Whiskey cocktails.  It’s apparently a partnership between a successful San Diego Restaurant group, Consortium Holdings, and a celebrity mixologist, Erick Castro, who was behind other speakeasy/whiskey oriented establishments like Bourbon & Branch in San Francisco.  As such, we were eager to try out the drinks (pictured below)!

Polite Provisions Cocktails

Polite Provisions Cocktails

The overall verdict?  It’s a very creative place with a real speakeasy atmosphere and friendly staff (more on that below).  I appreciated the nickels that lined the bathroom floors, for example.  But the cocktails, served pre-mixed in fountain style for speed and consistency, were way too sweet for my palate.  That would be fine if it just didn’t suit my tastes, which run to more smokey whiskeys, but my sister-in-law and her friend Cody were equally unable to stand the sweetness by the end of the evening.

Some comments on specific cocktails:

The Gin and Tonic – Anne felt it was ordinary and one could get a drink like that anywhere.  I thought it was very refreshing, but could undertstand Anne’s point.  Cody liked it.

The Full Windsor (A scotch drink – see menu here) – This was similar to an Old Fashioned.  I had one across the street at a restauran named Jayne’s and this was about the same, but perhaps a bit sweeter, which unfortunately masked the scotch.  Cody agreed about comparing it to a sweet old fashioned.

Champagne Cocktails (not on the menu, but given complimentary due to understandable delays with a soft opening) – I liked these because they weren’t as sweet as the other drinks.  And they were free.  Cody liked them because they weren’t too “champagne” like.  Anne didn’t really like them.

Mr. Brownstone (Irish Whiskey with Cinnamon) – Anne loved this drink at first and gave it a 10, comparing it the apples you put into an apple pie before baking.  But then I let her finish the drink and she couldn’t because, like an apple pie, it was too sweet to drink so much of it.  I thought the cinnamon was a really nice touch…but it was still way too sweet.  Cody agreed that there was too much cinnamon and sugar.  This was especially true if you used a straw and drank from the bottom, which was even sweeter.

Misty Mountain Buck (Rye Whiskey with Ginger and Pineapple) – Cody liked it as she likes the ginger, though thought it might be better without the Pineapple.  Anne thought it tasted too much like ginger candy.  I liked the complexity and ginger taste, but again, it was way too sweet to enjoy a lot of it.

The Honey Stone Julep (Bourbon with Mint and Honey, pictured below)

Polite Provisions Honey Stone Julep

Cody didn’t love it and at that point it hurt her to say that as she was rooting for the drinks to be good.  It crossed a line in terms of appropriate sweetness for her and reminded her of a drink to be served to southern women with big hair.  Anne didn’t like it and thought the flavors didn’t work as it needed more mint.  I thought it was ok.  The mint was nice it could have had more, but like most of the drinks, the main problem was the overpowering sweetness.

Overall, I would go back.  I just wouldn’t order any of their pre-made drinks, which is technically the whole point of the place.  I appreciate any place that has friendly service and tries to be creative and will support such places.  They make all of our lives better by innovating.  We all loved Frank (pictured below with Cody), who bussed our tables and generally smoothed out all the kinks inevitable in a soft opening.  He told us he met the owner when he helped him move and the owner noticed how hard he works…and it showed that night for us.

Cody and Frank at Polite Provisions

Cody loved the giant ice cubes.  Anne and I would both go back and have beers.  And to top it off, the food from Soda & Swine, the attached restaurant that specializes in meatballs, was amazing.  The chicken, beef, and vegetarian meatballs were all great.  The bread was light and it felt like they achieved the impossible of a healthy-non-greasy meatball sandwich.  We will totally be back to enjoy the creative touches and great food.  We just won’t likely order any of the cocktails, until they start offering some savory or smokey concoctions too.

- Ravi Iyer






Lagavulin 16 vs. Ardbeg Corryvreckan

Tonight, Joey and I tried two of our favorite whiskeys in the most consequential battle of whiskeys ever to grace the pages of  Indeed, Ardbeg’s Corryvreckan had won “Best in Show” at the LA Cocktail classic and so I bought a full bottle for my birthday.  Laguvulin 16 is an old favorite that has recently gone on sale at Costco, so I have a couple bottles in reserve.  Who would win this battle royale?
























First, we tried the Arbeg.  Joey felt that it was a bit sweeter than he remembered from our tasting at the LA Cocktail Classic.  I would agree with that.  It’s smoky, but the complexity of it isn’t what I remembered.  Joey felt there was a flash of smoke that goes away and he felt that it was more complex when he tried it before.  The sweetness overpowered the smokiness such that if you want a complex smoke flavor, it didn’t quite deliver.  He felt like the smell was sweet and almost cloying, though he doesn’t quite know what cloying means.  We both still feel that it is among our favorite whiskeys, but it didn’t live up to our memory.  Joey would say that the Ardbeg is certainly in the top 10% of whiskeys, meaning that it gets 91 points on the wine scale.  I feel that it is still very good, as all Ardbeg whiskeys are, but it doesn’t seem to have the complexity that I love in a whiskey.  Perhaps my previous tasting was biased by the setting.

Next we tried the Lagavulin 16.  Joey felt like it had more of a gasoline smoke smell.  It had a smooth start with a blossoming of smoke that lingers.  Definitely lingers more than the Ardbeg.  Joey would give the Laguvulin 93 points on our scale.  I feel like it gets better as you drink it, with more complexity coming forth.  Joey felt like Laguvulin had a good smoke flavor with a far greater length of time that the taste persisted, far more than the Ardbeg.  There was a quality difference that is hard to verbalize.  I have to agree as I’ve definitely been enjoying Laguvulin more of late, in a household with both the Ardbeg and Laguvulin available.   This is made especially attractive lately as Costco has been selling it for $55 a bottle (in Culver City, CA).

The winner: Laguvulin 16 by a comfortable margin.

- Ravi Iyer




Ardbeg Corryvreckan wins Best in Show at LA Cocktail Classic

The LA Cocktail Classic was held recently at the Vibiana in downtown Los Angeles, and it was Christmas for whiskey lovers.

The brands are too numerous to list (actually, you can see the brands here on Drink Eat Play’s website) and definitely too numerous to drink them all, so I had to choose wisely.  Imagine the above space, plus an equally beautiful outside area, full of whiskeys, cognacs, and cocktails made by some of LA’s best mixologists.  Many of the spirits being sampled cost several hundred dollars per bottle.  Bowmore had a really neat booth where they paired their scotch with oysters in an oyster shooter.

However, one brand stood out as soon as I saw them.  As someone who likes smokey whiskeys, Ardbeg and Laguvulin are my 2 recent favorites, and to celebrate my daughter’s birth, I bought a bottle of Ardbeg Uigeadail, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  I appreciated the opportunity to try some of Ardbeg’s other whiskeys and the award for the best whiskey at the LA Cocktail classic goes to: Ardbeg’s Corryvreckan.

Ardbeg Corryvreckan wins The VeniceWhiskey Best in Show at LA Cocktail Classic

Smokey, complex, and all around delicious!  It’s got the tastiness of a Rye with the smokiness that is classic Ardbeg.  Definitely a bottle I’m going to buy for my next special occassion as the Uigedail is nice, but the Corryvreckan was noticeably (I tried all the Ardbegs side by side) better.  Congrats Ardbeg on a whiskey well done!

- Ravi Iyer



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