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 VeniceWhiskey.com.  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



The Best Stone Brewery Beers (tasting notes)

My sister-in-law was kind enough to take me to the Stone Brewery Company tasting room in South Park in San Diego last weekend

and we both got their insanely well-priced $6 tasting, which included our choice of 4 beers.   The bartenders gave me a splash of the regular Arrogant Bastard Ale (to test against the Oaked version) and I bought a bottle of the Russian Stout, which wasn’t on the menu, but I wanted to try since it was listed as the #2 beer in the world according to an article on their wall.  So in all, we tried 10 beers.



In each round, we tried 2 beers and here are our tasting notes for each round.    They go from lightest (least alcohol content) to heaviest, as that is the order the bartenders recommended.

Round 1: Levitation vs. Smoked Porter.

I liked the levitation ale as it was a hot sunny day and it’s a great drinkable beer.  Anne liked the smoked porter better as it seemed like something that would go well with a sorbet, and that restaurants should sell it as such.  I like a tasty beer, and enjoyed the smoked porter but maybe I just wasn’t in the mood.  Maybe on a different day, but I did like some of the later heavier beers (e.g. Oaked Arrogant Bastard) better.

Round 2: Stone IPA vs. Double Dry Hopped IPA.

The IPA is their best-seller and makes up about 40% of their business.  They were serving a special double dry hopped version.  I liked the regular version better.  Again, maybe it was my mood on a summer day, but the extra flavor wasn’t pleasant for me.  The IPA was nice and drinkable though I liked the levitation more.  Anne liked the double dry hopped IPA better because the IPA was just a beer while the double dry hopped was “more like different”.

Round 3: Stone Cali-Belgique vs. Stone Oaked (and non-Oaked) Arrogant Bastard

I thought both of these were great.  The Arrogant Bastard Ale was supposedly an accidental creation and it’s recipe is guarded well, though many home brewers say that Chinook hops were the start.  I personally liked the Oaked version better than the regular version.  However, both of us liked the Cali-Belgique even more and it might have been my favorite beer of the entire tasting.  It was both tasty and complex, yet drinkable and suitable for a hot day.  Just a great beer!

Round 4: Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous vs. Stone Ruination

Two of the highest alcohol content beers and I liked the Self-Righteous beer much more than the Ruination.  I also tried the Russian Porter in a bottle later and to me, the Self-Righteous Ale is the best of the heavier beers that Stone serves.

My final favorites:

1. Cali-Belgique

2. Sublimely Self-Righteous

3. Oaked Arrogant Bastard

4. Levitation Ale


I’d like to thank the bartenders for a wonderful time.  Apparently craft beer sales are growing as mainstream beers sales decrease, and so perhaps I’ll do this more often.  The recommended visiting Asheville, NC for aspiring beer tourists and checking out the Beer Pulse blog.

What do you think of my rankings?  Vote for your favorites below.

Best Stone Brewery Company Beers

Fog’s End Monterey Rye tastes like a Rum

Joey and I tried this new “Monterey Rye” from Fog’s End from Beverage Warehouse, which always has interesting rye whiskeys.  Interestingly, I actually went there to pick up a bottle of Wild Turkey Rye, but they were sold out as apparently there is a rye whiskey shortage.  I better stock up!


Somewhere between a Whiskey and a Rum

The verdict?  Both Joey and I were a bit surprised by this one.  It hits you up front and it doesn’t have the long tasty finish that we expect from a Rye.  Joey felt that it had a lot of vanilla and it was a bit sweet for me.  I don’t think either of us would have chosen it as our favorite whiskey.

However, upon inspecting the bottle more, it was apparent that the whiskey is made only partly from rye and is partly made from sugar.  As a result, it might be more appropriate to call it a monterey rye whiskey/rum blend and when put in that context it makes much more sense.  Our initial distaste was largely because we thought it would be more whiskey-like and if I think of it like a Zacapa, a rum I like to sip, but with a rye taste as well, then it’s a really interesting idea.  It’s got aRum-like sweetness to it, but a whiskey-like strength.  I still wish the finish was longer, but I’m definitely glad I picked up a bottle and would recommend it to others for it’s uniqueness.  It’s only ~$25 a bottle too and maybe some day we can visit their distillery in Salinas.

Costco’s Speyburn 10 Year beats Trader Joe’s Speyburn Bradan Orach in blind taste test

Recently, I bought at bottle of Speyburn Bradan Orach at Trader Joe’s for $15, while Joey bought at 1.5 Liter bottle (!!!) of Speyburn 10 year at Costco.  Naturally, the thing to do would be to conduct a blind taste test as to which is better.


Speyburn Whiskey - Trader Joes vs Costco

The verdict:

Costco’s Speyburn 10 year won handily.  According to Joey, the Bradan Orach was  light and fruity.  The 10 year had more of a smell and was smokier and much fuller.    I agreed.  The 10 year was much better and fuller with a more complex taste.  The Bradan Orach had a poor finish.

Laguvulin 16 Review

My friends Mike & Kelly were kind enough to buy me a bottle of Laguvulin 16 year old scotch for helping him move and while I tried to explain how helping them was it’s own reward, I didn’t want to seem ungrateful, so I accepted the bottle.   Thanks Mike & Kelly!

As whiskeys go, Laguvulin 16 is right up there with our favorites.  I just had a few glasses with Joey and we both agreed that it is in the highest class of whiskeys that we drink, right up there with Ardbeg and Oban (Joey’s favorites).  While it isn’t as classically smokey as Ardbeg, it has a classic complexity that is immediately appreciable.  Joey remarked that it has a “leather/wood taste that ends in a campfire” which might not sound tasty, unless you know Joey and realize that statement for the compliment it is.  The “je ne sais quoi” of the yumminess is admirable and keeps you wanting more, if only to figure out the “quoi” after all.  It’s a great drink.  I’d give it an 85/100, which is the top rating I’ve given out so far.  It’s a $60 bottle of whiskey, but well worth it.

99 Cent Store Wine vs. Trader Joe’s (also La Finca & Contado Mankas)

We had a battle of the cheap wines wine tasting a couple weekends ago, where I wrapped 4 inexpensive and 1 regular wines in brown paper bags and asked guests to rate them blindly.  The result was that our guests really could tell the difference in price.

The contenders?  Here they are along with comments….

Trader Joe’s Chilean Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon  (3.99)

Arwin liked it and gave it a 6.  Mike gave it a 5.  Kelly thought it was bland and her mom would use it for cooking.  Annie gave it a 5.  I gave it a 6 and thought it drinkable.  Jen S.  thought it was smooth, thin, with medium tanning an likely a pinot noir.  It was her #2 wine.  Jane thought it was plain, blag, bitter and rated it 4th overall.  Lucy couldn’t describe it but thought it was “just good” and gave it a 6.5.  Joey gave it a 5.

Overall average: 5.58/10


La Finca Malbec (2.99 at Trader Joe’s)


I thought it didn’t have much taste and gave it a 3. Jen thought it tasted like nothing.  Jane thought it had some fruit with acid on the end and had it tied for 2nd place.  Mike gave it a 3.  Arwin thought it lacked flavor, was acidic up front and peppery at the back.  She gave it a 3.  Annie gave it a 2 and called it a bad wine.  Lucy thought it was smooth with not much smell.  Oaky and different.  She said she could drink more.  Joey gave it a 3.  Kelly thought it “smells like wine”, but her mom tried it and turned away in disgust.  Kelly thought it was a sharper taste and might be ok with the right meal.

Overall Average:  2.8/10


Trader Joes’ Charles Shaw Cabernet

Mike gave it a 3 and called it “like water with wine”.  I gave it a 2.5 and said it was bitter and ok to drink, but didn’t like it.  Jane found it acid, peperry, and fruity and had it tied for her 2nd choice.  Jen thought it was thin and with pepper.  Arwin thought it was too acidic with too little taste and gave it a 3.  Annie gave it a 3.  Joey gave it a 4.

Overall Average: 3.1


99 Cent Store Red Wine

(Picture to be added)

Joey gave it a 1.  I thought it was very bad and smelled like paint and gave it a 1.  Jen said it was awful and maybe corked.  Jane said “peppery, acid, NO”.  Annie gave it a 2 and said it smelled like manischevitz.  Mike found it light and tart and gave it a 4.  Arwin thought it was bad and gave it a 1.

Overall Average: 1.8


Contado Mankas Cabernet Sauvignon, 2007 (2006 pictured, but real bottle was a 2007)

I thought it was drinkable, but less complex than #1 and gave it a 5.  Jane rated it her favorite and said it was not bad and fruitier.  Jen thought it was med/full rich, spicy, and smooth.  She also thought it was the most expensive and her favorite.  Mike called it “refined” and gave it a 6.5.  Arwin thought it was a little acidic and gave it a 5.  Annie gave it a 6.  Lucy thought it had more aroma, some vanilla, was stronger, had more aftertaste and complexity and gave it a 7.5  Joey gave it a 6.  Kelly said it was much smoother and her mom liked it too.

Overall Average: 6/10


The verdict?  People could generally tell the prices, even in a blind test and the overall average ratings were:

Contado Mankas ($11.99) 6/10
Trader Joe’s Chilean Reserve ($3.99) 5.58/10
Charles Shaw Cabernet ($1.99) 3.1/10
La Finca Malbec ($2.99) 2.8/10
99 Cent Store Wine($0.99) 1.8/10

Overall, I would say that I learned that people can tell price more than I might have thought.  Also, I learned that 99 cent store wine is barely drinkable and smells awful.  The Trader Joe’s reserva is definitely better than the normal Charles Shaw wines and a few people actually thought it was better than the $11.99 wine, so it’s probably the best budget wine here.  The La Finca wine was largely tasteless.

…and to reiterate: I don’t think I’ll buy wine from the 99 cent store again.

Comments welcome.

- Ravi

Spellbound Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Below is a picture of a ~$15 bottle of wine that Arwin, Jane, and Ravi all enjoyed.  It wasn’t super special (in Ravi’s opinion), but was very drinkable and we’d all have it again.


Irish Whiskey Comparison – Tyrconnell, Feckin, Kilbeggan, Clontarf, Jamesons, & Bushmills

Who wants to go to be packed into an Irish bar when you have plenty of Irish whiskey in your cabinet?  In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we decided to buy a number of basic Irish whiskeys and see which one we liked best.  Below are our tasting notes and at the end are our recommendations.


First up was Tyrconnell, a single malt which came with it’s own cool indented glasses.

Joey:  …sweet start.  Leather taste. Lacks a complex finish.  A Burn
without flavor.  Smoke leather taste.

Ravi:  Decent start, but I don’t like the finish,…too smooth for me.  I’d give it a 35 on my scale, similar to Jamesons

Arwin: I don’t like it.  It makes me sick to my stomach. (Note: Arwin doesn’t like whiskey in general and might have a similar comment to make about any whiskey :)).

Mark: “The tyrconnell”..anything with a ‘the’  in the name is good. (except people who say “the” Ohio State University).  I like single malts.  different level of complexity.  It feels like it has a little bit of everything,  A hint of smokiness.  A really nice bold…a medium of everything.  A tinge smokey.

Next up was Feckin.

MM:  ”Nostril inflamatory”…  pleasant taste and then burns my mouth, which is good.  Looks clear, very light.  It was stimulating my teeth.

Joey:  Vanilla in my mouth at start.  Definitely better than Tyrconnel.
More complexity.

Ravi:  Bolder start.  Not smokey like I like it, but decent.  I’d give it a 58….don’t like it as much in subsequent sips as I get used to it and it loses its

Arwin:  good smell, bad taste

Mark: I like the name and crooked label.  Nothing smooth about it. About as smooth as a shotgun blast, which is fine.  Likes it because of the name…freaking cool to look at and think about.


Ravi: Smooth start.  Finish ok.  Not bad.  Not great.  Not enough
taste to be a prime choice of mine….48/100.

Joey: On the smoother side.  Agrees with Ravi.  Some
oak….confirmed by label that says “gently matured in oak casks”…cherry

Mark:  Unusual ot find something that is sweet and smoky at the same
time.  Best intro whiskey for non-whiskey drinkers.

Arwin (a non-whiskey drinker, responding to Mark’s comment): It’s the best one yet.  Not bitter, but it has a sharp…flavor.  more mild than the other two I tried, but it still burns going down.


Ravi: Bolder Start.  Not much finish.  2nd favorite to Feckin as it’s  bolder, but not quite as bold a finish. 53/100

Arwin and Jane smell Butterscotch.  Joey agrees.

Mark:  another crooked label..  The youngest.  1998.  but they claim they
use things from the 10th century. definitely not sweet.  Quick taste.  Dissapears in your mouth like a pop rock.  Interesting whiskey..very

Dharma the cat: meow..tries to snatch from Mark.


MM – slightly stronger than the feckin  Likes it better than the Feckin as a result.

Ravi – smooth..I can see why it’s popular, but I prefer something with
fuller taste.


Mark – distinctive smell…doesn’t smell good…It has an “I don’t give a damn”
smell.  Hits every bit of your mouth that you might expect.  A little bit of sweetness…full…smooth.  doesn’t blow the back of your head off.  Best of the night.  Solid whiskey taste.

Ravi likes the full taste.  An old favorite. 55/100.

MM: smells more severe…more savage.

Arwin: the most normal taste.

The winner for each of us?

Jen sharp – I liked the Feckin…it was smoother and richer.  It felt like smooth and rich and very well rounded.
Ravi voted Feckin, but Bushmills was close.  May be biased by the name.  I’ll probably keep Bushmills around as my stock Irish Whiskey especially since it’s so cheap at CVS usually.  In general, I learned that I prefer Scotch to Irish Whiskey.
Joey Feckin and Bushmills tied for lead.

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