30 January 2014

Whisky Cabal XIII : The Return of Death

Again we'd lost 25% of our membership, but we did have the return of Dr Death - but the absence of Alec-of-the-rating-problems meant that numbers were likely to be less controversial. Swings and roundabouts.

A reduced number of whiskies this evening, which may account for how good we all felt the next morning - possibly something in that.

Kilchoman Machir Bay 2013 edition 
Nose: peat, rubber, uncomplex, salt
Palate: vigorous, salt, whores breath, peat, sweet, honey  [apologies, that 3rd one was mine]
Finish: long, very long
7.5-8 /10

Bottled from 4 and 5 year old bourbon casks, this expression from Kilchoman got a thumbs up from us - admittedly most of their whiskies have. And thanks to Neil, I've now tried the Loch Gorm, which would probably get a 10/10 if I had any to review.
This whisky is very good at what it does, and it's not trying to be anything other than a peaty whisky - but again, it's well balanced and not over the top as you'd expect from some young Islay's.

The fightyness of this dram suggests it should be called : Eric.
And another one we'd add to our Pub list (list of whiskies likely to be found in pubs that are drinkable). At some point, I'll collate that...

SMWS 35.94 'Fruits and nuts and Indian spices' 26yo 52% ex-bourbon
N: marshmallows, not peaty, hint of sherry, strawberries
P: tropical fruit salad, fudge, passionfruit, golden syrup, cumin, ginger
F: med-long, spicy

addition of water gave more honey and smoother : 8.5-9.5 /10 "quaff ability"

A distillery our cabal is quite partial to, and very drinkable. SMWS appear to have their title about right for this one too. Very tasty.
Note: at the time of posting there were 11 bottles left...

SMWS 76.105 'A continuous snow-fall of curiosities' ex-sherry 59.3% 19yo.
N: marzipan, new leather, sweetness, hint of lavender
P: spicy, big, smacks you and leaves,
(addition of water gives: smoother, ginger, chilli)
F: med-short
Cask: 5/10
Addition water: 7/10
I am typing this while snow falls gently outside, which seems appropriate.

Not a quaffing whisky, at cask strength this is one vicious bugger. But we did agree it would make a good 'Camping Whisky' in that it would cut through a chilly evening.
Addition of water was definitely required.
It's also an unusual example from this distillery (Mortlach) who we like, and are more known for sherry monsters rather than this quite un-sherry-like dram.  At 59.3% after 19 years, it makes you wonder what another 10-15 years in cask would have done...
at time of writing, 17 bottles left.

Laphroaig PX 48%
N: salt, TCP, peat, bacon, sherry
P: salt, sherry, 'wrong', smooth, like the Benriach solstice, sweet, truffly
F: short

None of the group are big fans of Laphroaig, but this is a wee bit special. It's not over the top (unlike what the nose suggests) and it's definitely an Islay - but moderated by the sherry to produce a smooth very very drinkable whisky. As Dr Death summarised it 'messes with your head'.
I've only seen it in duty free, and it's around £55

Springbank 12yo cask strength
N: dark chocolate, smoke, peat
P: dark chocolate, spicy, manuka honey
F: med-long, warm

I like Springbank, and Id' asked Neil to pick me a bottle to have over Xmas since I couldn't guarantee what East Mids Airport would have (in the end they had the Laphroaig PX), and so he grabbed this. Very good choice sir! it's not hugely complex, but it is very nice and comforting. Quite ideal for the current weather.

Slainte, B

6 nations 2014 predictions

I do have another whisky tasting report to put up, but that can wait since the 6 nations kicks off this weekend. And I feel I need to inflict my views on this on you.

Last year was (another) rebuilding year for Scotland. I thought they made progress as a team under Scott, and without any major stars they seem to play better as a team than some others. I'm also encouraged that Stuart Hogg is back in as fullback.
I'd like to think that this year those last minute defeats will be turned around, but then again I've been supporting Wellington for years and live in a state of constant optimism which is continually dashed by reality.
Should beat Italy, and maybe Ireland. So let's say position 4 or 5. In my world, they'll come 2.

Bugger all idea, they'll have a blinder game and decide 'eh bof, we proved how good we are last week, no need to continue like that'. And therefore go on to lose to Italy. An incredible number of players will go through the team, and there is unlikely to be a halfback/first-five combination that sticks for more than one game. There will be fighting, and potentially intervention from Hollande - to distract from his current infidelity problems. Position 2 or 3.

The papers will claim this is the year that England deliver on their potential. This will be true, except their potential will be significantly lower than the papers are expecting. This will be a cause of considerable mirth for the other five nations, and indeed most of the rugby playing universe. Huzzah. I would like to see Chris Ashton make a tit of himself, and predict that Owen will once again fail to deliver at international level.
Position 3 or 4.

Getting old as a team, and showing no real creative spark. Some flashes of brilliance, but generally playing old style rugby, badly. I find them really boring to watch, and hopefully the other teams have figured there's not much in the way of creativity from Ireland. They will be hyped tho', on the basis they almost beat the All Blacks (hahahahahahahahahah).
Position 4 or 5.

Actually getting better, and have claimed a few unexpected scalps in recent years. But no real change in position so 5-6.

Even hamstrung by injuries, they should still be strong enough to beat everyone else. Their injury toll is horrendous, and their inability to manage the club side is going to affect the team in the next few years, but this year - should be still be ok. Actually the injuries appear largely self inflicted, watching their tackling suggests an enthusiastic puppy dog diving in, and unfortunately getting their head on the wrong side - leading to the concussions that dog (heheh) the team. Having said that, their front row is superb, and the demolition job they did on England last year was very very sexy. It was so beautifully it should be used as a training video for how tight head and loose head props should work, truly a masterclass. I am, however, upset that WazzaG hasn't caught on as the media reference for Warren G.
Position 1.

29 January 2014

20 January 2014

Cooking with Bruce : Caramelised shallots, fig and beetroot tart with French goat’s cheese and red wine syrup

Yes, I know it's been awhile since the last instalment of cooking with Bruce. I have been cooking, but have forgotten to post the recipes i liked. However yesterday I felt the urge to go a bit over the top so:

Caramelised shallots, fig and beetroot tart with French goat’s cheese and red wine syrup

100g Turkish dried figs
400ml red wine
300gm caster sugar
300gm puff pastry
4 large beetroot
400g chopped shallots
1t chopped thyme
200gm French goat’s cheese

Simmer figs, wine and caster sugar for 30mins then leave to cool overnight.

Cut puff pastry 5mm thick and cut into squares or circles, place on baking tray and rest for 30min before baking at 200C until golden.

Wrap beetroot individually in tin foil and bake until tender (rest on something to stop base burning), cool and chop into rounds, or boil gently until cooked.

Sweat shallots in olive oil, salt, and thyme, cover and cook until caramelised.

Drain figs and reserve the liquid, chop figs finely and add to shallots - cook for 5 mins. Allow to cool, reduce the liquid to a syrup. 

Top the pastry with the shallot mixture, then beetroot, top with goats cheese, season and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 5min at 200C. 

To serve, drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, spoon some of the red wine syrup around the outside, with a green salad on the side. 

Love, B

16 January 2014

Google Nexus 4 and Kitkat (4.4) vs Jelly Bean (4.3) : dialler issue

I switched from iOS to Android when my iPhone 3G (not 3GS) finally gave up the ghost, and by that stage Apple weren't doing any OS updates to it either. That was a few years ago. On the whole I'm pretty happy with Android, since v4 it's felt less like a hobby OS and more stable. Even if it doesn't seem as stable as iOS, which is understandable since it gets skinned for each manufacturers hardware- making it akin to Windows in trying to accomodate everything.

I've got a Nexus 4 (the google phone) so you'd expect Android to play nicely with Googles own hardware, and yeah, upto 4.4.2, it has - it seems noticeably quicker doing things than on equivalent hardware.

So far, so good.

Android 4.4 came out late last year and it's caused problems on a number of devices. But the problem I had was when I made, or answered, a phone call - the dialler pad went black and inactive. The only way I could hang up was by holding the power button, or waiting until the caller hangup. And I couldn't use phone banking, or put the phone on speaker.
Sometimes hitting the power button on the side showed a brief glimpse of the panel. couldn't do anythnig with it, so presume this is Google's attempt at teasing me.

Not really the best look for a device marketed as a phone.

Even for me who doesn't really use the phone as a phone much.

So I've written this summary to bring together the number of pages and things I tried, eventually taking the phone back to Android 4.3.

What did I try
The internet is full of suggestions. Here's what I tried and what happened.

Tried alternative dialler
Kinda improved things, but still when receiving phone calls everything went dark.

Safe Mode
This is similar to booting into Safe Mode on a PC, it disables 3rd party apps etc. Instructions here.
Result: same problem, so it's Android and not an app I installed.

Restore to factory settings
Your phone has a restore to factory settings somewhere. It'll clear everything, so back up if you don't already sync to Google.
Result: as expected, same as Safe Mode.

Clean Install of 4.4.2
I'll give more detailed instructions under the restore to 4.3 section below. But figured before I took it back, I'd try a clean install of 4.4.2.
Result: phone seemed more responsive, but same problem with dialler.

Restore back to 4.3
And so, after being unable to get some voicemail, I decided to go back to 4.3. This involved a few webpages, and wasn't very Mac focussed, so here's my attempt at bringing it together - hopefully making it reasonably straightforward for most users.
Sources for this:
Cult of Android
Android Developer Site
Unlock bootloader for Nexus 4

Software you'll need
Android SDK- Developer Tools and API libraries
Android Factory Images - choose the 4.3 version
Android File Transfer Agent (maybe already installed if you move files/music around)

Your Mac should already have the drivers to see the Nexus, if not install the Android File Transfer agent from here.
Extract the Android SDK, it will say you need to have a Java environment installed, but all you want from this large bundle is a small file called Fastboot.
Extract the 4.3 Factory image.
I kept both extractions in Downloads, as it was easier to keep track of where they were. But that's just me.
Find the file in the SDK called 'fastboot' and move this into the extracted 4.3 directory (called occam-jwr66y). Fastboot is probably in a subfolder called 'platform-tools'.

Put Nexus into Bootloader mode
Turn the phone off, then switch on by pressing the power key, and Volume Up + Volume Down simultaneously.
Connect the phone to the computer.
Start up a terminal window (Launchpad / Other / Terminal). Use the cd command to get to the directory you've saved everything into, for example mine was:
cd ~/Downloads/occam-jwr66y


./fastboot oem unlock

You will be prompted on the phone to verify the process.
Open the script flash-all.sh using TextEdit from the occam-jwr66y folder and edit it so that all of the fastboot commands read ./fastboot my script now looks like:

./fastboot flash bootloader bootloader-mako-makoz20i.img
./fastboot reboot-bootloader
sleep 5
./fastboot flash radio radio-mako-m9615a-cefwmazm-2.0.1700.84.img
./fastboot reboot-bootloader
sleep 5
./fastboot -w update image-occam-jwr66y.zip

Back to Terminal, and type

Your phone will automatically reboot, and ask you to set it up again. Things worked fine for me here.
But I also rebooted into the Bootloader, connected my phone up, and typed the following into the terminal window to lock the bootloader again:
./fastboot oem lock

It was then an annoying process of going through the Android store for My Apps, then clicking on the All tab and choosing what I wanted to reinstall.
However the phone dialler now does what I want it to do. 
Hope this helps someone...


5 January 2014

Albums of the year 2013

I'd like to thank our Thursday Night Music Night group for making me listen to a whole bunch of new stuff this year - even for me there seemed a lot of new, unusual, stuff that I spun. Not bad for a group that spun out from a few of us who like beer and music and decided Thursday night was a good night to combine these interests -- across many time zones too...
I've tried to link to the artists pages, so if you do feel like buying the album - get it from them. And marked which artists are from NZ as I was surprised how many are in the top10 this year.

The two that didn't make it into the top10:
Jordan Reyne - Annihilation Sequence   [kiwi]
The Eels - Wonderful Glorious  [which, as an album it is]

10= Gloryhammer,  Tales from the Kingdom of Fife.
Yeah, if you'd told me I'd have been rating a pisstake prog-metal album in my top 10, I'd have clipped you one. But it's ace. Go on, just watch this video - and if you get the chance to see them live, take it, possibly the most enjoyable gig of the year.

10= Nathan Haines - Vermillion Skies  [kiwi]
I've listened to NH over the years and never really clicked, enjoyable and good, sometimes great, live. But this album is something special, approachable jazz, chilled out, late night whisky drinking stuff (Neil, I'd recommend this one to you). He's apparently based in London now, so must keep an eye out for him...

9 Rhian Sheehan - Stories from Elsewhere  [kiwi]
Continuing on from Standing in Silence and Seven Tales of the North Wind, Sheehan's odd mix of spacious, atmospheric and yet personal instrumental music just gets better and better. Initially a little jarring, as the album is slightly closer and more intimate, and he's found a small glockenspiel kinda thing, but it's a grower. Wonderful stuff.

8 Light Bearer - Silver Tongue
Recommendation from Scott (possibly). Post-rock, metal, concept driven rock. Fucking great, brutal, powerful, melodic.

7 Roy Harper - Man or Myth
Eventful year for Roy (go google if you haven't heard). I've spun his albums occasionally over the years, nothing had really grabbed me, but reviews (and TNMN) raved about the new one. So I picked it up. Brilliant. He's a twisted, cynical bugger, and damn he can write dem good tunes.

6 Phoenix Foundation - Fandango  [kiwi]
The lads return with a big, bold, sprawling double album. Pushing the psychedelic more, and possibly their best? Certainly running Pegasus close. Enjoyed the gigs this year too, the Liverpool one was a bit ramshackle, bringing back lovely memories of those San Fran BH gigs...ahhhh....

5 Boards of Canada - Tomorrows Harvest
First album in years. As good as the last one. Great electonic stuff.

4 Pere Ubu - Lady from Shanghai
Ok, I expected to like this. But not as much as I did. I dunno if it's a good starting point for Pere Ubu, but it's worth spinning - especially if youre a fan of late era Tom Waits, or late era Scott Walker. It's not as avante garde, but it's very fresh and very creative.

3 Fish - Feast of Consequences
Being a fan of Fish has, recently, been a fan with diminishing returns. So I preordered the new album out of a sense of duty (since I've enjoyed so much of his output), and the expectation of some great artwork by Mark Wilkinson.
Wow. Lyrically strongest for years, he's really engaged with the topics, musically almost up to the lyrics. And live, very emotional with the war suite visuals.

2 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Push the Sky Away
far more spacious than his more recent albums, shorter, and songs are allowed to breath. Getting close to being his best album? yeah I'd say so. And great to see live in Prague.

1 Steve Wilson - The Raven Who Refused To Sing (and other stories)
No surprise here. It's a blinder.

2 January 2014

Whisky Cabal Meeting 12 : winter is coming

It's not worth repeating how rubbish we are at organising meetings is it? Nah, didn't think so. This is the somewhat delayed writeup of the last session.

I may even have a photo somewhere, which can go up later.

Glen Keith Berry Bros & Rudd 1993 Cask#97100 53.8%

Nose: glue, bourbon, pine, socks, lavender
Palate: warm tingly, pineapples, dried fruit, mango
Finish: med-short

We branched out and bought some indie bottlings from BBR recently, and this was one of them. You don't see too many bottlings from Glen Keith as it's largely used in blends (distillery is owned by Chivas) which is one reason why this bottle was picked up.
And we liked it. A lot. It's light, but interesting enough to keep going back to.

Cardhu 40%
N: sweet, sherry (hint), wet dog, rubber
P: hint of sherry
F: short
A 6/10; R 4/10; B 3-4/10

Not liked this time around. We had tried this one before (see here) when we liked it a bit more, but this time - nothing.

Glenglassaugh Revival
N: caramel, fresh rubber, "changing an inner tube", manuka honey
P: raisins, cake, cherries, xmas cake, mulled wine, cloves
F: med-long
R 7/10 B/A 7.5/10

A and I had tried this at a whisky show, and liked it, and oddly, we liked it again. Huzzah !! The second release from Glenglassaugh, well worth having.

SMWS 30.74 Sweet, fruity and rich 60.3% 11yo d27/3/01 refill port pipe
N: wow, port, vigorous, sulphur, raisins, cake, sherry, toffee apple
P: treacle, figs, salty, sweet
F: long
B/R 9/10 A 8.5/10

this was very very nice, from our good friends at Glenrothes. Fantastic nose and the palate lives up to the promise. Addition of water produced more woody and musty notes - which worked well. If there's any left, grab a bottle.

SMWS 64.36 Marshmallows in a duffle bag 60.3% d26/5/2004 7yo 1st fill barrel ex-bourbon
N: spritzic, lemonade, tropical fruits, sherbet, lovehearts
P: sherbet, lavender, vigorous
F: big, massive
Described by one of the cabal as "Barely legal evil whore" which, if nothing else, should lead to some interesting search results on google.
8/10 subtle, it ain't, from Mannochmore

SMWS 66.32 Roly-poly pudding 13yo 50.6% refill gouda ex-sherry
N: coastal, rubber, salt, phenol, sulphur, beetroot   [yeah, I dunno either]
P: eek, coast, salt, long, sherry
F: med-long
Again, a retasting of an Ardmore, and the same grading (see here), suggesting that we are consistent and our problem child is just wrong in requiring a standard each tasting.

Port Charlotte 10 59.8%
N: smoke, salt, coast, rubber, 'oh fuck', phenol
P: warm, massive, salted honey, cough syrup
F: long - massive
A 8/10; R 9.5/10 B 10/10
Again a retasting, and similar to the last time, no link as it's impossible to find. They've released a 46% version, which is apparently very good - but I haven't tried that.
There is a PC11 but it's only available in a limited number of airport shops, which is annoying.

We've all received booze based Xmas gifts so there maybe another tasting coming soon...


1 January 2014

in more positive news

Pitlochry. Love the place.

We headed up after a quiet wee xmas party with N+S in the proghof. [quiet maybe a matter of opinion].
Having been dragged up there by N a couple of times, I already knew of the Moulin Hotel and the distillery Edradour. I may have mentioned them before. So figuring a quiet time ignoring people over xmas was a plan, we stayed at the Moulin Hotel. They have a brewery. This a very good thing as they brew Ale of Atholl and Old Remedial. The latter, although a heavy killer, is one of my favourite beers. The pub food is also very good.

It snowed on the 23-24th, and rained, but hopes were low for a white xmas. Indeed it turned out to be blue sky, followed by rain. Not really what we were expecting.

N+S turned up on the 26th, and so we made ourselves comfortable in the pub. This worked well. Some drams were had. This also worked well.

Sadly Edradour was closed (although an offer was made to open depending on when we were there - which didn't quite fit, oh well), and I had no major desire to head to Blair Atholl distillery this time. Mainly as we'd stocked up at the quite superb booze shop in Pitlochry, DrinkMonger - one of the royal mile whisky shops. Great whisky, beer, wine - well ok, great booze up.

Even better, very limited mobile (no 3g) and wifi. Ahhh bliss.


English Customer Service 2

Flight to Glasgow from EMA, figured we'll catch a taxi (£16), so booked it online and got confirmation email etc. All seemed straightforward, at which point I should have been concerned, but really booking a taxi...how fucking hard can that be ?!
Shepshed Taxi's. 20 minutes late for pickup, and I had to ring twice to find out where the fuck they were. No apology from the driver, just some stupid excuse he'd been delayed as his last passenger had to drive around to find an ATM. I don't care. It's not relevant, I'd booked a specific time. Use another driver. Then tried to claim I'd booked it for 1010 - even though I had the fucking printout saying 10am.

On one of the calls I'd said "so what discount will be put through for this" and got told something would be sorted. Mentioned this to the driver who laughed. Ahhh bad move fucktard. So I knocked off £1.50 /5min waiting, so £6 as they were 20 minutes late. Oh how heartbroken the poor wee lad looked. I pointed out that if he'd had to wait for me, I'd have been charged, so it seemed reasonable that it worked both ways.

I even contacted the company to complain and got a rather ignorant, and unhelpful, reply.

Result: Avoid Shepshed Taxi's.

English customer service 1

There will be two parts to this occasional series on the rubbish that is customer service. There are, obviously, outstanding examples (Beers of Europe and Loch Fyne Whiskies spring to mind). But this is an example of the poor-average.

I like a cigar every-so-often. I tend to use SimplyCigars, who are, generally, excellent and I'd thoroughly recommend them. But this xmas order was an exercise in frustration. I placed it around the 10th of Dec, and received notification that it had shipped a couple of days later. 8 days later it still hadn't arrived, so I emailed - no response (contrary to the claim on the website of response within 24 hours). I ended up ringing 8 times and emailing 3 times, I kept get responses saying they'd get back to me and that it had been picked up by royalmail and was their problem. They generally didn't get back to me, only returning calls twice and no emails. I even rang RoyalMail who said they had never received it - and their response was very quick and helpful. in the end, following a number of increasingly frequent calls, simply cigars shipped a replacement out - which arrived the day before I left for holiday.

Can't say I was very impressed with their inability to get back to me, or lack of ownership of the issues. Their resolution was good, if last minute. And in their defence, their service upto now has been excellent, and I'll stick with them. But still, it's pretty annoying.