May 11th, 2017

Caol Ila

Last night, someone told me to have a sip of Caol Ila single-malt Scotch whisky. A tiny sip, because that person knew I’m not a drinker.

It was the single worst-tasting thing I’ve ever ingested into my wee body.

At first I thought it tasted like an old shoe.

But no; it tasted like an old tire.

No again. What it really tasted like was a barbecued old tire soaked in petroleum sauce.

Ever had it? Here’s a description at a website specializing in Scotch whisky:

Nose: Wet bog, a dominant peatiness that seems more like wet leaves, humus, and decaying fallen trees than smoke or sea. Very light oakiness underneath, with only a thin layer of malt serving as a vehicle for the peat…

The nose is a little off-putting for me, even though I enjoy peat. The muddiness and earthy quality of the peat seems “lower quality” to me than the peat of other Islay distilleries. However, that all changes on the tongue, where the peat gives way to a very tasty chocolate note. This continues through the finish, which has the strangest merging of boggy peat, strawberry jam, and chocolate fudge. Weird, but very satisfying. I would score this higher if the nose were either more clear and refined, or less peaty.

And that’s from someone who liked it.

I didn’t, to say the least. And I completely and utterly missed the entire strawberry jam and chocolate fudge part. It took me about an hour to totally shake that vile barbecued tire taste from my buds.

Never again.

45 Responses to “Caol Ila”

  1. Snow on Pine Says:

    These descriptions of what things like various kinds of Scotch and especially wine taste like have always seemed way too what? I guess the precise word would be “precious.” Too over refined, and esoteric; a way for some Scotch or wine snob to put us rabble in our place.

    If we’re talking Scotch, peat I can taste.

    But with wine, I fail to find things in the wine that I’ve drunk such as the taste of forest floor, saddle leather, cigars, or violets.

    I guess I’m just not “refined” enough.

  2. parker Says:

    Scotch is apparently an acquired taste that I have never acquired. On rare occasions I have been known to sip a little bourbon. I am wine in the winter beer in the summer drinker.

  3. Ike Says:

    I have to confess that to me all wines have tasted like they were about 30 seconds away from turning into vinegar. Beer, on the other hand, is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. Just sayin’.

  4. Sharon W Says:

    If Scotch or Whiskey were the only alcohol, I would be a teetotaler.

  5. Ike Says:

    Oh, and whiskeys and such like are for gargling when you have a cold or the flu.

  6. y81 Says:

    They say Scotch is an acquired taste, but it only took me about two drinks to acquire it. Some of the verbal descriptions are a little bizarre–perhaps writing about Scotch is like dancing about art–but the taste is very satisfying to some people. De gustibus non est disputandum.

  7. gpc31 Says:

    There was a Wall Street Journal years ago about professional Scottish whisky tasters called “nosers”. They were genuinely able to discern and articulate subtle differences, but the interesting thing is that they lost that ability within a matter of months after being retired.

  8. Llwddythlw Says:

    I only found I could stomach Scotch as I reached middle age. The really smoky, peaty, carbolicky variants are still too much for me. I, too, cannot pick out the taste of leather and prunella or whatever is meant to be lurking on the periphery of the bouquet. I tried some decent Bourbon in a special glass which prevents nose burn. It tasted good, but the subtle overtones of Kentucky grass were quite beyond me.

  9. OldTexan Says:

    Neo, you had me laughing out loud almost falling out of my chair and I love your description with the excellent adjectives. I am glad I wasn’t drinking coffee because it would have come out of my nose.

    I have been drinking Scotch for about 50 years and I like smooth blends and they don’t have to be the most expensive but they are not the cheapest either.

    A few of the single malts are nice but most of them seem like drinking smoky medicine with a tinge of iodine but so far I have not had any barbecued tire Scotch and thanks to you I won’t ever have to.

  10. Will Says:

    I think Caol Ila is the finest single malt Scotch of them all. If I could never drink anything else, I would be happy. I would say you sampled the very best.

    Still, Islay scotches tend to taste like burning tires, and Caol Ila is one of the more aggressively flavored. Not all scotches taste like peat smoke and seaweed.

    If something smooth and floral sounds better to you, try Glenmorangie. Get your drink from a new or almost-full bottle, because it loses its smoothness fairly quickly after opening.

  11. Matthew Says:

    I’m barely even a social drinker. I had about a half a glass of champagne once. It tasted like a less flavorful version of ginger ale with that alcohol after taste.

    I always wondered how much people who claim to enjoy this stuff are BSing.

  12. mizpants Says:

    Funny post. I’ve tried to like single-malt scotch, but haven’t managed it yet. Bourbon I love. It’s warm and restorative.
    I agree with Old Texan about the iodine taste. In fact, somebody described scotch as tasting like band-aids soaked in iodine.

  13. Sharon W Says:

    I LOVE Champagne (and Cava) just as much. Generally I drink it on special occasions. I started drinking wine 12 years ago, w/our evening dinner. It was a “development” that I now look forward to. Prior to that I would have a cocktail each evening before dinner (vodka gimlet, martini or French 1600). My husband is an excellent mixologist, so I generally only drink at home (save lots of $$ there). From time to time I go without alcohol at all (anywhere from 6 weeks to 1-2 years at a time–for Lent and other reasons). At the end of the day, I can take it or leave it, but if enjoyment is the question, it’s definitely take it.

  14. Esther Says:

    Whoa! I’m giving that a try! I love laphroaig, this one sounds even more intense.

    To my mouth, the crazy flavors in wine and scotch and stuff are really loud. I know people say they can’t taste it, but I don’t get that.

    On the other hand, I was unable to eat fast and frozen food or drink soda as a kidlet because I couldn’t handle the taste of the chemicals.

    But, hold the cola and put me down for burnt rubber, leather and peaty mud! Lol:-)

  15. chuck Says:

    I rarely drink hard liquor, but when I do, I much prefer bourbon over scotch.

  16. DNW Says:

    parker Says:
    May 11th, 2017 at 5:04 pm

    Scotch is apparently an acquired taste that I have never acquired. On rare occasions I have been known to sip a little bourbon. I am wine in the winter beer in the summer drinker.”

    Fortunately, this time I read most of the comments before typing, since otherwise I would have basically restated “Will’s” already made remarks.

    The problem – as I see it – is the Islay type of purist’s Scotch. Iodine, smoke of wet burning leaves … … headache.

    But single malts are good. Just as are pure rye’s or Bourbons.

    In addition to Glenmorangie sherry cask aged, the reliable Maccallan 12 is affordable and good.

    I would not bother with the scotches our dad’s bought to fill out the bar at Christmastime for those scotch drinking relatives. I guess there is something good to be said for Johnny Walker, or Cutty Sark, or Black & White … but I would not be the one to say it. I just would not know, and didn’t like them when I tried them years ago.

    Now, this will annoy real scotch purists, but I found that a double old fashioned glass almost filled with pure finely crushed ice and then topped up with The Maccallan, made a great drink. Kind of like a scotch julep or something … A “julep” minus everything but the scotch and crushed ice.

  17. DNW Says:

    Speaking of “Dad’s holiday season bar” back when you were a tot.

    1960s magazine whiskey advertisements

    Hey is that Sean Connery? Cue up the James Bond theme …

  18. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    I like a well made, smooth, clean and crisp Scotch. 15 yr old Dhalwinnie is my favorite. In general, I prefer highland scotchs to the lowland peaty ones.

    I’ve tried some Bourbons but no go.

    I like both well made wines and beers. A clean aftertaste in any drink is important to me.

    I’ve long suspected that our DNA determines our palate. There are far too many things I don’t care for, that far too many love for it to be simply a case of them having bad taste.

  19. John Guilfoyle Says:

    Neo…that was the funniest description of a drink I have ever read…didn’t know you did comedy…gold baby just pure gold!

    There are better single malts to my taste & I’ve tasted a few in nigh on 40 years of imbibing. And yes, all that flowery language to describe the levels of flavour are pretentious to say the least.

    You either like it or you don’t. Spare me the strawberries, peat & chocolate sauce. But darlin’ when you taste burnt let the rest of us know. Like telling the other diners at the feast that the soup is hot. That’s just good manners.

  20. Roy Says:

    If Scotch is an acquired taste then I have acquired it. I drink it over ice and my favorite single malt is 12yo Glenlivet. There is nothing pretentious about it; no peats or bogs or burnt tires. It’s very smooth and cheap enough for a working man to afford.

    I also like a good bourbon. 4 Roses is my current favorite, but I wouldn’t turn down a glass of Makers, Jim Beam or even Heaven Hill. Jack Daniels black label is some good stuff too.

  21. steve walsh Says:

    There are those that like the peat in their whisky and those that do not, and none in between. A finger’s width or two in the glass, neat, and some friends to share it with. There you go.

  22. Snow on Pine Says:

    Sign me up for Highland Park, Chivas Regal, or Glenlivet as well.

    Several decades ago I wanted to acquire some knowledge of wines, read a lot, went around to wine stores in the DC area that had a wide selection and good prices, asked for recommendations, and picked up bottles of what I could afford, which wasn’t much—I pretty much stayed in the 9-12 dollar range—that I’d read were supposedly pretty good.

    So, even though I discovered a bargain here and there, i certainly wasn’t buying what were touted as anywhere near top tier wines. I was pretty serious, tried out all sorts of varieties of whites and reds, filled out little 3X5 cards about how each wine tasted, etc..

    Many years and a lot of wine later, I concluded that some of the wines I had bought back then, that were now a lot more expensive—I really liked Chateau Gloria, and Schloss Vollrads—were pretty good, but that a lot of the other wines, regardless of price, were hit or miss in terms of consistent quality and taste. Over the years, some cheap bottles of wine really tasted great, some much more expensive bottles of wine were not so great, and I eventually pretty much swore off both French and German wines, preferring California wines, and some of those from Australia, and occasionally Italy, Chile, or New Zealand.

    I also found out that, for me, even a case of the exact same wine—supposedly from exactly the same vineyard and produced in the same year—often varies in taste from bottle to bottle, and individual bottles did so, even more often. And having read articles about how some wine importers would save money by having wine shipped from overseas during the summer in unrefrigerated cargo holds, perhaps some of this variation is caused by how wine was either transported, stored, or both.

    So now for us, if we go out to eat, I usually just order the most expensive Cab by the glass on the menu, and my wife and I usually get a pretty good glass of wine.

    P.S.—Eating out and finding a great wine has been very frustrating, because very often I’m told that that wine I’ve discovered I liked a lot is an exclusive with the restaurant, which has bought up the entire year’s production of a small vineyard, and, thus, that I won’t find that wine for sale anywhere.

    I note an article today that mentions that Johnny Depp’s monthly wine bill usually runs around thirty thousand dollars.

    I’m long retired now and unfortunately not loaded, and when I buy wine today I still buy a few particular inexpensive wines that I have found i like in a somewhat expanded $9-16 dollar price range, and usually at the lower end of that range, believing that going up to $25 or $50 or more a bottle is not going to get me a guaranteed transcendent experience.

  23. TommyJay Says:


    If you care to develop a taste for scotch, I’d recommend a very smooth blended like Pinch, on the rocks. I crack my ice, so it chills and melts a bit faster, though Pinch is so smooth you can sip it neat. I’m too cheap and anti-snob to delve into the single malt stuff, though I don’t doubt that many genuinely enjoy a good single malt.

    Interestingly, while bourbon makers use new freshly charred oak barrels for aging, scotch makers buy the used barrels from the bourbon makers. So while scotch picks up a little of that charred oak flavor, bourbons have a lot of it.

    My standard good scotch is Johnny Walker Black, but I’ve mostly switched to Maker’s Mark bourbon because it’s as good and much cheaper when bought in quantity.

  24. lynndh Says:

    Caol Ila with just a pinch of water – PURE HEAVEN!
    A good many other very fine single malts were mentioned above as well. For our Hostess and others that fail to appreciate the fine taste of single malts that are peaty, my Wife totally agrees. She can not stand the smell of them, especially Caol Ila and Laphroaig.

  25. AesopFan Says:

    Geoffrey Britain Says:
    May 11th, 2017 at 6:58 pm

    I’ve long suspected that our DNA determines our palate. There are far too many things I don’t care for, that far too many love for it to be simply a case of them having bad taste.
    * * *
    I suspect you are right.
    The differences extend to far more than liquor. I can’t drink or eat anything with synthetic sweeteners.

    Serendipitously, a PowerLine post today:

  26. FOAF Says:

    Ahhaha, though I’ve never had Caol Ila I love Islay Scotches – Bowmore, Laphroaig and Lagavulin. It was a now defunct expression Bowmore Dusk that won me over to Scotch though some Islay purists look down on Bowmore because of its propensity for aging in sherry casks. I suspect that the exact flavors that were so off-putting to neo were what attracted me.

    I like bourbon as well, that is what I usually drink in bars because good Scotch is too expensive to buy by the glass. While I agree that much of the language in Scotch reviews is eye-rolling, I do think that Scotch has a wider variety of flavors than bourbon. This may be due partly to the restrictions on the distillation of bourbon, as well as other American liquors, that are encoded into federal law.

  27. Yancey Ward Says:

    I am not a neat hard liquor drinker- but I do occasionally like Scotch and the best in my opinion is Johnny Walker Red- it is consistent across bottles and not terribly expensive. I always keep a bottle around.

    I have actually had a shot of Caol Ila before, but I don’t remember what it tasted like to be honest with you. And I really don’t get the single malt vs blend thing at all.

    As for whiskey neat in general, I almost always prefer bourbon if I am going to drink something neat. However, I almost always take my liquor in mixed drinks.

  28. Bryan Says:

    A few months ago I saw a Wall Street Journal video about Pinotage billed as “the grape nobody likes” or something. Apparently it tastes too smokey for most people. Since I love Lapsang Suchong, a tea that is too smokey for most people, I ran right out and bought a bottle of Pinotage. Lovely! This is precisely why political correctness needs to die. We get the most value from candid, frank, truthful commentary. The rest is bullshit.

  29. SCOTTtheBADGER Says:

    I think Scotch tastes like Vick’s Formula 44.

  30. Philip Says:

    I think the thing that stops me from trying any Scotches is that I can’t figure out how to pronounce the names. It makes me afraid to try to order. Well, that and I’m too busy with wines.

  31. Cappy Says:

    Never buy Scotch distilled in Akron.

  32. Yackums Says:

    I’m with Will up above. Caol Ila 12 is one of my absolute favorite single malts. Peaty like an Islay but sweet and smooth like a Highland.

    Scotch is definitely an acquired tast, but oh boy did I acquire it.

  33. om Says:


    Genetics does play a part

    There was also some more recent research that categorized people as having high and low (culinary) taste sensitivities with regard to bitter flavors often found in vegetables. I haven’t found that reference….

  34. Sharon W Says:

    Taste sensitivity (palate)–My daughter’s mother-in-law (84 years old and still traveling the world with her culinary organizations) was born a blue baby; a twin born 6 hours after her brother. She can remember every meal she’s ever eaten, and what it tasted like. She is the finest chef I’ve ever personally known. Years ago she came across an article about a man that was resuscitated after losing consciousness for a period of time. After regaining consciousness, from that time forward his sensitivity to taste was extraordinary. Night and day from his prior life experience.

  35. Snow on Pine Says:

    Ran across a very interesting film several months ago on NETFLIX titled “Sour Grapes,” one of several concerning wine, and this particular show delved into the career of a very high end wine enthusiast/dealer who had run a gigantic con.

    He was a well turned out, well spoken young man in his early 20s who called himself Rudy Kurniawan (real name apparently Zhen Wang Huang), supposedly the scion of a very wealthy Indonesian family; a very convivial young man.

    He supposedly had a great knowledge of wine and a great “nose,” and he burst on the scene and ingratiated himself with a group of very wealthy people during the time, starting in the early 2000s, when people were making enormous profits off the dotcom boom, people with lots of extra money to spend who fancied themselves wine connoisseurs, people who had regular dinners together, were it wasn’t uncommon to blow through $200,000 of high end wine.

    He was seen bidding on all sorts of fantastic bottles and cases of wines, and winning many of them, and he let it be known that he had supposedly amassed an astounding wine cellar. He once sold more than $25 million dollars of his wines at one action, and at one time he had practically cornered the market on Domain de la Romanee-Conti, that sometimes runs $20,000 a bottle.

    Meanwhile, he was also getting massive, multi million dollar loans from the wine auction houses he dealt with, with his wine collection as collateral, that allowed him to bid on other wines.

    Soon, he was buying, and especially selling wines from his cellar to people in this circle, who considered him the go to expert, a genius, and some of these bottles of wine went for thousands of dollars or more each.

    In total, many millions of dollars changed hands, as his wines were bought and then resold, and then resold again. until the wines he sold were present in many high end wine collections.

    Some extremely rare bottles had incredible provenance, such as what were described as some of the few remaining bottles of wine bottled by Thomas Jefferson, and from his Monticello wine cellar.

    The beginning of the end came when the owner of a French vineyard that had been in his family for generations noticed particular bottles of wine, supposedly from his vineyard, showing up in auction catalogs, varieties that he knew his estate had never produced in the years listed on these bottle’s labels. So, he came to America to find out who was counterfeiting his wines.

    Apparently, if they had suspicions, many of those who bought very expensive wines from Rudy, didn’t want to be seen to have been made a fool of, so they didn’t investigate.

    And there was also one particular, very wealthy collector of all sorts of things, a member of the Koch family, whose estate’s wine seller contained wines he had paid millions of dollars for over the years, some of them bought from Rudy, and he started to have suspicions.

    So, he spent a lot of money to hire outside experts to come in and spend months checking on things like the size, shape, and age of the glass used in the bottles, the condition of wine corks, and labeling, and how they matched up with the records of the vineyards involved, bottles of wine that were known to be the real thing, and historical auction catalogs.

    These expert’s opinion was that there were a number of bottles of counterfeit wine in his cellar, and that a number of them were bottles this young wine genius had sold this extraordinarily wealthy man.

    Long story short, as suspicions grew, the genius’s house was ultimately raided by the FBI, and it contained a factory for making counterfeit wines—stockpiles of old bottles and corks, wine labels soaking off bottles in the sink, stacks of old paper to print labels on, printers and programs set up to print replicas of old wine labels, formulas written on the walls on how to blend much cheaper Napa wines and others to achieve the taste of much more expensive wines, bottling machinery, and lots of bottles of old, inexpensive Burgundies that were going to be doctored up so that that they could pass for much more expensive Burgundies, etc.

    Rudy’s was the first ever prosecution for wine fraud, he was found guilty, and sentenced in 2013 to 10 years in prison.

    But, the money he received had been sent back to Indonesia and Hong Kong where it just vanished, and on investigation, his very wealthy family’s supposed business offices in Indonesia turned out to be nonexistent.

    He had conned them all, people who fancied themselves able to distinguish great wines by their taste.

  36. brdavis9 Says:

    Don’t like distilled spirits.

    Wine & beer guy …very choosy about my brews (somewhat of a snob, maybe) …wine? – Not so much (but I can tell, umm, “differences” …I’m just not fussy about the vine).

    Had a bottle of Chateau Montelena Chard’ (the ’12 or ’13 I think) a couple of years ago (because I love the movie Bottle Shock). It was …pretty good. Really good.

    Recently did some pro bono IT work for a desperate friend of a regular client. They were very, very happy with my work (I’m not modest: I’m good at IT), and wanted to “do something”.

    I said “not necessary, really” but they persisted over the course of a few weeks.

    So, finally, I suggested that while they really didn’t have to, if they insisted, it would be a nice gesture to ship me a case of the ’15 Matchbook Dunnigan Hills Old Head Chard’.

    Which they did (and blessings be upon them despite my overcome protestations lol).

    …to my palate, it is quite a bit superior to the Montelena (at a 1/3 the cost or so).

    You might want to look for a bottle.

  37. Sharon W Says:

    Snow on Pine–I guess he was the Bernie Madoff of wine aficionados. I watched a Frontline episode on Madoff and it is amazing how the wealthy were reeled in, greed and pride essentially carrying the day.

  38. Mr. Frank Says:

    I’m surprised no one suggested Irish whisky. Very smooth.

  39. I'm with Decius Says:

    All these comments on a post written by a woman who eats candy corn.

  40. Brian Swisher Says:

    Philip – Google “Brian Cox whisky” and you’ll find short videos of Mr. Cox pronouncing the names of Scotch whiskies for the rest of us heathens.

  41. AesopFan Says:

    It’s nice to have a non-political post occasionally.
    I know nothing about liquors that i haven’t read off the internet or library, but this was a very interesting book about the business end, which was fascinating as history and biography.

    Snow on Pine Says:
    May 12th, 2017 at 12:56 pm
    Ran across a very interesting film several months ago on NETFLIX titled “Sour Grapes,” one of several concerning wine, and this particular show delved into the career of a very high end wine enthusiast/dealer who had run a gigantic con.
    * *
    I am always amazed at the work people put into conning other people; of course, his return on investment was quite high – until he got caught. I totally do not understand the “I think I’ve been cheated but I would be so ashamed I don’t want anyone to investigate and find out” frame of mind. Nice to have money to throw away, I guess.
    * *

    ancey Ward Says:
    May 12th, 2017 at 2:25 am.
    However, I almost always take my liquor in mixed drinks.
    * * *
    Our college theater crew was pretty hard drinking at the cast parties (and elsewhere, but I wasn’t there those times). One of the women (a really great actress and later involved in scripting Renaissance Faires around the country, but with a more lucrative Day Job), said her father told her early on to always take her liquor neat, because that way no one could slip something into her mixed drink.
    Daddy always knows best.

  42. AesopFan Says:

    om Says:
    May 12th, 2017 at 11:02 am
    from your link “Around 25% of people are supers, 50% medium tasters and the remaining 25% are non tasters. Women, and people from Asia, Africa and South America have higher percentages of supertasters in their ranks.”

    i wonder if that is because Europeans are less likely to need to discern toxic elements in the food they get from the store, rather than “in the raw”?

    Very interesting article.

  43. AesopFan Says:

    Should have indicated “now less likely to need” for a kind of pseudo-evolutionary drift, since canned / monitored foods are pretty new on that scale.

  44. Philip Says:

    Brian S – done.. useful, thanks. (Although I am not a heathen. 🙂 ) I see I would have gotten ‘Laphroaig’ quite wrong had I tried. But was it really necessary to give a lesson on how to pronounce ‘Highland Park’? 🙂 I guess they just put it in for completeness’ sake.

  45. TrueNorth Says:

    I only developed a taste for Scotch in my forties. I started out with a mellow Canadian whisky – Crown Royal – that was the first one I really enjoyed. Similar is Tullamore Dew and my favourite Scotch whisky, Oban, which is alas about twice the cost it was when I first discovered it. I eventually got to like Lagavulin and the other Islay malts, but that takes years of practice!

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