Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Review - Smokehead

Smokehead is an Islay single malt brand that is owned and bottled by Iain Macleod Distillers. The company also own the Glengoyne and Tamdhu single malt distilleries, and are currently renovating the fabled Rosebank distillery after almost 30 years of closure. Smokehead was first released in 2006 and stirred up the whisky category at the time with its then unconventional look and contemporary packaging. This has since had a revamp a couple of years ago. This whisky carries no age statement and is from an un-named distillery on the famous whisky island of Islay. There is much speculation as to which distillery it may be - tap it in to a search engine if you do not believe us.

Smokehead is bottled at 43% ABV and is joined by two further expressions in its current core domestic range - the High Voltage and Sherry Bomb. These are bottled at 58% ABV and 48% ABV respectively. There are also two travel retail exclusive expressions - the Extra Rare (40% ABV) and Rum Riot (43% ABV). This core bottling of Smokehead is available from specialist whisky and spirits retailers worldwide and should cost around the £35-40 mark.

Our tasting notes
The colour is golden yellow and the nose shows a combination of smoke, sweet and spicy aromas. First comes damp, earthy peat with a serious pinch of white pepper. Then honey and golden syrup follow. Underneath are further hints of sea spray, ozone, green chilli and burnt toffee.

On the palate this whisky is softer than expected given the spice and intensity on the nose. The sweetness comes first now and is a mix of honey, vanilla, golden syrup and butterscotch. A back ground hint of burnt caramel is also evident. Then comes the peat smoke and there is no avoiding it. Peppery and hot to begin with plenty of chilli, white pepper and clove. Then more vegetal and earthy notes take hold - think of damp earth, wet moss, Autumnal leaf litter with hints of fresh mushroom and dried seaweed. Late hints of gingerbread, milk chocolate, cinnamon and toasted oak spices add further depth and complexity.

The finish is lengthy and becomes increasingly peaty, smoky and spicy. The honey and syrup notes fade to reveal a full-on acrid and medicinal quality that is reminiscent of the damp earth, moss and fallen leaves on the palate. White pepper and fresh chilli-like heat linger to add further power and length.

What's the verdict?
Smokehead is a good whisky and one that would be good to introduce someone to the bigger peaty style. That said it is not quite as big and peaty as the marketing leads you to believe, but it is a lovely example of a smoky Islay whisky none the less. The finish in particular is impressively long. It will be interesting to sample the two higher ABV expressions as this should dial up the peat smoke and spices even further.

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