Tag Archive: Smokehead


Smokehead Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Smokehead: Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Islay Single Malt Scottish Whisky:43% ABV)

Visual: Light gold.

Viscosity: Mostly slow thin streaks.

Nose: Smoked beef and peppercorn. The aroma can be detected at massive distance. Medicinal notes. Dumplings and beef broth. Barley. Lots of smoke. Touch of honey. Water dries and brings out slightly harsher notes.

Body: Smooth. Golden syrup and vanilla. Massive peat and smoke. Light charring. Vanilla custard slices. Light medicinal notes and noticeable alcohol. Icing. Toffee. Light cherries. Water mutes alcohol, brings out raisins, Madeira and sherry trifle. More fruity.

Finish: Honey. Charred notes. Barbecued beef. Icing sugar. Vanilla custard. Seaweed. Water brings out Madeira cake, light rum spice, and sherry trifle.

Conclusion: It is often overlooked how sweet Islay whisky can be. They are well known for hitting hard and fast with big notes – here that is definitely true with smoked beef, peat smoke and peppercorn. There is small medicinal notes, but not heavily on that side – this leans much more on the smoke side of things, also eschewing the salted character than an Islay can have to concentrate more on the smoke.

The thing is, if you are used to those strong flavours then you realise that there is huge golden syrup and vanilla custard sweetness behind the smoke. The massive notes are a significant contrast which makes for a surprisingly smooth yet intense whisky. Frankly, even without water this is very easy to recommend.

Water refines it even more, it drops the few alcohol notes and brings out what I would guess to be the sherry barrel ageing influence. There is cherries and raisins, lightly spicy and sherry trifle notes – it goes from nearly no sherry influence to being dominated by it in a heartbeat. It is like two whiskies in one.

So, at any price point this is excellent – peat juice delivered against a vanilla sweet backdrop or sherry trifle sweetness – smooth, intense and delicious. At the 35 to 40 quid mark it often goes for? This is an absolute steal. A great value Islay whisky showing that the words “Great value” don’t have to be damning with faint praise.

Background: I tried the 18 year Smokehead a while back, but realised I had never done notes on the standard bottling – so here it is. Grabbed from Independent Spirit and drunk while listening to David Bowie’s haunting final album.

Smokehead 18

Smokehead: Extra Black 18 Year (Scottish Islay Single Malt Whisky: 18 Year: 46% ABV)

Visual: Deep golden grain.

Viscosity: Thick mixed speed streaks.

Nose; Peat, kipper and beef broth. Smoke. Light grapes underneath. Olives. Touch of vanilla. Water makes the olives more pronounced.

Body: Smooth texture. Beef. Black cherry and raisins. Peat. Dried beef slices. Olives. Rosemary. Lots of smoke. Peat. Water smoothes to custard, peat and meat. Even more sweetens to golden syrup like.

Finish: Dried beer, peat and big smoke. Light grapes. Honey. Very dry. Water adds malt chocolate, salt and bigger peat.

Conclusion: I was wary of smokehead by the name, I’ve always been fond of Islay, but smoke was just part of the island joy. Of course the name did hint at the uncompromising nature of Islay, but I wasn’t quite sure if it would obsess on just one piece of the puzzle.

So here we have it, smoked, oh yes, but much smoother on texture than I imagined and still some peat behind, though the saltiness seems to hold off until you add water. There’s even a delicious quirk of olives deep within the smoke which gives it a distinctive character of its own. A kind of dry savoury flavour that complements the beef slices and slight salt when brought out.

The body sweetens also with water, but the finish counters that by becoming dryer and saltier. This creates quite the contrast and despite the smooth texture it keeps those medicinal excesses though expressed in its own spiky way.

Very nice, though for me it doesn’t go against the big gun of the Islay league, that being Lagavulin. (This is where someone is going to tell me the mystery distillery is in fact Lagavulin, but it doesn’t quite feel like there. I could be wrong though) This whisky doesn’t have the balance or complexity of Lagavulin 16 for me. It is however delicious and dedicated to the smoke of its premises and uses that around its own distinct character.

So, not my favourite, but the way it manages such smoothness with keeping the Islay character is impressive. Pretty good, but not quite the top league for me.

Background: For some reason I always thought this was a vatted malt whisky, but now I get the chance to find it, it turns out to be Single Malt, just with the distillery not named. Anyway, drunk at Brewdog Bristol, because I just happened to be there. That’s my story and I’m keeping to it. For a long time the big peaty whiskies were my main love of the whisky scene now I have gained an appreciation for the lighter fruitier ones, but there is still a place in my heart for peat and smoke.

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