Monday, August 19, 2013

Smoke and Mirrors - Smokehead Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Smokehead and its distinctive label
Smokehead Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky is a blended Islay malt whisky, produced and owned by Ian Macleod Distillers. This company also appears to have the Glengoyne Highland Single Malt and Tamdhu Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky distilleries in their portfolio (amongst many other blended brands and independent bottlings). I was graciously given this bottle by El Capitan as a Christmas gift in 2012 and it has taken me until now to write this review (can I still claim Dramcember, surely yes)?

Looking at the Smokehead website, it appears this whisky is a little 'rock and roll'. The brand is plastered over drag racers, Marshall amps and 'battle of the band' comps [insert air-guitar action here]. The marketing feels very directed towards the younger and dare I say less educated whisky drinker. Nothing wrong with that, but I feel I am not the guy they're aiming for. One gets the impression that these 'produced' blends (Monkey Shoulder comes to mind) are more for mixing with cocktails and (ahem) soft drinks, rather than dramming…so my brief research leaves me with the feeling that I am not a 'smokehead' (or rather their target market). I find I don't immediately associate with the brand...but maybe I am not meant too? All the talk aside, is this a good whisky for drinking?

Colour: Somewhere between a yellow-gold and a very light copper, maybe a dark straw?

Nose: Light wet-smoke, not overly boggy, plus the usual Islay iodine/medicinal punch. The alcoholic whiff is reminiscent of a Chardonnay, with some oak and vanilla present, giving the whisky a certain richness. The label says this whisky is an 'Islay Single Malt Scotch', so I guess that's why I don't get the hints of furniture polish associated with grain whisky…at least on the nose. However, there is a liquorice sweetness upon warming the whisky in the hands.

Taste: Salty up front, honey and vanilla towards the back. The peat turns out to be dryer and smokier than on the nose. When you swill the whisky around the mouth, there is some intense (almost harsh) citrus/salt flavours, reminiscent of a lime chutney, which is perhaps coming from some youth in the blend. This tends to dominate the pallet and after a few drams I am struggling to locate the early sweetness and peatiness (there's obvious smoke though). Note the whisky was tasted neat, no water or ice added.

Finish: Quite short, no long feeling down the chest.

At the time of writing, Smokehead has an ABV of 43% and retails at around A$55 in Australia. Would I buy it again? Probably not. If I am going to drink an Islay whisky than I will pay the premium for a single malt from Laphroiag, Lagavulin, Ardbeg, et al. Big Peat, a highly rated blend by other D.T.W.C. members, would also get a look in here (although I have not tried this whisky to date). Having said all that, I am not the biggest 'smokehead' in the club and this is still an approachable dram for the price.

If I was to give a dram than I would give this whisky a very subjective four lightning bolts from a possible seven.

The Diplomat