Smokehead: 43% abv
Background: After a most certainly disappointing experience on the last review (which I didn't bother posting), I decided to start fresh again and to a Single Malt Scotch that I knew wouldn’t disappoint. This is Smokehead, and what an ominous title for a whisky to hold, not to mention the packaging. This bad boy was one of the two peated Islay malts that KCM tried last year. You might be asking yourself about the “Smokehead” Distillery, so let me clarify. This is actually an independent bottling, branded as its own Scotch and distilled in Scotland. Smokehead doesn’t divulge where it hails from, but I get the distinct impression it is Argbeg’s dirty work. It is a smoky one, as you might have guessed. The next question you might ask is “But K, tons of marketing, little information, and fancy packaging, isn’t this just another marketing gimmick then?”. Not exactly. Unlike Pumpkin Face Rum *shudder*, this Scotch actually offers something in terms of value. I’m about to prove it to you.
Nose: As soon as you bring the glass to your nose, you will believe. The smell is immediately smoky, rich, and intense, delivering on every promise the title of this whisky has implied to you. The nose is almost chocolatey, it is so rich, with a dark, deep peat smell to it. It is, without a question of a doubt, a beautiful smell. The smell is full of wood smoke, saltiness, and savory notes is prominent. There is smooth, vanilla flavor as well. Specific flavors are not as exposed in the nose, but the whole experience is huge.
Arrival: The arrival is relatively dry, with a slight peppery spice, and some zesty peat coming through. Unfortunately, the thick flavor doesn’t come through true and strong in the arrival. That being said, there is a still a complexity of spice and saltiness. There is some molasses and honey coming through, but a relatively youthful barley spirit taste.
Body: This is where the whisky really shines. The spiciness, saltiness and peat come to full fruition at this point. There is a definite fruity sweetness that comes through, which seems to really differentiate this from Kilchoman, although the two have some commonalities (minus the intense tobacco which you don’t find nearly as much). There is even some peppercorn bitterness in the body, which is not overwhelming, but adds dimension to the whole event.
Finish: The finish is an interesting, intense moment with Smokehead. It lasts a long time, and truly brings out a cluster of flavors. The peatiness is there, but the seaweed and salt flavors, with a dark, smoky chocolate are the stars of this show. There is some molasses adding richness, with cloves and allspice adding zest. There is just a little bit of mint as well. This isn’t the most complex whisky, but it is really bold, and it’s quite enjoyable.
Nose: With water, the nose brings out intensity of vanilla and sweetness, which starts to balance with the peat quite well.
Arrival: With water, the arrival becomes much sweeter, with some amount of agave and honey coming through, as well as some sugar. Interestingly, as the whisky sits, more wood smoke becomes apparent.
Body: The body mellows out with water, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. The spicy intensity backs off and more vanilla comes to the front. There is still a good amount of peat, but there is a berry fruitiness that comes through.
Finish: The finish is very interesting with water added. There is a different sweetness becoming apparent. There is definitely some fruit sweetness, akin to pears and apples, with smoky caramel and slight tobacco. It is a light smokiness, with heavy overtones at the very end. It becomes nicely savory after a while, like some spicy bacon. This is very subtle though.
Final Comments: Smokehead is inconsistent, to say the least. It is dark and rich in the nose, light and somewhat diluted in the arrival, and then massive in the body. Somebody who doesn’t drink peated whisky might not feel the same way, but in comparison to some of the Laphroaigs and Ardbegs, this lacks some of the intensity. That being said, this is a very decent whisky for the money, and it is something different from your standard offerings. I think what would set this Scotch over the edge would be bottling it at a higher proof. This could even stand to be at 48%. In any case, there is plenty of room for growth, but it is a good start as it is.
Why you’d buy it: You’ve tried the big dogs, and want variety
Why you wouldn’t: It is really hard to compete with Laphroaig 18 Yr