Smokehead Extra Rare & The Ileach Cask Strength 


The popularity of heavily peated single malt from Islay has never been greater than the present day and with this increased demand comes an increase in prices. That isn’t to say that a bargain can’t be found however, and if you’re open to an element of the unknown you can take home some really interesting drams.

Independent bottlers release whisky sourced from various distilleries but are often contractually forbidden from revealing the origins of the liquid and opt instead for a brand name. This lack of transparency can be off-putting to some, but those willing to give them a try are often rewarded with some interesting alternatives to their favourite drams and at very competitive prices…

So let’s take a look at a couple of examples of Islay single malts, bottled under a brand name and with their point of origin shrouded in uncertainty…

Smokehead Extra Rare

First up is this ‘Extra Rare’ version of Smokehead. A travel retail exclusive, it is bottled by Ian Macleod Distillers (owner of Glengoyne). It’s heavily peated and while it isn’t the cheapest at around £50, it does come in a 1 litre bottle. Curiousity naturally leads me to question where the whisky comes from and a bit of online digging found many commentators suggesting that Ardbeg was the point of origin. Whether there is any truth to such speculation I know not, but the dram certainly shares some characteristics with the third of Islay’s Kildalton coast distilleries.

On the nose there’s Smoke (naturally). Big, Medicinal, Peat Smoke with Tar, Iodine, TCP and Burnt Toast. There’s a touch of Barley with Lemon and Pineapple. The palate meanwhile is like a blend of Tobacco Smoke with Vanilla, Honey, Lemon and Caramel.

The ScoresAbout the Scoring System…

Smell: Smoke, smoke and more smoke. Delivers on what it promises.

Taste: Perhaps not the most complex on the palate but then it’s not trying to be.

Value for Money: £50 seems a wee bit excessive for a no age statement, 40% ABV single malt – even in a litre bottle. It is however, a very pleasant dram regardless.

Overall: 40 / 50. You could pick up a ten year old Ardbeg (bottled at 46%) for a similar price and it would, for me, represent a better purchase but if you’re familiar with the official bottlings from the Islay distilleries and looking to try a variation on the theme, Smokehead is a very solid option.

For more on Ian MacLeod Distillers…

The Ileach Cask Strength

Next is The Ileach ‘Cask Strength’ from The Vintage Malt Whisky Company. Bottled at a whopping 58% it’s on the market for around £40. Again, the location of it’s distillation is shrouded in secrecy but there are online whisperings that link it with Lagavulin. Spirit from Lagavulin distillery is rarely found outside of official bottlings so if such speculation is true and what we have here is a young Lagavulin at cask strength for just £40, the Ileach Cask Strength is a very interesting little purchase indeed.

The nose has Bonfire Smoke, Charcoal, Grass Smoke and Char-grilled Meat with a touch of Raspberry Jam, while the palate is bathed in a burst of Smokey Barbecue, Sea Salt and Blackcurrant with Orange and Dark Chocolate.

The ScoresAbout the Scoring System…

Smell: Young and feisty nose.

Taste: 18 / 20. Big, intense flavour on the palate.

Value for Money: Regardless of it’s origins, this is a great dram at a good price.

Overall: 45.5 / 50. I’ve no idea if this truly is Lagavulin, but it certainly could be. It doesn’t matter though, because it’s a wonderful dram in it’s own right, regardless of where it comes from.

For more on the Vintage Malt Whisky Company…


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