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Smokehead is a heavily peated single malt from an unnamed distillery on the isle of Islay, bottled and sold by Ian Macleod Distillers. The brand first appeared in 2006, its bold flavour profile and contemporary packaging apparently designed to appeal to younger drinkers.
Ian Macleod Distillers take their name from the creator of the Isle of Skye blended scotch brand. Born on the island, he developed the whisky as a homage to the Clan Macleod and their long association with the land of his birth. In 1963 however, Ian Macleod Ltd was purchased by Peter Russell who had inherited his Father’s whisky broking business in 1956.
For over 40 years Ian Macleod has been a key player in the supply of spirit to European supermarkets for use in their own-label products but in 2003 the company became distillers in their own right, following the acquisition of Glengoyne Distillery. This was followed in 2011 with the purchase of Tamdhu, and they are now adding to their portfolio by taking on the rebuild of Rosebank distillery near Falkirk.
In 2009, the Smokehead brand found a new lease of life through a partnership with Classic Rock Magazine, becoming the main sponsor of their Roll of Honour Awards. This association with the Rock n’ Roll scene has thrived and even led to a collaboration with Tyler Lunceford “the Ducati Whisperer of the Tri-State Area” who built The Smoker, a one-of-a-kind, customised Ducati inspired by vintage racing motorcycles.
The brand underwent something of a relaunch in early 2018 with new packaging and a new cask strength expression dubbed “High Voltage” (you can read my review here), followed later that year by Sherry Bomb, another no age statement malt bottled at 48%.
Back when I was first dipping my toe into the murky waters of the whisky world, I heard various bloggers and vloggers declare that sherry and smoke didn’t play well together. I must say however that I haven’t always found that to be the case. Indeed, so easily can sherry swamp a malt that the raw power of peat smoke can be of great benefit, helping the spirit to punch through the thick blanket of fortified wine.
Smell: A heady mix of barbecue smoke and prune juice. Seaweed and brine. Pepper. Dark chocolate. Raisins and maple syrup.
Taste: That lovely barbecue note again with what is almost a rum character. Orange zest. Ginger, cinnamon and clove. Peppery smoke and a touch of wood ash. A warm smoky finish that lingers a while.
Value for Money: Pricier than the cask strength “High Voltage” bottling but I would also say quite superior. For all its fancy packaging I’ve previously found Smokehead to fall a wee bit flat but with Sherry Bomb, it feels like they’ve finally found a flavour profile big enough to carry the name and famous skull logo.
Smokehead has always demonstrated what I felt was a very balanced portrayal of the Islay style, never allowing the smoke to run rampant in the way us peat-heads often like it to. That doesn’t make it bad whisky of course, just perhaps not quite in tune with its own branding? With Sherry Bomb however, it’s like the blender has been able to crank the smoke up a notch, safe in the knowledge that the sherry would keep it in check. Despite displaying this dramatic coming together of big flavours however, the bottling strength of 48% makes for a very drinkable dram – strong enough to deliver on the flavour yet not so strong as to singe the palate. It’s not going to win any awards for discretion but I’m not going to lie, I am really enjoying it.
If this bottle has caught your eye, you can buy it from Master of Malt here. Please be aware that as an affiliate I can be paid commission on any purchases you make after following links from my website. Also, there are several other excellent retailers available.
For more on Smokehead, visit here.