Reviews of interesting whiskies with some entertaining tales along the way…
Islay meets Tequila
Smokehead is Ian Macleod Distillers‘ Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky brand. It comes from an undisclosed distillery on the island of Islay, a whisky-producing region famed for its distinctive smoky spirit. In this review I’ll be focusing on the latest special edition, Smokehead Terminado, a single malt finished in Tequila casks.
I must confess to being less than enthused when I first heard about the coming influx of tequila casks. I understood and even supported the growing demand for good-quality Tequila and know full well that there’s always a desire for new flavour profiles among whisky fans but a combination of the two didn’t strike me as something the world desperately needed. That viewpoint changed, however, when I sampled the Tequila Cask Finish from Glasgow Distillery. I thought it was a delicious malt that managed to balance the Tequila influence beautifully with the character of the whisky. With my mind well and truly opened, I was eager to try a few more.
Tequila is a spirit distilled in Mexico from the cooked and fermented juice of the Agave plant. It’s named after the town of the same name, although the spirit is likely older than the town itself. Traditionally, it is made by cooking the agave in stone ovens and then shredding it with a stone wheel. The juice is then fermented in an open tank with fibres before distilling in copper pot stills. Nowadays, however, it can also be produced using a pressure cooker, stainless steel vats and stainless steel stills. The spirit must be at least 51% agave. Any balance is made up of fermented sugar. Tequila that is 100% agave is generally viewed as better quality.
Tequila hasn’t always enjoyed the best reputation. The habit of producers to market the spirit as a party drink and our tendency to knock it back as a slammer probably hasn’t aided that cause. Perhaps that’s why I was hesitant to get behind Tequila-cask-finished whisky. The concept seemed a little gimmicky. Like many spirits, however, Tequila is enjoying something of a resurgence with global demand on the increase. In terms of flavour, Tequila can vary but common tasting notes include honey, citrus, vanilla, caramel, oak and pepper, all of which are commonly attributed to Scotch whisky, and Mezcal, a close cousin to Tequila, is often described as carrying a slightly smoky note. Perhaps this isn’t such an odd combination, after all.
The whisky is bottled at 43% and retails for around £70. Terminado, by the way, apparently means complete or finished in Spanish.
*Full disclosure: The whisky featured in this article was sent to me free of charge. As always, I will strive to give an honest opinion on the quality of the dram and the value for money it represents.
Smell: Zesty nose. Light. Almost tropical. Lemon & lime. Pineapple. Watermelon. Touch of honey. Malt and subtle oak notes. Soft smoke and gentle coastal aromas.
Taste: Caramel, toffee, honey. Oak. Citrus – orange juice. Lemon and lime. Grilled pineapple. Pepper. Smoky finish.
Thoughts: This is quite a gentle take on the Islay style. You can certainly pick up a little of the Tequila influence but it isn’t too prominent. Likewise, the famous peat reek is toned down. The whole thing comes across as enjoyable but ultimately, a wee bit inoffensive. Could perhaps make for an interesting gateway dram to those curious but apprehensive, where Islay is concerned. Could be fun to try out as a key ingredient in a few cocktails as well. For my personal tastes, however, it’s a wee bit tame. I’d like to see a version where the intensity had been dialled up a little.
Price: £70. Seems a wee bit steep for a no-age-statement dram at 43%. The Smokehead Terminado is a nice enough dram but a wee bit too forgettable to justify that kind of money.
For more on Smokehead please visit https://www.smokehead.com/
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