Let’s be honest here: If you like Islay whisky, you’re used to dealing with high prices.
Wait, let’s back up: If you’re into whisky of any type, you’re used to dealing with high prices. The current global pandemic means that supply chains are all kinda borked up. Wood costs so much that people are lining up at Home Depot like they have Pappy for MSRP. And finally when one distillery pops off, we all have to jump to a different one.
I’ve spoken a bit recently about bottles of whisky that do not have real distilleries on them. But I really should have gone back to one that happened before it all went cross-eyed: Smokehead. We don’t know where Smokehead comes from. There’s a ton of theories out there. I don’t add to them, because I’m not good at it.
The idea behind Smokehead is pretty simple though: Don’t put a distillery on it, make the marketing alluring for the people who like to look at the bottles (again, no shame), and make it pretty straightforward otherwise. Get a rum cask whisky and call it a random latin name? No, it’s call Rum Rebel. Release one at cask strength? Call it high voltage. Get it? Great.
When I first tried Smokehead I enjoyed it, and since then there’s been about 6 other offerings, and I haven’t kept up because I’m a busy adult with adult things to do.
So let’s catch up a bit: We have two more offerings from Smokehead. Are they the cost saving saviour we all look to? Or are they not for me, and thus not as great? Let’s see, shall we?
Smokehead 18 Extra Black was pulled out of my samples randomly by my wife. She decided that I needed to start catching up, and eventually after working on non-whisky things, I was good to go. But before that I tried this blind. I don’t know, just go with it.
Remember how I said it’s not really a whisky company you can dive into? Well it extends to Extra Black. The whisky is 18-years-old, comes from Islay, and had a release of 6,000 bottles. That’s it. That’s all you get to learn. Whoever is in charge learned from Adelphi.
So let’s see if all that extra fanfare is needed, shall we?
Colour: 5Y 8/8
Nose: Anise, smoke, manure, cereal, apple, basil Spice, smoky, some farmy elements, cereal… Huh. It’s got some complexity going on. Herbal, spice, fruit. Sure, nothing is going way above and beyond. And that may be due to the lower than cask strength abv. Or it could be that this profile is what they wanted (simplicity).
Nice though. Nothing rough going on the nose.
Taste: Butter, butter, peat, anise, cinnamon, caramel
Lots of butter. A good ton of butter. And then some raw peat, some spice, and then caramel. Again, nothing that you’ll sell the farm over (unless you hate your farm and love butter, then you do you boo).
I’m getting the feeling it’s a lighter peat, and I’m incorrect, but remember I’m blind and also didn’t know what I was reviewing (also I should state I just have shitty eyesight and am not really blind but the joke doesn’t work by saying that).
Finish: Mesquite, creosote, vegetal, butterscotch, brine
That’s a rough finish. Like “being dragged face first in the desert” rough. Like “there’s nothing but rough notes and butterscotch” rough. And let’s be honest: Butterscotch and brine shouldn’t be the bright side of anything. You’ve never had a rough day but then went to the beach with butterscotch and felt better. Now add that into the bad day.
Conclusion: Almost there. That finish… woo boy, that was rode hard and put away wet. This came off as a slight downgrade from the “named” distillery 16-18-year-old Islays. You know them by now.
And really the taste and nose would entice quite a few people. However… damn, that finish ages it down a lot. It’s earthy, rough, and lasts a long time. I frankly thought this was a dud Benriach given the finish.
You may enjoy this. Some people love the desert. I like it with one more s in the word. I’d say try this before you buy it.
Guess: Benriach, 12 year, ex-bourbon, 57+%
Actually: Smokehead 18 Extra Black
Thanks to EvilAFI for this sample.
Smokehead The Rock Edition seems to be an extra peaty release though I didn’t really find that information. I found that it was for “people who don’t care what distillery it’s from”, that the bottle had a big skull on it, and that it was non-age statement and 43%.
So there you have it. Is it a new distillery or something different? We don’t know. No one knows. Let’s see how it tastes, shall we?
Colour: 7.5Y 9/6
Nose: Smoke, pear, cloves, brine
Some smoke, some pear, some spice, and some salt. Basically imagine what you think of when you’re describing a calmer Islay whisky, and that’s the nose. Nothing rough, nothing complex, nothing going too crazy.
Taste: Brine, black pepper, ash, strawberry
Stronger flavour on the taste, some brine and the ashy/black pepper heat from peat. Glad it’s not just the rough peat note, but again, nothing too complex.
I’d be willing to say that maybe a sherry cask ended up in here? There was a fruity/acidic note that was nice. Changed gears a bit.
Finish: Iodine, red fruit, hard candy, anise
Salt, some more acidity/red fruit notes, some sweets and anise. Really, can’t make much of a joke here, it’s just very straightforward.
Conclusion: Basically a bit of a drop down from the standard. Honestly though, probably the same thing with a bigger embossed skull on the front. It’s been awhile since I had the standard and I was way, way more into peat when I did.
Looking for a simple whisky to have and like peat? This is it. Looks cool on a shelf and tastes like iodine and smoke. Has some surprises to it with some fruit notes going on. If you’re willing to spend more, there’s a lot of options.
Scotch review #1396-7, Islay review #377-8, Whisky Network review #2072-3