Whisky Advocate

Review: “Smokehead” single malt scotch

February 23rd, 2010

Smokehead, 43%, $55
Youthful, fiery, oozing with testosterone. Toffee apple, intoxicated with kiln-trapped peat smoke, charcoal ash, anise,  honeyed malt, brine, peppered seaweed, kippers, and damp earth. Brisk and warming. Okay, this is a young, “in your face” Islay single malt. Young Islay whiskies show the true character of Islay whiskies (which I like), and this is a young one. Ideally, I’d like to see another five years, not chill-filtered, and bottled at 46% ABV, but there’s still some sort of a “raw edge” attraction here.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 82

36 Responses to “Review: “Smokehead” single malt scotch”

  1. two-bit cowboy says:

    John, you make me want to take a dram. You used “youthful/young” four times. How young? And is it a good value?

  2. David D says:

    I like the Smokehead more than the Rollercoaster. If you’re in the camp that believes the Smokehead is actually young Ardbeg whisky, which Ian MacLeod seems to be pricing it as, then you might want to give this a try too.

  3. JC Skinner says:

    “Oozing with testosterone”?

    *shudder*

  4. Red_Arremer says:

    You’re getting pretty specific wanting five more years there, John, and I think you like these young ones better than I do– so I’m assuming this stuff tastes reeally really young.

    Is it like the Rollercoaster where the youth comes out on the finish?

    • John Hansell says:

      Red, I was generalizing with the five years. I don’t know how fast it will mature to be where I would want it to be, but a few to five would be in the ballpark. It might be nice in two or three, but my point was that I would really like to see it in more like five years. And yes, I really notice the youth on the end of the palate with both whiskies you mention.

  5. Mark says:

    “[I]ntoxicated with kiln-trapped peat smoke” is the bit that got me! I don’t mind the idea of NAS bottlings, and I quite like some young Islays (e.g., from Caol Ila). However, this emphasizes our need for special care in tracking NAS quality. The same source produced Isle of Skye, which I took to be a totally unnecessary affront to that island’s whisky. So, given the review and price point, I’m unmotivated to check this out any further.

    • John Hansell says:

      Well, it all comes down to whether you like really young Islay whiskies or not. Many do.

      • Mark says:

        I agree, and am one who has liked them – not only from the north shore but also from Ardbeg (8) and Laphroaig (also an 8, I believe).

        My mere hunch is that we’re sort of lucky with good young ones the way we can be lucky with good old ones (that don’t show all that time in wood, for instance). At this point I’m just inclined to trust more to G&M and such for the young ones…partly because their careful judgment and sense of propriety increasingly incline them away from CF’ing Islays.

        Lawschooldrunk @6: Here’s to Black Bottle, NAS!

  6. lawschooldrunk says:

    This should not be more expensive than black bottle NAS!!!

  7. sku says:

    Are they finally sending this to the US then?

    • David D says:

      It’s in the U.S. now and available at retailers. The 18 year is not

    • John Hansell says:

      Sku, Like David D said, I got a review sample over a month ago, so it must be here. I think that the importer follows WDJK, so maybe they will update us. I also asked the importer about the 18 being available in the U.S. Not for now.

      • Sam Filmus says:

        Smokehead is available in select states (CA, MO, NY, IL). We are expecting the second shipment of it in mid March, then it will be available in a few more states. We will keep you posted. 18yrs old is unchillfiltered, 46% alc. It will be available towards the end of the year, or in the beginning of 2011.

  8. Alex says:

    So, is consensus that this is a young Kildalton malt? I’ve head Caol Ila but I don’t think so. I like it but it is a bit expensive…

  9. Dana says:

    How does this compare to the Compass Box Peat Monster? Don’t know why, but when I’ve seen the Smokehead in duty free, it always brings the Peat Monster to mind.

  10. Jake says:

    John – regarding availability in the U.S., I’m a retailer in California and currently have it in stock.

  11. Adam says:

    I’ve seen it all over New York as early as a year and a half ago.

  12. kallaskander says:

    Hi there,

    when it came out here in Germany three (?) years ago it was a ill kept secret that it is a 7 yo Ardbeg.

    If Smokehead is still 7 yo and still Ardbeg I can not say.

    The 18 yo definitely is an Ardbeg and with a price tag of 86.- € here worth every cent.

    Imagine what it would cost if it was a 18 yo OB!

    But 18 yo at the time of bottling the year 2008 brings the Smokehead 18 yo together with the different batches of the Beist which were bottled 2006 2007 2008 and 2009 afaik and all distilled in 1990.

    Smokehead 18 yo is of the same stock.

    Greetings
    kallaskander

  13. B.J. Reed says:

    Scottish Field ranked it really high a few years ago. I would rank it a little higher than John did – If you like smoke and spirit its a great buy.

  14. Sam Filmus says:

    B.J., Thank you and yes Smokehead won the Scottish Field Whisky Challenge Gold, the Best Dark Spirit Trophy and a Gold medal in the Spirits category at W&SDA.

    • B.J. Reed says:

      My pleasure – Smokehead is sitting among my favorite Islay Malts. Now I have to scope out that 18 YO when we are back in Scotland in a couple of weeks!

  15. Sam Filmus says:

    We do appreciate everyone’s comments, including the ones that are not complimenting Smokehead. We value your opinions.

  16. Marc says:

    Smokehead has been available in Michigan for over a year now.
    Had my first bottle in the summer of 2008.
    Absolutely has the taste of a young whiskey. Compared to the Ardbeg Ten year or the Laphroaig Ten year, an inferior whiskey. I’m with John in comparison to the Peat Monster as well. As I am not that big a fan of the Peat Monster, Smokehead pales in comparison complexity wise, and overall flavor. A superior whiskey to Black Bottle though, as someone had mentioned.

    I do as well enjoy the younger Islay whiskey’s, as I have just finished my first bottle of Signatory 9 year old Peated Bunnahabhain. Excellent whiskey. Also, was able to taste an 8 year old Coal Ila, which I enjoyed very much.

    For the price, I’d stick with the ten year Ardbeg, or either of the ten year Laphroaigs, cask strength or typical 43% bottling.

  17. I do like Smokehead for its youthful vigor, but for about $20 bucks more you can get a beautiful combination of Smokiness and Sherry in Sheep Dip 1990, a vatting available at Binny’s in Chicago. It contains 25 yr old Ardbeg, 19 yr od Dalmore and 21 yr old Fettercairn married for 15 yrs. I think this one fares well even up against Ardbeg Corryvreckan. See the BUMS review at:

    http://www.scotch-tasting-bums.com/Our_tastings/Entries/2010/4/8_Eighteenth_tasting_-_Ardbeg_Corryvreckan%2C_Dalmore_15%2C_Sheep_Dip_1990.html

    John gave it a 92. Definitely in the upper echelon of smokey whiskies.

  18. Ian Guthrie says:

    I’m coming late to this fascinating discussion, but I’ve only just had my first bottle of Smokehead. I had a few bottles of the Ardbeg Very Young (wish I’d kept some!), and it’s not the same animal. OK, the Very Young was cask strength or thereabouts, but I take my malt with water, and at the same strength in the glass, the Smokehead is less complex and doesn’t hit you in the face in the same way. Having said this, I do feel it’s an Ardbeg, but maybe not from the best oak – do they ever re-use the barrels?

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