Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Riddle of “Smokehead” Single Malt Whisky

My son gave me a bottle of single malt Scotch for Christmas, as is his custom.  This year it was a mysterious bottle called Smokehead that he had picked up at Heathrow on a trip from London.

Smokehead is an independently bottled whisky from one of the eight Islay distilleries, but Smokehead is coy about saying which one.  Islay (pronounced Eye- la) is a small island off the west coast of Scotland about the size of Martha's Vineyard.  Their malt whiskies are famous (or to some notorious) for their highly smokey character.

My son made me guess which one of the Islay malts was in the bottle (the clerk at Heathrow had told him that a friend of his knew which one it was).   The pressure was on.

I tried my first taste on Christmas night.  It was clearly an Islay malt, lots of peat, big smoky nose, and that briny quality that comes from aging in porous oak casks near the sea.

I was pretty sure it wasn't Laphroaig (not smoky enough) or Lagavullen (not complex enough and too young), which have such unmistakable tastes. They are also the ones I know best.

It seemed a youngish malt (with no age statement). I guessed Ardbeg (my second guess was Caol Ila), and my son told me that Ardbeg was what the clerk told him it was.

A trip to the internet whisky sites confirms that Ardbeg is the most popular guess, but there are vehement dissenters.  It's a lovely malt, but then they all are, really.

Smokehead just released an eighteen-year old in December that I have yet to try.  Maybe next Christmas!


  1. I am sure it is good whisky and the young Smokehead is most definately Ardbeg. But plese do not waste your money on the 18 year old that is Caol Ila (can't be Ardbeg anyway). ridiculous price ofr fancy packaging . just buy an IB single cask Caol Ila instead....

  2. Glyn Johns (Don't let the name fool you - ahm no Welsh!March 23, 2011 at 5:52 AM

    As a long term devotee of Islay whiskies, and having purchased a bottle of Smokehead on an extended (due to the weather) visit to the Highlands last December, my first thoughts of the location of the distillery was Laphroiag, but after reading various comments online, I now suspect it's the previously closed distillery at Port Ellen. Has anyone else suggested that, do you know?

  3. I haven't seen any suggestion that it is Port Ellen. The consensus seems to be Ardbeg, a youngish version.