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.

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