Review : Smokehead Islay Single Malt Scotch

What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.” – Abraham Lincoln

The approach has rather worked on the contrary for the folks at Ian Macleod distilleries, especially in the case of one specific bottling – The SmokeHead. To the novice drinker, the name might cause one to think of a pot addict in a room full of smoke and char; not sure if that’s what the distillers intended! But one thing is for sure, they continue to prophesize their loyalty towards Rock and everything to do with it – tattoos, skulls, loud music and many things dark!

A family owned establishment, the Ian Macleod Distillery was incorporated in the year 1933. Ironically, distilling was a recent addition to their portfolio with the purchase of the Glengoyne in 2003 and later the mothballed Tamdhu distillery in 2012. Much until this time was restricted to blending and bottling spirits bought from distilleries in and around Scotland.

The Smokehead is one such Independent bottling where the folks at Ian Macleod are extremely tight lipped on where this Single malt might be getting its mojo. Their webpages seem totally devoid of age and sourcing, but forums and others sections within the internet seem to be full of it. None of the eight Islay distilleries have been spared, with “reliable sources”, “bar tenders” and the likes mouthing one distiller or the other. However having said that, much of the information points to it being an Ardbeg and looking at its pale color, most likely a young lad at that.

To me this is exactly what the makers intended. A sort of enigmatic aura from the lack of content clarity combined with the young and rebellious marketing approach which spawns a sort of inquisitiveness that causes people to grab hold of a bottle from the shelves. However this silence on what’s in it has not stopped them from letting consumers know what they could expect every time lip met nip; copious volumes of smoke, peat and everything phenolic, surely not for the fainthearted! And to add to that, they are ever so brazen about it- be it with their packaging, their web GUI or the branding that goes into it!


ABV: 43%

Eye: Pale Gold

Nose: The smoke is immediately evident followed by cigarette ash and brine. Sweet malt, apricots, raisins, honey, vanilla and a hint of zest is gradually superseded by a sort of herbal almost earthy, moist wood, interleaved with spicy pepper.

Taste: Sweet honey and a mild orange zest erupts initially only to be replaced by strong pepper and smoky notes that leave the palate dry. Leather, peat and moist cigarette ash develops soon after with a delicate sweetness towards the finish.

Finish: Medium to long, mildly sweet with peat and cigarette ash emanating in waves.

The Smokehead wasn’t all that smoky as the name suggested and in a good way – restrained and congruent. The combination of smoke and ash on the nose, and the frolic of peat, cigarette and the subtle sweetness on the palate left me feeling pleasantly surprised and delighted!

For a young whisky with a name and culture so rock-affinite, you would expect something very harsh, strong, abrasive and in your face. The Smokehead is so much not; rather a wolf in sheep’s clothing exposing the softer side of mosh pits, head banging, long hair and air guitaring.

Preference: Neat. However, those relatively new to Islay’s could do with a bit of water. For the cocktail lovers, the folks at Smokehead have a section that’s dedicated to recipes that might be worth a try.



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