When browsing the racks of single malt whiskies, you are likely to see some pretty expensive offerings, however one that will almost certainly stand out from the crowd is Smokehead. This independent bottling by Ian MacLeod of an Islay Single Malt seems to have a particularly high price tag, especially when you take into account that it is neither single cask nor even cask strength. When you consider this in conjunction with the fact that it will make you poorer by around £86 a bottle, you would be forgiven for raising the question of why on Earth it is so expensive.
Many of the best known single malts have pretty elevated retail prices, with well-known brands like Caol Ila and Talisker going for around the £55 a bottle mark, yet Smokehead sells for around £30 more than this, so how is it possible that this anonymous malt should be so highly valued, especially as it does not even appear to be a limited edition? Even more interestingly, there is no clue provided as to which distillery produced this spirit, so the chances are high that it was actually made by one of its market competitors, all of which are priced so much lower.
Experts have guessed that the reason for this price hike centres around Ian MacLeod’s savvy decision to cash in on the current rising tide of Islay Hysteria – a phenomenon which has seen the demand for Islay single malts increasing year on year. It is this very phenomenon which has enabled other products to have been released into the market at inflated prices including the 30 year-old Port Ellen whiskies which were released in 2013 and which were snapped up so rapidly.
On the other hand, Smokehead does have a lot to offer in its own right. With its attractive light golden colour and ABV of 43%, this whisky has been somewhat misnamed, since it is nowhere near as peaty as might be expected. On the nose, you can enjoy aromas of wet earth, smoke, salt and charred oak together with sweeter notes of toffee, lemon, cocoa and grapefruit juice. There are even a few other more unusual hints that hit you after a while including spices, heather, a slight hint of sherry and even an element of burnt toast. Once it hits the palate, Smokehead has a somewhat thin texture with flavours of clay, soot and peppery spice blended with the sweetness of licorice and aniseed with the faintest touch of sherry thrown in. Its finish is mostly sweet, bringing out the sugary grapefruit tones together with the licorice and herbal tea undertones. There is even a hint of menthol lingering at the end.
Overall, it appears that the high price tag is due more to clever marketing than to any kind of unique taste experience. While the neat tasting experience is good, it is the trendy packaging and sleek propaganda aimed at a young and wealthy purchasing public that has led to this brand becoming such a success.