Monday, November 5, 2012

Review: Smokehead Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Lately, I have noticed quite a few of my friends have found true love online.  I'm serious, they were not meeting anyone in their day-to-day existence, and so created a profile with some online company and they were struck by Cupid's arrow.  I bull sh-t you not!  I can think of three couples who are married that met online.  Good for them!

The online dating trend got me thinking.  I long for some love too.  Love of a good Islay malt that is (and maybe a grammar tutor who can teach me not to end sentences with verbs . . .).  Anyway, I and the lasses of Islay generally have very stormy relationships.  Few are serene and delightful conversationalists like Ms. Lagavulin 16.

Instead, I end up meeting wild and peaty Laphroaig 10 temptresses who would just as soon slap you as kiss you.  The waters of those relationships can be dark, choppy and white capped at times.  Her salty tongue and raw hicky bites can be a bit too much.  I struggle with her moodiness and temper tantrums when I date other malts like that Speyside babe, Ms. Glenfiddich 15 Solera, who is so much more easy going.

Of course, if you talk to the Islay ladies, they will tell you another story.  They will tell you how I do not listen, and that sometimes they are just venting and they don't want to hear a solution to their problems.  And no, she is not dehydrated!  She does not need water.  She doesn't want to calm down her fiery and wood smoking mood.  Why can't I accept her ashy and sooty character for who she is, and blah, blah and before you know it I am thinking about football stats.

Clearly, I need relationship counselling.   I can't make up my mind about the ladies of Islay.  I mean I would definitely enter into a committed relationship with Ms. Lagavulin any day, but she won't have me.  I just can't afford to date her on a regular basis.  She is too expensive to hang out with.  The others ones like Laphroaig and Ardbeg are so unpredictable.  I need advice just like people in the online love world.

But?  Do I really want to part with my hard earned cash and hire an online malt dating consultant?  Especially one who describes himself as my "online dating wingman?"  You know that anyone who describes themselves as your 'wingman' is anything but that.  Naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

So, I decided to post an ad:

SWM seeking Islay lady malt who enjoys hikes through the hills, romantic seaside camp fires,  has a taste for dulse, has a smoking body, and is not afraid to share it.

I got a response.

 Phone rang a couple of days later.

Me:  "Hello."

Lady Smokehead Islay:  "Meet me at the corner of Regent and Queen."

Me: "Who is this?"

Lady Smokehead Islay:  "You posted an ad right?"

Me: "Uh yeah.  Umm how did you get my number?"

Lady Smokehead Islay:  "I know someone in the police . . . or should I say I am 'known' by the police.  Be there! -click!"

. . .

I stood at the corner as directed.  It was a rainy Saturday afternoon.  Out of the distance I heard her first before I saw her arrive on a rumbling Honda motorbike whose exhaust had seen better days.  She skidded to a stop inches from my feet, clad in a black leather Barbour motorcycle jacket.  She motioned with a shake of her head for me to hop on.  The motorbike belched a little black smoke laced with sulphur, and we took off.  I held onto her tight little waist as her black hair blew in my face.

Scent/Nose (undiluted)
I nuzzled into the nape of her neck, as she leaned the bike into a turn, kicked it down a gear, while I took in scents of black tea, tar, fresh asphalt, peat and black sooty smoke.

We drove for the better part of a wind and rain lashed hour without speaking.  I had no idea where the hell we were when she braked to a stop by the side of the highway.  Below the guardrail, following her lead, we scrambled down the rocky hillside to the beach.

As we talked, she gathered some branches, some wet driftwood, and set it afire by the sea with a scratched chrome zippo lighter that she pulled out of the chest pocket of her jacket.

Ms. Lady Smokehead:  "What kind of music do you like?"

Me: "I am a bit of an insomniac.  Late at night I read and usually have some melancholic/pensive music playing, stuff like REM's Bang and blame or Drive while trying to figure out what the hell Michael Stipe is saying."

Ms. Lady Smokehead:  "I listen to Bowie's All the Young Dudes.  It sums up who I am."

I nodded, not really understanding what she meant, and unsure if I wanted to hear her particular existential explanation.  I suspected it might be painful for her to relate.  Some things are better left unsaid.

She reminded me of a youthful Francoise Hardy.  Fragile, slightly damaged, but rub beneath the surface and there is a hard, unyielding and beautiful diamond of a soul.  I was attracted to her like a moth to a flame.

She leaned in, like a black cat stretching, for a kiss.

Palate (undiluted)
A kiss of sweet peat, but thin with a hints of water, chimney smoke, soot and ginger root.  Young.  Not complex. Pleasant nevertheless.

Finish (undiluted)
A dusting of pretzel salt, seaweed, brine, drying, warmth before the bonfire smoke takes over.

Expensive Date
We got back on her bike and rode to a gas station.  I paid for the gas.  $50.  She dropped me off at the same street corner, and I never saw her again.

Ms. Smokehead was hard to explain.  I like her, what little of her I got to know.  She was an expensive date and left me somehow dissatisfied with her or was it with me?  But, for someone new to Islay courtship, Ms. Smokehead provided a smooth and intriguing introduction.  I like her.

Not sure, my friends agree.  They mostly think her Islay girlfriends like Ms. White Horse and Ms. Black Bottle are a lot more fun and lot less expensive to date.  For me, sometimes I just don't believe the geography of the heart can be broken down in economic terms.  I like her and will probably call on her again.


Jason Debly

P.S.  Unfamiliar with the music of Francoise Hardy?  Check out Tous les garcons et les filles on You Tube.

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission except for photography not by the writer.  Photo credites: (1) image belongs to owners of; (2) My Online Dating Consultant image uploaded by Flickr member Mike Muson; (3) Smokehead bottle pic by yours truly; (4) "Close-up of a lit 1968 Slim Model Zippo lighter" photograph taken by David J. Fred and is made available by him via a Creative Commons licence; (5) Photograph of Francoise Hardy astride a mid-60's Honda.  Credit: Hulton Archives: Getty Images;  (6) Another close-up photograph of Smokehead bottle and packaging taken by the author. . Note: All images appearing in this article are for the purposes of nostalgia, education and entertainment. Moreover, all images used are considered by the author to be significant in illustrating the subject matter, facilitating artistic/critical commentary, as it provides an immediate relevance to the reader more capably than the textual description.


  1. Jason, Nice piece; I like your metaphor. Smokehead's 70's mod look packaging and fiery malt very much suggest to me also the edge of a young girl such as Francoise, in black leather. She's a handful, just a bit untamed by age, and still somewhat sleek when viewed among the truly big Islay gals of the North islands. But why quibble ? Smokehead is squarely in the sturdy, sooty, peaty, rooty camp. I don't buy it at $50, but I would at $35 - fairly often.


    1. That is the problem with Smokehead. While it is a no-age-statement islay single malt, the $50 price point is too rich for what you get. It is a little thin, watery at times and as you have pointed out kinda vegetable rooty that makes it a great value at say $35.

      Thanks for commenting!

    2. Jason, Take a look in the market for the new Smokey Joe, another Islay-sourced malt, this one a vatted malt at 46% and non-chill filtered. It is peaty and medium-bodied, and priced here around $35 US. It might suit you and another readers nicely. It did for us and it is even better when a few drops of Macallan 12 is added. Yumm. JK

    3. $35! Sounds like a great value play.

      What I want to write about eventually is home based vatting of whiskies, which you mention in your comment.

      The trick is to get the right proportion which involves a lot of experimentation.

      I always like taking some White Horse and adding maybe 10% of Laphroaig 10 or Cask to it. Punches it up nicely.

  2. Jason, this is one of your most entertaining posts to date, and that is saying something! Nice one!

    PS My wife and I met online; have been married 6+ years. Come to think of it, I also met my "scotch girlfriend" online, but that relationship has been not as stable as the real one.

    1. Thanks Ryan. I like to play around with the whisky review genre. Make it more interesting, and well an experiment of sorts in creative writing.

      Too many whisky reviews are just a rehash of the history of the distillery, some technical production notes and a tasting note that is just as stale.

      Whisky is about emotion, experiences and feelings. I am just kinda trying to convey some of what this malt conjures up in my tiffany twisted mind (to borrow a line from Hotel California).


    2. Jason, I always enjoy reading your reviews because I never know what you are going to write next. Inventive, a little crazy and very entertaining! Keep it up! You should be a syndicated columnist. Better than what I read elsewhere on line from professional writers.

  3. What a great review! You always come across as having fun with the postings. And thanks for the warning about Smokehead. It's not available locally (damn state run liquor stores) and I won't waste time looking for it.

    By the way, thanks for the mention of White Horse and Teachers recently. While they lack the knock-your-socks-off quality of Lagavulin (nothing matches it) they are both decent drams and tremendous values. Teachers gets the edge for my taste. It is surprisingly flavorful and complex. The best description I can give it: satisfying. Teachers also does well as an aperitif.


    1. Yeah Jeff, Teacher's is just a must-have, go-to blend in the cabinet at all times.

      Apparently, Smokehead has been in the past and maybe presently a 7 year old Ardbeg. What I mean is the owners of the Smokehead brand buy 7 year old malt from Ardbeg and package it as Smokehead. In other years if they did not reach a similar supply agreement with Ardbeg, they could conceivably buy another young Islay malt.

      As I mentioned to another reader, the problem with Smokehead has more to do with the price than they flavor profile. $50 is way too much. $35 or under is reasonable for what you get.

      What you get is an approachable Islay single malt that is smooth, highly drinkable, sparkling with smoke and peat, but slightly (only slightly) flawed by the thin body and taste of water. There is a tinge of wateriness to this malt that makes it taste more like a blend than a single malt.

      Thanks Jeff for commenting!

  4. At mid to high $60's down here... I could spent some more and really enjoy an Ardbeg 10 , Talisker, Ledaig.... or go back to my 6 isles blend and again enjoy.... Thanks Jas.