It’s the first week of December as I’m writing this. I’m usually in Tokyo for some R&R during this time of the year. But my country is still on the no-entry list of Japan. So, I’ll have to put on some jazz music, close my eyes and pretend I’m in a Japanese cocktail bar. Having Japanese highballs and uncommon spirits are always some of the must-haves when there. Because the last Japanese highball I had in Tokyo was a Laphroaig 10 highball in Apollo Bar, I thought I’d review this Smokehead High Voltage neat and as a Japanese highball. An 18 year old Islay single malt should also fit the bill of being uncommon these days. Besides, it’s been a while since my last highball review. I recall the Malt readers liked it.
I’m not going to repeat what has been as Jason has already talked about Smokehead in detail. But for those wondering where this single malt is from, there is a strong online consensus that this single malt comes from one of the distilleries considered to be amongst the holy trinity of Islay. But unlike the original bottlings, these are said to have added caramel coloring. Still, this is a good chance to try NAS cask strength and an 18 year from that distillery.
There are no guesses as to the age or average age of this expression. But this was bottled at 58%. The sample bottle cost me about $5. You can still find a full 70cl bottle of this at The Whisky Exchange for £54.75, Master of Malt come in slightly cheaper at £54.64 and Amazon will also charge the same.
Smokehead High Voltage – review
Color: First steep Oolong tea.
On the nose: Pronounced lengthy scents of mustiness, peat, smoke and iodine. There are flashes of pronounced scents of cloves, iron and gherkins. After those are this mouthwatering salted caramel, ginger candy and pecan pie smells with orange peel oils to round it off.
In the mouth: A flash toffee and salted caramel upfront. Then it becomes very peppery. The top half of what cloves and nutmeg taste like come out. A quick flash of orange peel. These are all I taste until my palate gets to adjust to the ABV. After the adjustment, I get more toffee, a flash of nori, matcha tea, undertones of ginger candy, Fuji apple, mocha and thyme.
My favorite aspect about this whisky is that the ABV doesn’t obstruct how delicate it is on the nose. But ABV does get in the way of things in the mouth. The mouthfeel feels like this has been chill-filtered. I should be right as there’s no indication on the label. The chill-filtering takes away from the wondrous textures given off by the original bottlings from this distillery. This gets some points for the nose and the affordable price but I’d recommend the original bottlings from this distillery.
This Smokehead 18 is from the 2017 batch that came out. Being from 2017, I doubt you can find these in any of your mainstream online stores any more. Luckily, the Smokehead brand isn’t so big here. That’s why I was still able to buy a bottle from this local online store for about $190.
Smokehead 18 – review
Color: Amontillado Sherry.
On the nose: A briney, rubbery and slightly peaty scent upfront. An image of an algae-filled rocky seashore comes to mind. There’s a faint assortment of leafy veggies here that make me think of those early morning walks I had in the Pho-filled streets of Hanoi. After that are undertones of basil, lemon peel, grapefruit peel, apple juice, peaches, chrysanthemum tea sweetened by rock candy sugar, lime peel and burst of nori.
In the mouth: Very peppery upfront despite being in the glass for almost 30 minutes. This obstructs the other flavors. After a few more sips, I get some nori, Oolong tea and an assortment of unpeeled nuts. I get bits of brine, dry toffee, dry butterscotch, a flash of vanilla pods, cashew nuts and more nori. There are bits of candied cantaloupe, dried stone fruits, cloves and Pu-erh tea (smokey black tea).
The best thing about this is that there’s still a lot of life in this old Islay whisky.
Before others argue that an 18 year old is not that old for Scotch, you are correct. But in this era of everyone fawning over any peated whisky, finding an 18-year Islay whisky is not easy anymore. Yet for something with this age and this amount of spirit left in it, it lacks direction. There is no coherence between the flavors. Everything is bungled up. This is not like the other old Islay whisky I’ve had such as the Laphroaig 18 and Ardbeg 17. Those whiskeys had their shit together. I feel like I only paid for the age statement of an Islay whisky. But other than that? Disappointing.
Smokehead High Voltage highball
Highball specs: 30 ml Smokehead, four 1 x 1 ice cubes then filled the glass with Singha soda water.
Unexpectedly fruity up front. The peat and smoke dissipate. I get hints of apples, guava, orange peel, lemon peel and a tinge of pears. The peat appears at the back. Then there’s a bit of caramel and nori at the end.
I don’t think this whisky is meant for highballs as it easily falls apart. Or maybe I should have added more whisky. I only used 30ml due to the high ABV. But this acts like a 40% ABV whisky in a highball. I find it highly disappointing.
Lead image kindly provided by The Whisky Exchange. We also have some commission links above, these help keep the Malt battleship ocean-going. Such things never influence our opinion and we’re happy to tell you that they exist. This brand is available generally, so it might pay to shop locally as well.