In an era where different types of ex-wine cask maturations are as popular as ever, there’s no doubt that ex-Oloroso sherry casks are the most utilized. Ex-Port and ex-Pedro Ximenez (PX) sherry are close seconds and thirds, in no particular order, which is totally understandable since ex-Oloroso casks contribute flavors such as nuttiness, chocolates and dried fruit to spirits. Most people like these notes.
For this review, I hope to compare and show the readers what peated Islay single malt is like when matured in the less popular type of ex-sherry cask. This will be my first time trying any single malt fully matured in ex-fino sherry casks, so I don’t know what to expect from this other than it being different.
Now, I’m not here to take a deep dive into sherry. It’s already a hard topic to tackle. The recent change of its rules even made it more tricky to learn. The spirits industry using mostly “fake” or seasoned and wet sherry casks is also another rabbit hole to get into. If you want to learn more about sherry, read this recent article from Vinepair and a previous post from Alyssa.
The tunnel visioning onto two types of sherry for cask influence leaves the other types left unrecognized by spirits drinkers. Which, I think, hinders the market growth of sherry and other fortified wines, since it’s also well established that most sherried whisky lovers don’t even drink sherry. The irony.
I guess it’s also a bit personal to me as I like to drink Amontillado and Palo Cortados when they’re available in Spanish restaurants. Luckily, smaller brands would sometimes use one of these other ex-sherry casks as limited releases. An example would be this Kilchoman release that was fully matured in 11 fresh and 1 refill Fino sherry butts.
In case you’re unfamiliar with what fino sherry tastes like: it’s a very dry sherry. The few I’ve had give off herbal, saline, briny and nutty flavors. Its color is also on the lighter and pale side vs Olorosos’ and PX’s red dark hue.
The Smokehead Sherry Bomb is fully matured in ex-Oloroso sherry casks, which makes this the style of peated and sherried single malt that more people are used to. I’m not sure which distillery Smokehead’s whisky comes from. In the brand’s earlier days, it was said to be Ardbe, but I heard that the contract with them has ended. It’s guessed to be Caol Ila now, since they supply most of the peated Islay single malts to blenders, brokers and bottlers.
Smokehead Sherry Bomb – Review
Color: Light maroon.
On the nose:Light to medium aromas of mellow peat, smoke, cherries, balsamic vinegar, strawberries, and pink cotton candy.
In the mouth:Not as peaty and smoky as on the nose. It’s more in the background along with a pepperiness. The Oloroso sherry cask influence is stronger here. I taste notes of cherry-flavored candy, strawberries, adzuki beans, grenadine, and pink cotton candy.
This has a solid body, but I find the variety of flavors to be lacking and monotonous. For something that’s limited edition, I expected it to have a bit more pizzazz. I guess the main allure to this expression is its being fully matured in ex-Oloroso sherry casks, which is uncommon since most of the peated single malts are usually aged in ex-bourbon casks, while those that have ex-wine cask influences are usually just a few months of finishing.
Kilchoman Fino Sherry Cask 2020 Edition – Revoew
Color: Korean barley tea.
On the nose: I get ashy aromas of peat and smoke. After it are aromas of ripe bananas, hard banana-flavored candies, green kiwi, herbs, lemon peel, toffee, the sweetness in Korean barley tea and cereals. At the end is a subtle but lasting vinegar aroma, which is quickly followed by more smoke. A hint of sulfur appears here and there but it doesn’t bother me.
In the mouth: Lighter peat and smoke. There’s a mix of light and medium tastes that remind me of those banana-flavored oatmeals and cereals mixed with honey. There’s also toffee, lemon peel, dehydrated lemon peel, and Korean barley tea. A hint of sulfur would also quickly appear and disappear.
I applaud Kilchoman for doing something different. Unfortunately in this case, different doesn’t mean great. The whisky is also unexpectedly fickle. Moving this around the glass for a bit really brings out the volatility of the ethanol rendering the aromas to be covered by the heat.
Despite me not finding this great, I like this being different because you get to taste more of the distillery DNA, which is something you don’t really get to experience in a single malt fully matured in an ex-wine cask. The different cask influence also means the resulting flavor mix is also different.
I’m not going to factor in the comparative price this time as this is a rare endeavor that’s also done well, so I think the different prices are warranted.
For reference, please consult Malt’s price-sensitive Scoring Bands.