When you think of Islay peated whisky you think history, heritage, tradition… All valid points but that is not what Smokehead whisky wants you thinking, so they have decided to throw a feast to change the narrative.
Ian Macleod Distillery have given Smokehead a fresh new look to tell this story as well as gifting us with a brand-new expression: Smokehead High Voltage. Descriptions vary from “bold” to “not for the faint hearted” but brand ambassador Iain Weir really hits the nail on the head, “…if Smokehead is an assault on your senses, then High Voltage is an all-out attack. Louder, bolder and more intense than getting put in a headlock from an angry roadie… It’s not for everyone, but that’s ok.”
The evening’s feast came in four courses. First up was a Venison Bomb paired with a Smoked Ginger – a fiery kick of High Voltage with zesty ginger beer, ginger root and fresh lemon. The Bomb itself was an experiment as much as an appetiser; haggis soil wrapped around braised venison shoulder with a pipette of Smokehead maple syrup to inject right into the heart of the bomb. An explosive start.
Once seated and sea-legs safely established, out came the Octopus Spikes and a mug of Smoked Sea Dog. A classic double act of peatiness and salty: Smokehead whisky + seaweed, rosemary and Dead Sea salt syrup. This deep-sea whirlpool of a drink complimented the char-grilled octopus, corn chowder, brown butter popcorn and Smokehead bacon like no one (literally no one) would have thought.
From the ocean to a volcano, the main course was up next. Smokehead flamed chicken, cooked over an open fire using something that looked like it belonged in the Tower of London; this was only the beginning of the course. This bird brought some friends, Dutch oven tattie skins, coal-roasted aubergine, blood orange and fennel and refreshing pickle juice chimichurri. To help with this hero’s quest of a dish Smokehead provided the aforementioned volcano. Smoked Sriracha. Smokehead whisky combined with the sting of sriracha hot sauce. You may not have any taste buds left after washing one down, but it is worth it.
The final lap of the evening came in the form of a Smoked Fashioned. A bold twist on a classic. Taking the sweet and citrus flavours of the original and giving them a peppery remix, the perfect compliment to dessert: Lava apple pie, elderflower and thyme jelly, praline hammer and chocolate candle, not to mention the smokehead nitro ice cream (that’s right, they made ice cream smoke). Dessert soon turned into a boozy art attack having to smash up the praline and burn our own candle for the sauce. Smokehead shun the rules and this includes playing with one’s food.
Smokehead may have liked the age-old story of peated whisky but they changed it anyway. Such a bold move from a thrilling brand, you would expect nothing less.
‘Smokehead’ (43% ABV)
The First Impression: The aroma of something powerful and fiery awaiting you. Thick, heavy woodsmoke. Rich, earthy peat. Extremes of spice and sweetness. Fresh lemon, zesty ginger, rich plum jam.
The Full-on Flavour: An explosion of breathtaking peppery, peaty heat, soothed by honeyed sweetness, before the smoke comes to the fore again.
The Finale: Exotic spices and a curious citrus tang of mandarin, both lulling you into a false sense of calm as the peat roars back to hit your senses again.
‘SmokeHead High Voltage’ (58% ABV)
The First Impression: Breathe it in and feel the rush of spirit hit the senses and the nose prickle. Intense peat and smoke, maritime air, porridge oats, clean vanilla and toffee.
The Full-on Flavour: A burn of hot spirit and the mouth fills with smoke, feeling almost thick with oiliness before softening and becoming creamier, with nutty, briny and citrus notes.
The Finale: The mouth is almost in shock, numb and tingling. A sweetness mixes nicely with the slowly fading smoke, leaving a salty tang.
Sam Brady is a London based freelance writer and photographer covering travel and lifestyle.
Photographs by Sam Brady