Supermarket Sweep

Taste Review 148 – Smokehead

Christmas. Done and dusted for another year and good riddance to it all. I really cannot be doing with all the hustle and bustle of people getting ready for some festival that pretty much most people don’t seem to believe in and spending money that they may not be truly able to afford to waste.

The first recorded Christmas celebration was in Rome during 336AD, which is quite fitting, for the gluttony that traditionally takes place at this time of year wouldn’t be out of place in a Roman orgy. Perhaps nothing much has changed after all? I had decided that this year we’d just treat our child and keep everything else low key. Being a good Aberdonian, I wasn’t really wanting to waste cash on anything that wasn’t necessary, though I’d caved in a bit when it came to the budget for Brussels Sprouts, Pigs in Blankets and crisp based snacks. The wife intimated that she wasn’t really looking for much for Christmas (or she gave me that impression, which was to be my defence if needed) and didn’t look that disappointed when that’s exactly what she got. Well, sort of; more about that at the end.


A typical Roman celebration in December for Saturnalia. I suppose they didn’t have Hogmanay to fall back on. Doesn’t seem much has changed.

One of the things I dislike most about the festive season is being asked what do I want as a gift? I let it be known that I’d be happy with getting very little, but my wife wasn’t going to let me away with that so easily. As I tend to buy what I want when I need it, I couldn’t really say that I needed a new power tool. I’m pretty much fashion unconscious, so the offer of new clothing wasn’t taken up. My favourite designer is F&F and I only wear clothes because we have to in public. It gets pretty Baltic in this part of Scotland for most of the year, so clothes are a good idea for more than legal reasons. I sort of knew I was heading for the present that most whisky geeks may detest – Supermarket Whisky.


Putting all the batteries in the decorative animatronic toys is also a festive bugbear. And so is taking them out 4 weeks later.

I’m not that much of a whisky fascist, as there are sometimes a few bottles of whisky in a supermarket that may be acceptable, but the problem is that my dearest knows next to nothing about whisky, and shows little or no interest in reading my blog so had no idea what I’d like. I’d instantly start to feel guilty about asking for something like Talisker 18 while my wife is currently taking time out of her career to look after our child. There was a slight glimmer of hope when she went shopping in Inverness just before Santa day, as she was wanting to go into Leakeys Bookstore – just up the street from wine and spirits retailer Wood Winters. The command that was issued to the effect that I was banned from entering her dressing room once she came home from that trip meant the chances were even higher of something decent. But I was deceiving myself.


Please God, no! Don’t let her buy any of this! And since when did Welsh whisky become local to a Tesco in Speyside?

I’m no stranger to a supermarket whisky gift. Previous presents have been Johnnie Walker Red, Laphroaig Select, Cardhu Gold, Glen Keith, Glen Moray Classic. None of these I’d say are bad whiskies, but definitely not anything I’d purchase myself. There was a wee bit of worry that I may end up with a full size Jura Journey, which given it took me over 5 years to finish a half sized bottle that ended up being poured down the sink filled me with dread. Even if it was a whisky from a specialist retailer, what would she get me? At best I was looking at a Macallan or Glenmorangie, which aren’t to be sniffed at, but not that exciting either. I started to mull over the contemplation that the word “Gift” is also the German word for poison, and wondered if the person who entered that into their lexicon had received supermarket whisky as part of a Christmas present. The regret from not asking for something from the Master Of Malt site was growing. I knew all my contemporaries on social media will be parading the fantastic whiskies that I’d love to try and didn’t want the feeling of pity when they learnt I got something so uninteresting as supermarket whisky.

Come the big day and I was right. It was supermarket whisky. However it was a complete surprise, as I hadn’t had it before and it turns out that my wife had put a bit of thought into it. My gift was a bottle of Smokehead. Not the basic one at 43% but the 40% even more basic version. Probably loaded with colour, chill filtered and as thin as water. I was going to find out that my misconceptions were misplaced.

Smoked bottle makes it look darker than it is.

Smokehead – NAS

Region – Islay Age – NAS Strength – 40% abv Colour – Cherry Oloroso sherry (1.2) Cask Type – Not stated. Colouring – Not Stated but likely Chill Filtered Not stated but most likely. Nose – Sweet. Strawberry fondant cream, petrol, salty smoke, a hint of TCP, vegetal note of silage. Palate – sweet arrival with no obvious kick. Banana, ginger, malt, salt, smoked bacon, vegetal, liquorice. There is an oily mouthfeel which while light is surprising for such a low abv. A mineral note is present in the later part of the palate. Finish – Spicy but short finish. Ginger and nutmeg, mineral taste, coupled with smoke and a light TCP. Similar to Laphroaig, seaweed, oak and a hint of char.

A healthy pour. Well, it is only 40%!

You’d be justified in saying that I am a whisky snob; anything on a supermarket shelf just doesn’t get me excited unless heavily discounted, and even then there are limits. But this one was a bit of an eye opener. I don’t mean to sound so surprised but I enjoyed it. Complex – it wasn’t, but what grabbed me was the mouthfeel. It was more oily than expected, the smoke and peat was well controlled in such a way it was a pleasure to drink neat. There was a sweetness to it that persuades me that a Sherry cask may be in the mix somewhere. While I have had a lot better whisky than this, it was well balanced and pleasurable to drink while watching a Christmas movie. I may have some cheese and crackers with it when I watch my next Christmas movie. Scotty’s cheese box in the fridge is well stocked with smokey delights.

My wife’s thought process was impressive, remembering that we’d both visited Talisker distillery and she knew I preferred that smokey whisky to the Dalwhinnie later on in the trip. While she had no idea how smokey Smokehead would be, she thought it a safe bet. And it was genius idea, as the chances of me having a supermarket whisky were to be frank, low. While I would have maybe preferred to receive a Talisker 10, that is based on my perception of quality and consistency. But the Smokehead was no slouch, despite it lacking in the usual geek credentials of ABV, age statement, NC and NCF.

It is so easy to dismiss whisky that resides on a supermarket shelf, but we need to remember one or two things that will keep us grounded. Firstly, not everybody has the same whisky budget. Some might want something cheap and cheerful. Some may want a bit of variety, some may just want something a little different but don’t want to break the bank trying something they may not like. While we are not likely to find whisky geek banger whisky in Tesco, we can get something that is palatable at a decent price. Crucially, it could be someone experimenting with whisky who doesn’t want to spaff £75 up the wall on some thing they don’t like. We’ve all been there or known somebody that has.

Mouthfeel was good. More oily than you might expect, giving a feeling of quality. While it is obvious the this spirit has seen a bit of chill filtering, there is still some thing left to give a hint as to what a cask strength one would be like. Unfortunately the standard release is only 43%. No massive spirit burn, although there was a little on the finish. I’ve no idea what distillery it is sourced from. Common belief is that it’s Caol Ila or Lagavulin, but I felt it was less peaty and more smokey putting it into Laphroaig territory for me. Wherever it’s from, I’m not going to say it’s definitely that, but hats off to Ian Macleod Distillers, for it was a perfect dram to sit and sip without the attendant analysis of what I could and couldn’t taste, along with the distractions that such processes demand. Just get it down you and enjoy.

I’m not that jealous of those who got better drams than me for Christmas. I’ve enough whisky in the house and had already had potential Christmas disappointment averted by a delivery of two Murray McDavids from Aberdeen Whisky Shop, though I’ve not felt the need to crack them open in lieu of my supermarket whisky. As we now move past 2022 and into 2023, it’s time to maybe forget such snobbery about supermarket whisky. After all, I’ve got a whisky which some people could pay ten times that amount for other whiskies and not have a much different experience with. Who’s the mug? Obviously there will be stinkers on the shelf, but a wise whisky drinker will know what they are. Just because they have 46% and and age statement means nothing; besides it’s all subjective anyway.

Lastly, just in case my wife does actually read my articles, I’d like to say thanks for your present – I’m really enjoying it. Hope you liked your ironing board cover.

Had to hide wifey’s face; but judging by that smile, she’s delighted with a top of the range Minky Ironing Board cover. Only the best for her!

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Public Domain Thomas Couture – The Romans in their Decadence

And now there are two

Taste Review #61 – Talisker 10 and Talisker Skye

Last week I did something on Scotty’s drams that I hadn’t done in some time, and that was review two whiskies in the same article. So pleased was I with the result, I decided to do the same again this week, as I still have a shelf of a kitchen cabinet absolutely ‘stappit fu’ (that’s the Doric dialect for stuffed full) with miniatures. In an attempt to clear things out, I am going for it again.

Once again, this review of two minatures from the Talisker distillery were part of a three bottle set of which I have already reviewed the Talisker Dark Storm. It was a present from my wife, and reminds me of our last visit there in 2013. I’ve actually been there twice, and am quite familiar with the spirit that the distillery produces. For years Talisker was the only whisky distillery on Skye, and this is proudly proclaimed on the bottles I have before me. However there nothing worse in an age where things are changing so rapidly that what is fact and gospel one minute becomes outdated the next. There is another whisky distillery on Skye at Torabhaig which started producing in 2017, so hopefully soon we will be seeing spirit from there. When will we see Diageo update the Talisker labelling will remain to be seen.

The Talisker Distillery has existed since 1830’s, but wasn’t always a success on account of its remote location – even in today’s times it is still a pretty remote location. It wasn’t until it was taken over by Roderick Kemp and Alexander Allen in 1880 that things started to turn around. Kemp sold his share in 1892 to purchase the Macallan distillery, and in 1895 Allen died and it passed onto his business partner Thomas Mackenzie who was already involved in the Dailuaine distillery on Speyside. It was three years later when Talisker, Dailuaine and Imperial were merged into a single company. Mackenzie himself died in 1916, and control of the distillery was eventually gained by DCL which eventually evolved into the modern day drinks giant Diageo. It is a very important single malt for them, and by 1998 it became part of the Classic Malts selection.

The distillery has a visitors centre, which is very similar to other Diageo visitors centres, but I can recommend the tour very much. It is a beautiful journey to the Isle of Skye, travelling up from Glasgow on the A82, then cutting away from the Great Glen on the A87 all the way to the Isle of Skye, passing the Five Sisters of Kintail, Loch Duich and Eilean Donan Castle (Highlander Movie) and then over the Skye Bridge. The journey across Skye on a good day is little short of breathtaking when you get the view of the Cuillin Hills. Well worth the journey.

It is now time to continue with our whisky journey and proceed with the tastings.

Region

Highland

Talisker 10

Strength – 45.8%. Colour – Amber. Nose – Smoke, Slight Peat, Brine, Citrus, Seaweed, a shell fish note too. A caramel toffee note appears after adding water with a light vanilla in the background. Palate – Not as agressive as the nose may suggest. Quite a full body with a very pleasant mouth feel. It coats the mouth very satisfactorily. Smoke, light peat. Malted cereal, sweet and peppery. Finish – Medium – long. Quite spicy and peppery with an explosion of oak spices and a nice sweet peppery note continuing.

Talisker Skye

Strength – 45.8%. Colour – Amber. Nose – Smoke and light peat. Less than the 10year old. Stewed orchard fruits, toffee, a hint of liquorice allsorts. Palate -Not as full a body as the 10 year old. A good bit lighter, but still lightly oily. Smoke and peat levels are much more subdued here compared to the 10 year old, yet is still unmistakably a Talisker. The brine is more noticeable due to the lower smoke levels and there. Finish– Much shorter than the 10 year old and not as much spice, but still the smokey sweet peppery finish.

Conclusions

There is a reason that Talisker is important to Diageo. It is such a pleasant drink to have. Yes, it may be a mass produced whisky but that is something that should be disregarded as we should be judging on our experience alone. It has been some time since I have tasted Talisker 10, especially since I took a shine to Laphroaig 10, but I would say if you are wanting to experiment with peaty whiskies, I’d start with some Highland Park 12 then move onto Talisker 10. It has such a lovely mouth feel, and what is really beneficial to the drinker is the smoke and peat aren’t too strong. The underlying sweetness rescues you from any residual phenolics so you don’t feel as though you are drinking a bottle of TCP.

Talisker Distillery alongside Loch Hariport

Moving onto the Skye – it is a little brother to the 10 year old. Much more approachable and if you are a bit of a peat and smoke virgin, then this would probably be better than simply leaping into the 10 year old. The mouthfeel is still familiar, but has less body, and for my palate a bit less satisfying, but I prefer the more heavier peated whiskies when we have moved into the peated styles.

Thinking back to my previous review of Talisker Storm, I remember that being quite aromatic in the smoke and peat departments, with a long finish which became quite tedious in the end. Plus the aroma was as such I could smell the glass of whisky from the other side of the room. It was an average whisky, but I wouldn’t rush to recommend it. However, these two that I have reviewed above I can recommend, as they are very easy to drink and not overpowering in any sense, but still give a quality drinking experience. Of course, there will be plenty of other whiskies that may be challenging, but if you are just looking for an easy going experience with medium smoke and peat, then these two will hit the spot.

However, there are down sides to the equation. Both of these whiskies have colour added, which makes me sad, as I’d like to see a difference between the two to help me realise without tasting that these two are different spirits. Only one of the spirits tasted this time have an age statement, and this was the better of the two with the fuller mouth feel. Whether this is coincidence and the NAS Talisker has a majority of younger whisky which gives a lighter feel is just a guess, but I don’t think its far off the mark.

We have to end on a positive though, and after how good it tastes, we then have to think of how much it costs. While I cannot comment on the cost of the three miniature set at the time as it was a kind gift from my wife to reminisce of our time on Skye, you can pick these up at a whisky retailer for around £16 mark. The full size bottles of each bottle can be picked up for around £43 (10 y.o) and £45 for Skye. As Diageo are moving away from 5CL miniatures at their visitor centres, the 10 year old can also be bought in 20CL size for around £16. To be honest, I think these prices represent good value, and if I fancied a change from Laphroaig, Talisker would be where I’d go to.

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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Photo Credits

Talisker Distillery – Shutterstock

All Other Photos – Authors Own

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