Not all whiskies carry the name of the distillery in which they are made in. BILL WATT finds this is part of the romance of the latest bottle in his liquor cabinet.
So, the birthday present is a bottle of whisky. Tick. The whisky comes from Islay, Scotland's world famous whisky island. Tick. So what's the problem here?
Well, I just couldn't work out where on the beautiful windswept island Smokehead Rum Rebel Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky is made. It's not detailed on the bottle, and my online searches (brief as they were between drams) failed to give me a definitive answer. The makers are Ian MacLeod Distillers Ltd but that doesn't answer my question ... where the bloody hell was it born?
And, while I'm at it ... what's its age?
There are nine distilleries currently in operation on Islay and the online theory seems to be that the source of Smokehead is either the Ardbeg or Caol Ila distilleries.
But, look, does any of this really matter? The answer is: NO.
The fact is that a good whisky should live and die on its taste ... although presentation and marketing in the modern world can certainly dictate a product's success, or lack thereof.
As far as presentation is concerned, Smokehead whiskies are first rate. The skull artwork on their packaging and bottle labels is eye-catching, and certainly makes you look twice when you go past them on the whisky shelves of your local bottle shop.
But, thankfully, it doesn't just stop there. Smokehead Rum Rebel is a truly tasty drop and doesn't at all lower the hard-earned reputation of Islay whiskies.
After the initial pouring of a dram there is a fruity nose and, surprisingly, the smoky/peaty aroma was lighter than expected.
The first sip had quite a punch. To me there was a hint of caramel and a fruity sweetness that comes from its ageing in Caribbean rum casks. The traditional Islay smoke, peat and brine blasts through as you would expect.
Some derisory online reviews suggest the smokiness is amped up as a mere marketing exercise or some such. And, certainly the creators loudly boast on the packaging that its taste is "bursting with fiery peat smoke and burnt marshmallows". But, if it was simply a case of "smoke getting in our eyes", I would have expected a much heavier slap in the chops. I reckon the taste is actually a little subtle compared to the likes of its legendary Islay cousins Laphroaig or Lagavulin (which I love).
Overall, this is yet another tasty Islay treat that can sit proudly on your liquor cabinet shelf. I reckon it is best consumed watching Peaky Blinders on TV after a hearty Sunday roast dinner. Or any other time you just bloody feel like it.