Smokehead is a whisky that is not here to play. To even access their website you have to self-declare as not just old enough, but bold enough. A huge menacing skull is seared onto every bottle like a trespassers’ warning in a slasher film. This is because Smokehead has absolutely no qualms about letting its non-chill filtered liquid fire run up to 58%, a throat-scorching streak of chaos that rattles nonchalantly into your glass before crawling destructively down your throat to shout abuse at your liver. That’s the Smokehead High Voltage in particular – the new kid on the block, following in the footsteps of the Smokehead, a more believable 43% but itself no shrinking violet.
I am here to give the High Voltage a proper run-out, sticking it in cocktails, pairing it with food and throwing it down with reckless abandon. Smokehead is an Islay single malt birthed of a mystery distillery somewhere on the peatiest of islands, with a reasonable price point and a younger, edgier, ruder brand for your consideration. In keeping with that ethos, we aren’t in a Mayfair hotel bar for this event, but MC Motors in Dalston, venue for the trendiest London weddings and a veritable Instagram treasure trove of distressed and vintage detritus. For a co-pilot I’ve brought a recent dad cashing in a rare night out, so here’s hoping the merriment matches the intimidating ABV.
As we arrive down the staircase, there’s a scary climbing-frame-cum-barbecue upon which some kind of organisms are being blackened. Into the main space and we grab a ‘Smoked Ginger’ – the High Voltage, ginger beer, lemon juice and fresh, mashed ginger over ice. It’s long, spicy, profoundly alcoholic and terribly easy to drink. The second cocktail is a ‘Smoke Fashioned’ – as you’d expect, but with rather a lot of bitters and sugar to offset the smokiness, and with a decadent sprinkle of dark chocolate over the ice. More of a dessert drink. In the main, we drink Smokehead and High Voltage neat alongside our food, which seems foolhardy but vaguely heroic.
The food is absolutely mayhem; charred octopus with chowder, a venison-filled donut into which we inject a pipette of whisky, chicken smoked in a metal cage (the charred organisms from earlier). At one point I definitely remember tearing meat with my bare hands but it’s hard to be specific after dutifully sampling multiple cocktails with uber-strength whisky in them. My companion, the liberated parent, seems to be crunching on bones to my left but I’m concentrating on the Smokehead High Voltage before we wrap up; it’s thick and oily and salty and loud, but stops short of overwhelming us. We step back from the brink and make it up the stairs safely. It’s still a puzzle as to where this elixir is distilled; I’ll be more than happy to sink a few bottles to try and work it out.
‘Smokehead’ and ‘Smokehead High Voltage’ are both available through specialists and multiples worldwide. Smokehead RRP £38.99 and High Voltage RRP £54.99. For more information, including tasting notes, visit www.smokehead.com.