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Rolling Stone Taste Tests Smokehead Whisky’s Smokin’ Serves Cocktail Range

Smokehead’s smoky, peaty whiskies are rooted in rebellion. They’re also a fine cocktail ingredient, as we find out in this article.

Smokehead Whisky

Smokehead Whisky

The small Scottish island of Islay is known for its vast supply of peaty, single malt Scotch whisky. Of all the bottles on the shelf, Smokehead is perhaps the smokiest whisky of all. In their own words, Smokehead whisky is the rebellious single malt. But it’s not rebellion for rebellion’s sake; it’s an attempt to disrupt the traditional. 

The five single malts in the Smokehead core range are fundamentally great tasting whiskies when served neat, with a drop of water or a couple of ice cubes. However, the Smokehead team aren’t stuffy-shirted purists and encourage whisky drinkers to consume their products in whatever way they please.

That’s the thinking behind the Smokin’ Serves cocktail recipes, which take well-known serves like shandies and negronis and replace the conventional spirits with Smokehead’s range of peaty whiskies.

It’s a bold ambition, to upend tradition in this way, and we wanted to know what these cocktails actually taste like. So, we did you the noble service of trying all ten recipes. Here are our findings.

Smokehead’s Smokin’ Serves Cocktails

First up is Bloody Mary’s Korean travels, which includes Smokehead High Voltage, which is batch strength at 58%, as well as kimchi, hot sauce, tomato juice and smoked paprika.

The High Voltage is stronger than your average dram and gives this bloody mary a real kick. The inclusion of kimchi and hot sauce gives you a second, even bigger kick. It’s taking the traditional bloody mary to the max. It’s a real pick-me-up, a hit between the eyes.

The fruit and spice stunner is made with Smokehead Sherry Cask Blast and passionfruit juice, lemon juice, ginger ale and cinnamon.

Smokehead’s Sherry Cask Blast is a 48% whisky that’s finished in spicy, fruity, oloroso sherry casks. The sherry casks give the whisky some dried fruit flavours and the passionfruit juice, lemon juice, ginger ale and cinnamon help to accentuate these flavour notes in the whisky.

Smoky shandy is relatively simple. It’s just High Voltage (albeit batch strength at 58%) with some fruity IPA and cloudy lemonade.

It’s a longer, refreshing drink, good for summer. It’s a playful way of rejigging a traditional serve, a shandy. If you hold back on the High Voltage, you could make a lighter aperitif. I went the other way, creating a smoky, hoppy shandy, which you could sit on and enjoy over a long stretch of time.

Like a traditional shandy, it’s quick and easy to make and doesn’t require a master’s degree in mixology.

Never felt bitter is a combo of Smokehead Original and Fernet Branca with cola and lime.

This one’s ruffling the bitter feathers. Bitters are very popular in the mixology world, but by adding Smokehead Original, a 43% whisky with a full, smoky flavour, the flavour profile of this cocktail departs from the expected. 

Bitter the devil you know is a riff on a negroni. It’s got Smokehead Sherry Cask Blast, Campari and sweet vermouth.

Negronis are some of my favourite cocktails. But by replacing the traditional gin with Smokehead Sherry Cask Blast, this is unlike any negroni I’ve ever had. Sherry Cask Blast does have some dried fruit flavours—some orange, some lemon, some ginger—but it’s still a smoky, peaty whisky. This cocktail is certain to get a reaction. For me, it’s a big thumbs up.

Just peachy is a refreshing, intensely flavourful drink. It combines Smokehead Rum Cask Rebel with peach iced tea syrup, lemon juice, peach liqueur and soda.

Smokehead Rum Cask Rebel is whisky finished in Caribbean rum casks. Rum-finished whisky is a match made in heaven—the rum gives it that lovely Caribbean sweetness and slightly mellows the edge off the Smokehead. Combined with the peach tea syrup, lemon juice and peach liquor, it makes for a rich, sweet, smooth cocktail. It’s like a bag of lollies eaten over a campfire.

Rebel alliance is a smoky highball. It’s made using Smokehead Original, Cointreau, lemon juice and cloudy lemonade.

It’s delicious. Rebel alliance is somewhat akin to the shandy and it’d be a good one to serve for friends before sitting down for a meal. Smokehead Original is matured in bourbon casks, which give it notes of orange, melon, grapefruit and pineapple. So the Cointreau—an orange-flavoured liqueur—and lemon juice help to underscore flavours inherent in the whisky.

Richly deserved rewards is a digestif. It’s got Smokehead Rum Cask Rebel, plum sake and Sauternes, a French sweet wine.

Dessert wines, or stickies, are all the rage at the moment. I’ve always thought they’ve been a bit underrated, as evidence by this tasty, comforting cocktail. This’d be a good one to enjoy after an evening meal or at the end of the night.