Smokehead Rebel Rum-cask Single Malt

Smokehead Rebel Rum-cask Single Malt (Photo by the brand)

Islay Whisky

In the ever-widening field of Islay Scotch whisky, Ian Macleod Distillers, under its Smokehead label, is pushing the boundaries of casking possibilities. Their latest incursion into smoky excellence is rum-cask-aged Rebal, a NAS single malt that forms a trifecta with their Sherry Blast and Terminado expressions. Like its siblings, Rebel is a well-apportioned smoke monster, replete with the expected Islay flavor components. The smoke leans into campfire territory, eschewing subtlety in favor of an in-your-face attitude that compliments the label’s skull imagery (the intent, I reckon).

Although rum is touted as a significant component of the expression, it’s significantly less prevalent than the impact of sherry in the Sherry Blast or tequila in Terminado. I’d argue that the rum is more akin to how bourbon barrels impact scotch – in other words, the rum is subtle, arguably the most subtle aspect of this whisky! At 46% ABV, Rebel sits on the fence between cask and standard strength. While certainly sippable, it does benefit from a few drops of quality water.

Dark and Brooding

The bottle itself is dark and brooding, like the liquid inside. It pours a golden amber, immediately releasing wafting smoke from my trusty Gleancairn taster, like bacon cooking on an open campfire. Under the smoke, aromas of sea spray, tarry rope, moist peat, and dark molasses. Behind all that Islay-ness lie notes of dried fruit, barrel spice, grilled onion, far-off anise, rosemary, and finally, rum barrel.

Tasting Notes

The mouthfeel is fat and oily with a mild sting of heat. A forward smoke and brine intensity dissipates in favor of sweetness like baked fruit – not the flavor but the sweetness style. All the “usual” Islay flavors are evident, with smoke the most prevalent, although the “sea” elements are noticeable (salt, kelp, tar), albeit more subtle than the smoke. Mid-swallow reveals more dried tropical fruit flavors – dried pineapple and mango most apparent, followed by burnt sugar, dark toffee, black pepper, and hints of leather. The finish is moderate in length, with smoke and sweetness as the most prevalent impacts during the fade.

Rebel continues proving that Scotch whisky can be both high in quality and inventiveness and maintain affordability. While out of the three, I prefer the Sherry Blast, Rebel, like its south-of-the-border-influenced cousin Terminadoshould prove to be a hit with Islay fans. Although clearly geared toward a younger generation of Scotch drinkers, or perhaps to attract that more youthful demographic, Smokehead and Ian Macleod continue to produce noteworthy whiskies that invite interest, or at least curiosity, across the spectrum.