Smokehead Terminado Tequila Cask Islay Scotch

Smokehead Terminado Tequila Cask Islay Scotch (Photo by the brand)

In the ever-widening world of unlikely expressions, Scotch distilleries have begun producing some pretty unusual pairings. This time, it’s Tequila. Tequila, you ask, incredulous. Yep, that’s what I said. And Smokehead is betting that you’ll love it!

Smokehead Terminado, self-described as bringing together two “restless spirits,” is one of those whiskies you’re just absolutely sure you won’t like until you do. And I really do! To be fair, I didn’t want to like it. I’m a huge fan of the Smokehead Sherry, another of Ian Macleod’s secretly-sourced Islay expressions, that one with a big sherry bump. Terminado follows suit, its Islay sourcing shrouded in mystery. But mystery of not, you can’t help but love (or hate) this latest member of the Smokehead family. I’d argue the former!

Ian Macleod Distillers produces Scotch under a massively comprehensive list of brands, including Glengoyne (one of my favorites), Tamdhu, Rosebank, Sheep Dip, Sheldaig (Total Wine’s “house” brand), Lang’s, and quite a few others. Since 1933, Ian Macleod has been a giant in the Scotch industry, with a reputation for creating highly regarded blends and single malts. However, in my humble opinion (please, no comments!), their malts truly shine! And this smoky beast is no exception.

From the moment you see a Smokehead bottle, its telltale skull logo informs that the gold within will be a wild ride. Smokehead is not subtle – it assaults the senses with intense smoke from the moment you open it until long after the glass has dried. I’ve always been a fan of super smoky Islays, and this is no exception. Terminado, Spanish for “finished” (or, more aptly, “Terminated”), is the be-all-end-all Islay experience. Like the logo and the whole bottle vibe, it has the subtlety of a freight train. And not in a bad way!

Now, after all the talk about intense smoke and a bold approach, you might be surprised to find that Terminado has a delicate side, too. It pours golden in the glass, with a slightly browned tint commensurate with aging, and despite its lack of age statement, it doesn’t seem “young.” Behind the initial blast of smoke, an elegant beast is hiding. Although the nose is dominated by smoke, other elements are at play. There’s an unmistakable whiff of tequila quickly evident, followed by notes of lemon zest, pine tar, old rope, kelp, and sea breeze, but also fruitier elements, like fresh-cut melon and orange. There are backing hints of brown sugar, burnt toffee, mint, and some distant coffee and cooking oil.

The mouthfeel is thinnish – not annoyingly, but not fat. It’s here that the sweetness becomes evident. Initial peat and smoke elements give way to toffee, baked berries, and winter spice, with a return to more traditional Islay characteristics mid-sip. The tequila resurges in the after-swallow, along with hints of pine needles, malty cereal, burnt sugar, and of course, more smoke.

The finish is luxurious, with the Islay taking the lead to the tequila. More iodine, a salty-sweet sense, and more lemon zest fade to campfire ash echoes on a long fade.

If you pinned me down, I’d argue that the Scotch and Tequila don’t meld but rather lay overtop one another, not competitively, but more in a symbiotic way. They take turns presenting their side of the argument like two gentlemen having a pleasant debate over whether Scotch or Tequila is better. Like other unique whiskies, I’d argue that Smokehead Termiinado will be a love-it-or-hate-it proposition for most, but I, for one, love it!