Whisky Review: Hammerhead 28-Year-Old Czech Single Malt Whisky

An experiment in whisky making from behind the Iron Curtain that was forgotten with the collapse of the Soviet Union is seeing new life with the phased release the many barrels it left behind.

Under the brand Hammerhead, drinkers can taste how a small distillery in what was then Soviet Union-aligned Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) attempted to make a Scotch-style whisky with little more than books, a pot still, and local ingredients: the latest release being the Hammerhead 28-year-old Czech Single Malt.

The present-day distributors of Hammerhead note that vodka was the drink of choice for the vast majority of those living in the Soviet bloc during the Cold War.

Nevertheless, a group of Soviet officials and wealthy locals missed whisky so much that in 1984 they commissioned a small, half-century-old distillery in Prádlo to make something like a peated Scotch.

Mostly used to producing locally popular bitters, brandy, and rum, the Prádlo distilling team under Vaclav Sitner got to the task with some books, a pot still, Czech barley, Bohemian (local) water, and peat from nearby bogs, according to Scotchwhisky.com.

After finding Czech peat made the whisky undrinkable, the distillery reportedly managed to import Scottish peat –even though this cadre of “high ranking compatriots” weren’t allowed to just import Scotch.

Set to age in new Czech oak barrels in 1989, the collapse of the Soviet Union soon after allowed them to be forgotten. That is until 2007, when staff of London-based Stock Spirits – operating the distillery on behalf American hedge fund Oaktree Capital Management that had just acquired it – found thousands of these barrels still aging, according to a 2013 Associated Press report.

Read More Whiskey News
Whisky Review: Nikka Days

Although not explicitly stated, it seems that Stock Spirits is releasing a limited number of barrels annually, with the latest apparently a 28-year-old out of cask 376, according to a detailed product sheet from distributor Glass Revolutions Imports.

This batch was bottled at cask strength (51% ABV) with only 300 750mL bottles making their way to the United States for about $350 apiece.

The limited supply makes sense considering a note on the fact sheet estimating that at least 2% of the whisky evaporated per year – setting the angel’s share conservatively at 56% of the barrel.

Hammerhead 28-Year-Old

Hammerhead 28-Year-Old

Tasting Notes: Hammerhead 28-Year-Old Czech Single Malt Whisky

Vital Stats: 28-year-old single malt whisky made with Czech barley and Scottish peat, and aged in new Czech oak barrels. Bottled at cask strength and sold for roughly $350 per bottle.

Appearance: Not much to say about this one, it’s a fairly typical golden amber and pretty much the average for a whisky.

Nose: While sweet from the get-go, this release of Hammerhead is also much more subtle than I expected. The whisky starts off with a faint scent of vanilla as well as still fainter notes of sweet apple, cinnamon, and flowers. That gradually aroma gets richer and earthier moving toward more of a molasses with heavier notes allspice and baked apple, a touch of lavender, and an undertone of mellow oak.

Palate: The whisky hits the tongue like sweet but delicate clover honey with a bit of allspice and orange zest giving it a more complex entry than usual. As it sits on the tongue, it gradually gains a bit of apple-like sweetness while also developing spicier notes of clove and oak with a hint of peat in the background. Clove eventually becomes the dominant flavor as the spiciness build on the tongue and reaches a dull roar, while still leaving room for the peat and oak. Swallowing sends a burst of clove throughout the mouth before that gradually settles back into a smoky, oaky honey that lightly coats the tongue, occasionally punctuated by flares of spice.

The Takeaway

Hammerhead 28 Year Old quite impressed me with the smoothness, subtly, balance, and symmetry it achieves despite being basically forgotten for decades. This whisky manages to capture some of the flavors of Scotch while showing some of the delicateness of a Japanese whisky. Although I wouldn’t spend $350 on a bottle, the lucky 300 who do get their hands on a bottle of Hammerhead 28 are certainly in for an unusually complex treat.

Read More Whiskey News
Whiskey Review: George Dickel Bottled in Bond (Fall 2008)
User Rating 4.14 (7 votes)


Subscribe to our newsletter