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Hazelburn 13 Year Old Oloroso

Hazelburn 13 Year Old Oloroso

I return to Campbeltown – one of the most interesting whisky regions. But for a moment, I would like to rant about something concerning the ‘regions’, so permit me a moment of indulgence if you would.

My beef is this. It’s another article that mistakes the idea of the Scotch whisky regions for provenance, for terroir. It supposes that the Scotch regions have styles, that the geographical regions once influenced flavour – and nothing could be further from the truth.

The Scotch whisky regions were carved up for purposes of excise, tax and number crunching, nothing more. That’s why Campbeltown (where today’s whisky comes from) itself was a region, because it had a good thirty something distilleries, a nice chunky number for the excisemen of the day to handle. Regions have nothing to do with flavour, nothing whatsoever, and that people still go around suggesting that there is whisky terroir in this sense is absurd.

There is terroir, in whisky, sure. And the topic is broadly speaking owned by a couple of distilleries, namely Waterford in Ireland, and Bruichladdich in Scotland. Terroir and provenance – terms more commonly associated with other parts of the food and drinks industry – concern the soil in which barley is grown, its aspect, the barley varieties, the microclimates that influence the crop. (You’ll notice I say barley when the article absurdly never once mentions the ingredient, the very thing that makes whisky.)

And yes, those things, when controlled properly and understood, have a significant impact on the taste of the resulting new make spirit. If you don’t believe me, fly out to Waterford Distillery and taste the spirit from different terroirs. (Disclaimer: I do stuff for Waterford – you can ask me about it if you want. I am biased. I don’t care.) I’ve stood in that distillery, tasted samples that were grown on different soil types, and found they’re each different. Different in ways that you might think were down to the stills or something else. But no. It’s down to terroir.

Ironically this is a thing that much of the industry denies when it suits them. Brands talk about terroir as if in the broad geographical sense, when instead their raw ingredients come from anywhere and – this is the important bit – all the barley is mixed together, compromising any sense of individuality. This is deliberately (or ignorantly) misleading you, the drinker, and you should be aware of that whenever you hear it. Even my beloved Bruichladdich have compromised terroir and provenance on their latest Islay barley release – mixing the barley from different farms and creating a generic Islay whisky, not one based on individual farm terroirs, isolating the farm flavours, as the range started out.

Right, if you’ve got this far, thank you for indulging me. And now to one of those regions – based on excise divisions. Campbeltown is probably the only region that does have a bit of a shared characteristic, Islay peat aside – but this is nothing to do with terroir. It’s the fact that most Campbeltown whisky washes through Springbank Distillery, which is simply one of the best Scottish distilleries around.

Today’s whisky is Springbank’s Hazelburn brand. It’s a 13 year old whisky matured in Oloroso Sherry casks, and bottled at 47.1% ABV. Expect to pay anything up to £80 for it, though it can be found higher (if it can be found at all at the moment, for it appears to be sold out everywhere).

Hazelburn 13 Year Old Oloroso

Hazelburn 13 Year Old 2003 Oloroso Review

Colour: deep copper.

On the nose: a classically dirty Campbeltown nose – that coal smoke and diesel fumes, mingled with a maltiness and a sweetness. It’s then smashed down by a wonderfully intensity of red fruits and blackcurrants, with prunes to follow. That dies back and a pungent biscuity notes, Malted Milks or Digestives. A rare occasion where it’s fresher and more enticing when just poured: time allows the freshness to fade, and it just takes the fun out of things.

In the mouth: velvety, if a little thin on the texture. Certainly not as oily as its sister brands, yet pleasant enough. Heavy on the charcoal, with blackened meats – and honey glaze. Indeed, an underlying meatiness here, drifting into gamey, grouse territory. Blackcurrants and elderberry or even Balsamic tartness to this, which actually works with that meatiness. Blackcurrant juice then begins to dominate. Rather creamy, with just enough bitterness from the wood to balance out. Ever-so-slight metallic tinge. Caramel notes, and eventually those dried fruits one would expect.

Conclusions

Opening day of the shooting season: gamey, smokey. Just a lovely whisky. Typical of some of the whiskies being released from Springbank of late, and that is something to be celebrated, as it’s very much my cup of tea. I can have no shortage of this style of whisky in my cupboard.

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. Avatar
    Graham Wright says:

    Hooray! Right on the money Mark, this region stuff is just plain laziness on both the consumers and marketing types alike. Keep up the good work.! Gin Oz.

  2. Avatar
    The Whiskyphiles says:

    Campbeltown peat came from Machrahanish until the accident/collapse there led to a ban in digging peat. They now source from Speyside. When I asked I was told Ileach’s would never let their precious peat be used elsewhere, unless I am mistaken your article eludes to Campbeltown whisky sharing Islay peat?

  3. Avatar
    MadSingleMalt says:

    Whiskyphiles, I think his point there—when he said “Islay peat aside”—was that Islay might have some legitimate claim to possessing an intrinsic location-specific style due to the particular nature of the Islay peat.

  4. Avatar
    Jason says:

    Thanks for posting this review. Your observation of how this one performs out of the bottle, and how it fades a bit over time in the glass, will no doubt prove useful when I finally crack my bottle open.

    I disagree with your definition of terroir, as you left out one extremely important ingredient: water. The water source used for making whisky is arguably more important than anything else — even the barley. The water is still sourced locally for most of them (so far as I’m aware), and that makes a unique impact.

    That said, I agree that the region classifications of Scotch may not be quite as useful or relevant anymore given how so many distilleries have been gobbled up by a few conglomerates who then computerize production with the same commercial peat and standardized mash bills. Water can have only so much influence, and I fear that as that “standardized” Scotch whisky from the past 10 or 15 years starts hitting the market after it is aged and bottled, we will really start to see the effects of this homogenization more and more in the coming decade. Islay and Campbeltown are likely to be two of the very few exceptions, bless them!

    Side note about the Springbank peat: I was told first-hand by a couple of the Springbank distillers in 2019 that they use two kinds of peat, and that the primary (and lighter) peat was sourced from all the way in eastern Scotland, somewhere in the general direction of Aberdeen. I don’t recall where the darker peat was sourced, but I know they used much less of it.

  5. Avatar
    Mark says:

    I would speculate that it’s one of those myths, perpetuated perhaps to deflect attention away from the fact that most Scotch whisky has zero provenance of ingredients, that water has much to do with whisky flavour. It went through a round of marketing some 15 years ago to create that effect. The water used at bottling is inert anyway – there via reverse osmosis.

    Terroir – as with wine, as with cider, as with anything I’m afraid – is about the raw material plant. In this case, barley.

  6. Jeremy
    Jeremy says:

    It has been a while since water was argued much for having an impact on flavour, but it was of course regarded very important many years ago when locating distilleries. They spent a long time trying to fix the “problem” of Glenglassaugh harder water to make a certain style of new make as one example. Could you not partly argue though that having inert water is why it has little/no effect, in the same way you can argue a barley grown for maximum yield will have little effect on the flavour? I guess it also depends what water you mean – that in the distillation, or that in diluting cask strength stuff. Depending what is in the water it does affect fermentation, and therefore flavours too. I guess distilleries choose their water carefully. which is why we don’t think about it much (but if they get it wrong it can be very obvious).

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