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 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.
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.