The road to Campbeltown is long wherever you commence from. As an accompaniment, it always seems to be raining. As arduous as the trek might be, the rewards outweigh the pitfalls. The cluster of distilleries and echoes of the past ensure that the town is a must visit for any whisky enthusiast.
Then there are the unexpected bonuses. A chance find in the Cadenhead’s shop or simply being in the right place at the right time. This logic or element of chance can be applied to the Cage that resides at the back of the store. Here one-offs from maturing casks have been bottled for your tasting pleasure. The unknown factor endures right until you crack open your purchase and go explore. My visits to the Cage have been mixed. Most times I’ve arrived a little later in the day only to find the shelves cleared out by a rampaging horde of Europeans who devour such things.
The statement I make on a regular basis regarding whisky is you cannot taste it all, nor can you purchase everything, but this doesn’t seem to stop some individuals from trying. Detouring for a moment. Last year’s Campbeltown Festival displayed a change where such moments became commonplace. Bottles were snapped up in vast quantities whilst some poor soul standing outside was denied their own moment to purchase. In effect, some friends speculated that the bottle-chasing-antics of Islay had finally descended onto Campbeltown. We’ll see given the Malt attendance this year.
Heading back to the Cage it was a midweek visit and the shelves had just been restocked. Longrow sadly was missing but there were some Springbank’s and there’s always Hazelburn no matter what. Immediately I purchased a Springbank specifically for the 2018 Gathering, where enthusiasts can bring a bottle to an evening event. As these Cage editions are not to be repeated, there’s no possibility of duplication at such a BYOB event and it gives attendees a unique option. Yes, I could have purchased more Springbank options but that’d be greedy. Instead I turned my attention to Hazelburn.
In terms of the whiskies produced at Springbank, Hazelburn is regarded as the runt of the litter. It lacks the peat of Longrow and the intricacies of Springbank itself. Being unpeated and triple distilled often means its shunned in favour of the more famous. Indeed, its a behaviour I may have shown myself until recent times when I’ve started to engage with Hazelburn a little more.
There were several Hazelburn examples on the shelves mostly in their teenage years but there was a specific example that really caught my interest. In pricing terms, the Cage commences at £55 and this allows a bottle up to 12 years in age. The human trait is therefore to max out your options and go for the oldest bottle within such a category. Such is life, but as previously stated there was a wee soul sitting there – apparently it had been resident by Cage standards for a prolonged period – that resonated. At 7 years old it was the youngest by far, an interesting choice and a mesmerising golden colour even in this dark and dusty corner of Campbeltown. Yet the real kicker was a strength of just 49.2% volume.
The beauty of whisky is that even with all the science, theories and standard practices there’s still the element of luck when it comes to mother nature. You can have 2 whiskies seemingly identical, both filled on the same day and residing next to one another in the warehouse, but the end results are tangibly different. Other Hazelburn options were present with most in the young teen bracket and verging on strengths of 60%, but I remained intrigued by the prospect of increased evaporation and cask interaction.
For the record, this refill bourbon hogshead was filled on 10th September 2010, resided in warehouse number 3 and rotation 169. This bottle was extracted on 9th November 2017 at a youthful 7 years of age before being deposited into the Cage. Time then to explore and see if my gut instinct was indeed correct.
Hazelburn 2010 7 year old – review
On the nose: symmetry between crushed almonds, honey and a touch of ginger. This develops into apricot, an oaty flapjack with plenty of syrup and orange marmalade towards the end. There’s a buttery density on the nose, red liquorice and a waft of smoke in the background. Water brings out chocolate orange, basil and a spent matchstick.
In the mouth: a little rusty, metallic even and then development. An orange liqueur brings some sweetness, followed by wine gums, apricots, putty and walnuts. There’s a redness here with apples and liquorice. Water delivers a light toffee, Jaffa cakes and cranberries.
Perfectly pleasant and wholesome. A whisky I’m enjoying the longer I spend with it. It lacks the youthful robustness you might associate with a 7 year old. An interesting natural Hazelburn without the interference of a wine or sherry cask. Tasty and for £55, I’m happy.