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Hazelburn 2003 13 year old oloroso cask

I’m often asked for my favourite sleeper or “under-the-radar” distillery. Of course, part of the remit is not giving away your personal indulgences, guilty or otherwise, as you face losing them in the end. In recent times, there’s been a groundswell of opinion around Ben Nevis and Glenlossie, to name but two.

This is underlined by the fact that some of our most popular articles on MALT haven’t been the dinosaurs like Balvenie, Glenfiddich, Highland Park or Macallan. They’ve been the bright young things and old names rising from the grave such as Ben Nevis that have been overlooked for generations. These statistics have been a welcome surprise, including to our own Mark, who exclaimed his shock that the Other Side of Ben Nevis article was proving popular as it was. Personally, it just goes to show the thirst amongst our readership and beyond for whiskies that deliver, rather than being saturated, in marketing.

Although technically slightly cheating, I’ll add Hazelburn to any possible suggestions when prompted. This triple-distilled distillate from Springbank has been coming into its own lately, with some hugely enjoyable releases. However, as any dedicated Springbank enthusiast will tell you when it comes to sherry casks, there is a huge variation in the final result. I’ve had some enjoyable Hazelburn’s followed by some tannic or sulphur-ridden manifestations; so much so, that I skipped the offer of a 21-year-old expression as part of the Campbeltown 2019 Festival, for £250.

I’ll kick myself later in 2019, as it’ll turn out to be a glorious expression of Hazelburn, but the fear had sunk in and firmly encased my wallet. This is exactly the same fear that held me back from picking up the 8-year-old Springbank release from fresh sherry casks as a part of the same festival outturn. Springbank regulars will know to try before you buy, or even amongst some friends I know: stay away.

As mentioned in a previous article, sulphur isn’t just the result of the cask exclusively; it can arise from various elements during the distillation phase. Throw into the Campbeltown swirl that some of us are more susceptible to sulphur than others and you have a recipe for potential disaster.

Speaking industry-wide here, I wonder what crosses the mind of the team responsible for putting together a release when faced with such a situation. Surely someone within that cluster has picked up the sulphur? Is there an emphasis on “it’ll sell anyway, given the current buoyant market conditions?” Is there such thing as a whisky “bad news” day, where you can slip out any release into the drooling public domain, and still sail onwards, unaffected? I’m more prone to soapiness that I’ve picked up on several Balvenie releases in recent times that have been worryingly saturated.

I’m not that overly prone to sulphur, and if anything, I do enjoy that rubber characteristic when it is part of the equation, rather than the dominant, bludgeoning force. Hazelburn, after all, was one of the classier Campbeltown distilleries, from historical accounts…whether it was in the glass as a characterful, triple-distilled whisky, or externally, with its neatly-defined warehousing and buildings to the forefront, and the distillation buildings to the rear.

Then, for all my love of Hazelburn, I have to admit for others, it remains the third-best distillate produced at the Springbank distillery. Some friends, and I include Rose in this number, really struggle to find any positive appreciation for Hazelburn, despite my buoyant twelve-year-old, boyish enthusiasm. At least I’m not alone, as Mark did enjoy a very similar 13-year-old Hazelburn bottled at 47.1% a couple of years ago that was released in an outturn of 12,000 bottles. However, Hazelburn is far from infallible, even in my own truant, gazing eyes. The Barolo cask matured release being very much a case-in-point; I just cannot love it in any shape or form.

This Hazelburn was bottled at 47.4% in April 2018 after being distilled 13 years prior in October 2004. The outturn of 9000 bottles promptly sold out—certainly in the UK—but you may find a dusty example on a shop shelf somewhere further afield. My thanks to @fromwhereidram for the sample, and for the opportunity to re-evaluate this Hazelburn on a more detailed level.

Hazelburn 2003 13 year old oloroso cask – review

Colour: bashed copper.

On the nose: dry, crisp, forest foliage and rhubarb with elements of rubber noticeable but not detrimentally so. Rubbed brass, red chicory and radishes followed by toffee and blackberry jam. There’s a coffee note that prompts memories of work colleagues with hot roasted black coffee each morning. More subdued notes of fig and nutmeg follow.

In the mouth: very sweet initially and chewy. Raspberries arrive with a tangy nature and blood orange. There’s some rubber again but not forceful and the sharpness of alcohol on the fringes. Hazelnuts, plump red fruits and chocolate soil. Tobacco is noticeable with ginger and a dry finish.

Conclusions

I like this release but it is very sherry forward, or should I say very sweet sherry forward?

Those of you who like and enjoy heavily sherried whiskies will find some satisfaction within the bottle. For someone like myself who appreciates the intricacies of the triple distilled Hazelburn; there’s a sense of eradication by the cask. A thermonuclear blast of the sherry cask.

The impression of Hazelburn is very much relegated to a residue. A faint impression of what might have been. As a sherried whisky, you can score this a 7, but for my own personal taste, I want to explore the Hazelburn style and engage with it. Instead, this is all about the sherry and arguably could have come from several distilleries.

Score: 6/10

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. Avatar

    I found the 21yo Hazelburn for this years festival a bit bland, TBH – no sulphur though
    We tried the above reviewed 13yo Hazelburn and I found a bit of sulphur in that one – nothing really offensive, but given that I’m very sensitive to those notes it came through clearly for me.

    Instead I found 8yo Springbank Open Day a very nice dram – and sulphur free 🙂

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hiya Malt Desk, pleased the Springbank was indeed fresh and no taint. Interesting that the 21yo didn’t do much. I’m sure the trip was well worth it!

  2. Avatar
    Matthew says:

    Hi Jason. I found the Hazelburn 13 just a bit too sherry dominant also hence the reason I never purchased the 14 this year. I think the cadenhead 12 sherry blend is just as good an option that fits well in this category at a much leasser price.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Matthew

      Yes, I can understand your thoughts. Too often we’re obsessed with colour and some like a heavily sherried whisky. Sometimes, I feel folk would be better buying a sherry for their love of the dominant influence. I find too many sherry casks today rather blunt instruments and lack the subtle nature of butt’s from the 1960s and 1970s etc.

      Those were truly great sherry influenced whiskies and showed a complexity that many today lack. The IG generation are focused on visuals rather than what lies beneath. On colour this scores well, but we don’t score on that basis. We’ll have another Hazelburn review later this month as well.

  3. Avatar
    Duncan says:

    I find the sulphuric element of Springbank a bit bewildering. I’ve had a wonderful cage first fill sherry Springbank without a hint of sulphur. The 12 cask strength has elements of it (at a nice level I find). But I find the longrow fresh sherry cask from last year a bit too much. What surprised me was the longrow port cask from the festival last year was hugely sulphuric for me and my friends. And even this year’s longrow red has a hint. So, sometimes none when perhaps expected, and sometimes too much when very little was expected. In a way adds to the charm, but I do wish it was more predictable in order to make better buying decisions. One thing is for sure, fresh bourbon barrel Springbank or longrow are both magnificent.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Duncan, yes with the cage bottlings you are venturing onto a liquid minefield. Managing to purchase any Springbank nowadays can be an ordeal so it’s dangerous if things don’t turn out how you expected. All part of the charm if you’re prepared to roll the dice.

      I reckon we are more forgiving towards Springbank because of the traditional and community characteristics.

    2. Avatar
      Welsh Toro says:

      I hear you Duncan. I had a massive sulphur Longrow 18 about 6 or 7 years ago. It really was like drinking struck matches. Not nice at all. Springbank is a great distillery but we shouldn’t just buy, blindly, every thing they produce.

    3. Avatar
      bifter says:

      I’ve had a fair few Springbanks and Longrows over the years and must have been very lucky, as I’ve never come across sulphur in those expressions. Jim Murray took a few pelters for calling out the issue some years ago, but sulphur continues to haunt the industry. As Jason says, surely the producers must know when they’re releasing something that smells like a Scalextric set, wouldn’t it be the decent thing to at least call it out in the tasting notes?

      Recently I took a bottle of the new Tamnavulin Sherry Cask back to Tesco and also discovered sulphur in Spey Tenné and Tullibardine 228 Burgundy Cask Finish (fortunately other people’s bottles). It always seems to afflict wine casks (red wine, port, sherry, etc) but the common factor can’t be the wood as Oloroso, for example, is matured in American oak as far as I’m aware. We hear that brimstone candles are banished these days so is it just to do with the chemical interactions? Whatever, it is a taint and I wouldn’t have any hesitation in taking it up with a producer or retailer in the expectation of an exchange or refund.

      1. Jason
        Jason says:

        Hi Bifter, thanks for dropping by.

        You’re correct in that is something isn’t as expected, then we should take it back, or at least contact the producer to voice our dissatisfaction. Sulphur can be from the distilling, or the cask, or perhaps in Jura’s case; both. There’s probably also something to be said for the quality of the sherry that goes into casks nowadays. The majority we see are ‘seasoned’ casks with some of the lower-end sherry (putting it mildly), rather than top-class material. Perhaps we’re now smelling and tasting sherry casks, as they mostly have always been without the camouflage of paxarete? It’s a fascinating area. Some say I don’t like sherry casks, but I always reply that I just like good sherry casks and such things are thin on the ground nowadays.

        I’m more prone to soap and I’ve had a couple of soapy casks recently. We do have a big name release incoming that I found to be terribly soapy. So much so, if I was an everyday consumer, I’d contact the distillery about it and I know others have picked up on the soapy aspect after trying the bottle. However, we’ll voice our displeasure in the review.

  4. Avatar
    Welsh Toro says:

    Excellent review Jason. I had a Longrow 18 some years back and I can still taste the sulphur. I really like the Hazelburn 10 which I believe to be a remarkably underrated whisky. I know a place that still sells this Hazelburn 13 but I’ve been reluctant to pull the trigger for the reasons you describe. The regular 10 year displays a kind of perfect Hazelburn style. Putting Hazelburn in oloroso casks for 13 years seems to be a recipe for changing that style and removing distillery character. I’m sure the end result is good but where has the Hazelburn gone? A few years ago Springbank released a 12 year Green (organic) ex-bourbon and I’m very fond of it. The following year came the Green 13 ex-sherry and I didn’t like it – those are strong words for me. Even now I wan’t to buy it but my sensible gremlin is telling me no.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi WT, thanks again. I passed on a more recent Hazelburn sherry release as it looks another heavily influenced version. Like you say, the 10yo has so much more to say and is a knockout dram. Great value as well. We’ll be reviewing that before the end of the month as its been a criminal oversight here at MALT. One I’ve enjoyed without actually getting around to writing about it.

      Here’s hoping for more straightforward Hazelburn soon. A friend just picked up an 8yo bourbon cask cage bottling for me so looking forward to that; more than any 25yo heavily sherried (and overpriced) Springbank from Douglas Laing.

  5. Avatar
    Dan W says:

    I had a sample of the 13 oloroso Hazelburn from a friend. He liked it but I found the sherry dulled it a bit. The only other Hazelburn I’ve had is the standard 10. Which I really like and rate much higher than this one and about £20 cheaper to boot.

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