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.
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.