The best whiskies, I believe, are those that you enjoy without stopping to think or dissect too much. A case in point is the reliable and affordable Hazelburn 10-year-old, which I’ve enjoyed over the years without too much pondering.
Recently, I was prepping the Hazelburn 2003 Oloroso cask review and dropped into the MALT archives. It’s a wonderful dusty labyrinth of reviews, opinions and memories going back several years. Some robust opinions and dreadful memories do lurk around the darkest corners, including Phil; it always pays to tread carefully. From a personal standpoint, this resource is also a virtual memory bank that I can tap into now and again to recall when things weren’t so manic in whisky.
After dusting down a few old reviews and reminiscing just a little, it struck me that a notable absentee was the aforementioned staple Hazelburn. A bewildering oversight, much like the only recent debut of the Glenfiddich 12-year-old here on MALT. It’s good to go back and re-evaluate drams that you enjoyed heavily, or those that started you off on your own whisky journey, like the recent Oban 14-year-old; so I suppose in some ways, this article slots nicely into that theme, by chance.
The whole Hazelburn dynamic was underlined by a recent question we put out to the readership via our Instagram channel. It was simply: what whiskies would you like us to review or see more of on MALT? It was a useful barometer to gauge opinion and plan any Patreon purchases in the near future, certainly. More Hazelburn was one reply, and we’re putting that right, hopefully, with these reviews. Other comments were around festival releases, yet given our responsibilities during May, these might as well be luxury bottlings. If you’re not there, then you are relying on the goodwill of friends, which can always be a double-edged sword. Normally, these releases are swallowed up by the flippers anyways, but we’ll continue to fight our corner when we can.
Back to Hazelburn; when I think about this distillery, I tend to drift back to the detailed sketch in Alfred Barnard’s The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom. An essential reference text for any whisky fan, you can pick it up at Amazon for £30.49 if you wish to delve back into a bygone era and appreciate the roots of Scotch. Barnard’s jaunt is very much part whisky discovery and part travelogue. His foray to the (then) distilling capital of Scotland via the steamer Davaar is no different.
These steamers were a popular sight along the west coast of Scotland and allowed the local population to get away from Glasgow and explore the wonderful west coast. Trips to the islands and Oban were commonplace, as was a day out in Campbeltown. Barnard, much like his fellow passengers, was quite taken with the sea-going experience and fresh air.
Unlike many of his shipmates, few would have been in the midst of a whisky road trip, before when roads were fully formed for such a thing. His visit to Hazelburn is one of the most detailed, and therefore important. A couple of sketches lay out the sheer scale of the Hazelburn distillery, which was an early Campbeltown exponent. Allegedly established on the grounds of Parliament House where enemies of the King were executed, it was officially licensed in 1828. Like many distilleries from this period, it is likely it was in production prior to becoming legal.
Of particular interest are the ground floor plans of the distillery that back up the commitment of the rebuild in 1836. Hazelburn at this time was Campbeltown’s largest distillery and practised the triple distillation technique that you normally associate with Ireland. This has been replicated by Springbank today as their modern homage to this lost giant. A distillery that you can still envisage with the remaining buildings today, they have been reused for residential accommodation.
The sketches do give us some fascinating clues as to what Hazelburn was truly like. Take, for instance, the stills in this drawing below:
Initially, you’re not swayed by anything upfront but look at the two smaller stills, and their unique upper halves. Housed in the still room, which was 64 feet long, with a width of 32 feet and a height of 42, it confirms the scale of the enterprise, the largest wash still in Campbeltown situated on the left. At 7000 gallons, it is difficult to ignore. The feint and low-wines stills, in comparison, only had a capacity of 1800 each, and Barnard was fascinated by the heads of these stills—almost as much as the bizarre forked still at the Bowmore distillery. Within each of these stills, Barnard describes that they ‘are composed of 32 chambers or tubs in each still, terminating in a done just before passing into the worm’.
Each was enclosed in copper, and you have, effectively, an early condenser. This, in turn, could be deemed a forerunner for the Lomond still that was designed by Alistair Cunningham at Hiram Walker in 1955, and which gained popularity in the Scotch industry until the late 1970s. It would be fascinating to nose and taste the spirit that passed through these stills before working their way around a trio of worm tubs outside the still room itself. Campbeltown whiskies generally are historically referenced as being of variable quality right up until the decline of this distilling hotbed in the 1920s. However, Hazelburn, it could be argued, had the greatest reputation of them all for quality.
History detour aside, we’re now faced with this staple 10-year-old expression that hints at the bygone legacy of this lost distillery. A bonus of Hazelburn is that it remains overlooked, so there isn’t the fanfare or shop fighting to secure a bottle. You can purchase this core expression for £37.99 from Master of Malt, or for slightly more via the Whisky Exchange for £38.45, or Amazon will offer you the opportunity for £45.89. I’d also recommend the excellent book by David Stirk, The Distilleries of Campbeltown: The Rise and Fall of the Whisky Capital of the World, in either the paperback or Kindle formats via Amazon.
Hazelburn 10 year old – review
Colour: gold leaf.
On the nose: light, elegant and bursting with life. A rich syrup, ground almonds, a touch of smoke and oats. Lemongrass, a freshly combined flapjack and a floral nature. White chocolate, nectarines and Biscotti take us on a journey. Lime peel brings freshness and pine nuts, marzipan, apples, nutmeg and strawberries appear with patience. With water, more fruits are revealed alongside lemon and wood chips.
In the mouth: Meadow fruits with apples and pears, wine gums and white pepper. A glimpse of metallic with tin and a nice mouthfeel presence. More of that gentle smoke with almond Biscotti again. Peach on the finish with time revealing vanilla and more of the smoke. Water reveals chocolate and juicy fruits.
Classy and affordable; a rarity nowadays given the current whisky madness. I seriously considered awarding an 8/10 for this release. Whatever your experience, this Hazelburn will provide enough detail and interest whether as an opener, everyday or wee treat.
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