There we all were, coming to the end of an enjoyable tasting, under the MALT banner at Holyrood distillery. Bottles and drams were reverberating around attendees. Dora had picked the short straw with a Fettercairn sample from our mutual friend Roger. I too had a dram to consume, but we came to the agreement that she should write the piece given where do I go after my Fettercairn gimp comment – how do you follow Pulp Fiction?
In return, I would take up the keyboard for the Hazelburn duties that you’re about to discover. I’ve written about Campbeltown’s best whisky previously in some depth when tackling the staple 10-year-old 2018 release. I should return for the 2019 incarnation, but for now we’re firmly in the festival realm, which seems apt given the theme of the Edinburgh tasting.
Attendees will know I had my choice of bottles and I skipped on the Hazelburn 21-year-old. Distilled in July 1997, and then residing in a refill sherry hogshead until May 2019, this produced 222 bottles at a drinkable strength of 46%. Price at the time was an agreeable £250 yet I still decided against it. Partially due to the variable nature of sherry casks we’ve seen in Campbeltown which I’ve debated previously, but also a sense of not filling your boots. May is festival season and during 2019 there seemed to be more releases than midges. Sometimes you’ve got to step back and consider do I really need this in my life?
The Kilkerran and Longrow releases were younger but on paper at least represented more value. That proved a reasonable outlook given the performance of the 2019 Longrow at our tasting, which had a few attendees trying to source a bottle after immediately trying it.
Then there’s a growing weariness and awareness of sherry casks in my household; especially in younger whiskies which we’re seeing utilised by certain new distilleries. I’ve had a couple of episodes recently where I’ve had to write about a sherry matured whisky and have 3-5cl to work with. That’s my only alcohol that evening, yet I’ll wake up the next day with a headache. It’s not the alcohol at work here, but the use of aggressive sherry casks that can cause high histamine levels. There have been moves from some sherry producers to try and eliminate or reduce these levels to varying degrees and also some criticism. All alcohol contains histamines to a certain extent, yet I’ll quite happily drink a large proportion of a fine Old Pulteney in the darkest sherry cask known to man without any issues. In comparison, just a small amount of whisky from some modern day sherry casks will cause a reaction.
Or that’s at least the premise I’m working on. As far I can tell there hasn’t been much research into the levels of histamines in these types of casks – seasoned or otherwise – compared to more traditional sherry butts or even ex-bourbon casks from the same distillery, filled on the same day. I think the results would be interesting to say the least. Big strides have been made within the whisky industry to reduce ill-effects such as sulphur and soapiness. How about histamines? Is it even the issue? All relevant questions, with few answers to date – maybe someone is already on the case?
My thanks to @whitstablewhisky for coming along to the aforementioned tasting and handing over a generous sample of this Hazelburn to review. I’m optimistic we’re back on firm ground with this refill sherry hogshead. After all, Hazelburn is Campbeltown’s finest distillate in my opinion and many are finding pleasure within its wares nowadays. Dora also joins us to add another opinion.
Hazelburn 21 year old – Dora’s review
Colour: bronze gold.
On the nose: sweet with vanilla and honey. Fruits are there with watery red berries, dried goji berries and red jujube dates. There are also notes of muted redcurrants without the sourness. It is earthy and there is something metallic that I can’t quite put my finger on. Stewed oats giving that maltiness. Hints of lavender or something with a floral nature giving the whisky a fleeting soapiness that disappears almost instantly. Diesel fumes and bitter citrus rinds are quite heavy on the nose. Weirdly, I get buttery scrambled eggs with the heavy fattiness.
In the mouth: sweet like cotton candy grapes. It has a waxy, oily and buttery mouthfeel but it isn’t particularly thick or chewy. Bitter with rinds and dark chocolate that has a note of cherry in the background. Tannic with black tea, cloves and powdered ginger. There is a light white pepper burn and it is slightly rubbery. Oatiness from the nose come through and there is a resinous wood note. The finish is short to medium with a continuous tannic mouthfeel. There is a slight burn on the back of the throat where the top of the tongue dries slightly.
I enjoyed this whisky but felt that the taste did not last long enough. I found it was softer on the mouth than the nose suggested. On the first taste, initially what I received was very bitter and the finish was short; overtime as the whisky oxidised it opened up a lot more. The finish began to last longer where I could pick out lots more flavours. The soapiness I detected was barely there but when I did sense it, it wasn’t a bad note. What gave me a giggle was the scrambled eggs. It definitely threw me but I certainly smelled something very similar to it. I would happily drink more of this but it is indeed a pricey dram and unfortunately not something I would fork out for.
Hazelburn 21 year old – Jason’s review
Colour: golden syrup.
On the nose: honey and nothing sherry forward, ginger, homemade marmalade and almonds. There’s also white toast, iron, red grapes, plasticine and a waft of tobacco.
In the mouth: now there’s more sherry influence but thankfully not dominant. Integrated with the triple distilled spirit. Hazelnuts, leather, chocolate and orange peel. Red apples, shoe polish and green peppercorns. Malty and a surprising feature of waxiness on the texture. Caramel and the finish brings more wood and aniseed.
Overall, an enjoyable Hazelburn that scores highly on the quaffable scale. Being a refill cask does wonders with that sense of Campbeltown patience.
The price is an issue at £250. I appreciate this is a festival release and it is shame that the whisky has been reduced to 46% strength. The benefit is that the outturn numbers were boosted. Adding to that price justification is the distillation of 1997 – the first year that Hazelburn was revived at Springbank. Meaning that this is one of their oldest casks.
Even so, it does feel a little overpriced. Whilst I’m enjoying what I’m drinking, I’d rather take my chances in the Cadenhead’s Cage with 2 or 3 Hazelburn’s for the same price.
This Hazelburn is one to share with friends. Whether at the festival itself or further afield. A bottle split you’ll enjoy without breaking the bank. Let’s see if that headache returns in the morning…
Lead image kindly provided by Whisky Auctioneer.