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Sunday, 4 June 2017

Hazelburn 10 Year Old Whisky Review!

I must admit I haven't gone out of my way to try Hazelburns. Being the un-peated and triple-distilled whisky produced by Springbank, I didn't think it could possibly push my buttons like the other two single malts from the distillery do. Was I right, or was I wrong?

I should declare that I'm not generally a big fan of triple-distilled whisky or whiskey, I usually find that they lose character and even flavour when compared to double-distilled variants. But Springbank may just knock this theory on the head, since their other malts have so much character. Plus the whisky bottled under the regular Springbank label is already 2.5 times distilled, in a complicated system where (very basically) a portion of the spirit from each run is distilled for a third time, and the remainder is not. But having said that, said Springbank-labelled whisky is also lightly peated, while Hazelburn is completely un-peated. So will that delicious Campbeltown oiliness still be present? Or will the trademark Springbank 'funk' be dialled down or deleted altogether? Either way, this is going to be a interesting one!

Triple-distilled Scotch single malts are not particularly easy to come by these days, with lowland distillery Auchentoshan probably being the most widely known current practitioner, and Rosebank (RIP) probably being the most widely known past practitioner. While most distilleries generally have their pot stills in pairs, those who practice triple distillation regularly will often have sets of three, a wash still, an intermediate still, and a spirit still. This is not always the case though, some use the same still for two distillations, particularly at distilleries where the majority of their whisky is not triple distilled. After this extra distillation the new make spirit is higher in alcohol, and has also had more copper contact and more reflux during the extra distillation. This generally gives a lighter, 'cleaner' and more floral or fruity character to the whisky, as heavier flavour compounds were left behind in the still, and any sulphurous compounds were taken care of by the extra copper contact.    

This is in fact the first Hazelburn whisky that I've sat down and properly reviewed, not counting the small sip of the impressive Rundlets & Kilderkins release I tasted last year, so it's fitting that I'm reviewing the entry level 10-year old as my first proper foray into the brand. Like all single malts from our beloved Springbank distillery, it's bottled at 46%, naturally coloured and non-chill filtered, and every step of the process is carried out on-site. As you may recall, Springbank is currently the only distillery in Scotland that can make this claim. From floor malting 100% of the barley for their use, to steeping and mashing, to distillation, maturation, and finally bottling of three distinctly different whiskies, it all goes on at the distillery.

Those three whiskies are the double-distilled and heavily peated Longrow, the 2.5-times distilled and lightly peated Springbank, and the triple-distilled and un-peated (the barley is dried only with hot air) Hazelburn that we're looking at today, which was first added to the Springbank line-up in 1997. This 10-year old ex-bourbon cask matured expression first appeared in 2014, and is now the entry level Hazelburn bottling. It's quite reasonably priced at around $120 AUD on average, although this does leave it $10-20 above the great value Springbank 10-year old, most likely due to the more expensive production process. Shall we?

Hazelburn 10-year old, 46%. Campbeltown, Scotland. 
Triple-distilled, un-peated single malt produced by Springbank Distillery. Ex-bourbon cask matured, non-chill filtered, natural colour. 

Colour: Pale gold.

Nose: Light, clean & fruity. Fresh red & green apples, and quite a lot of musty-ness, like an old factory floor (and what I imagine a dunnage warehouse to smell like). A little lemon oil, some honey, a hint of acetone, and some balsamic vinegar. 

Texture: Light-medium weight, clean with a slight touch of heat. 

Taste: Light & clean again, more of that musty-ness, almost an earthy & mushroom-y flavour. More lemon oil, and a good pinch of chilli spice. Hint of barley and some sawdust. 

Finish: Short & very light. The apple from the nose returns, and the lemon oil is still there, plus an ethanol / acetone that dries the mouth out. 

Score: 3 out of 5. 

Notes: A good quality dram as we can expect from Springbank, but if you ask me the triple distillation and lack of any peat influence has really held back the complexity, texture and finish that we'd expect from this distillery. There's still a bit of that Springbank 'funk' to be found here, which is a relief, but it's been subdued a little too much if you ask me. From what I remember, the Rundlets & Kilderkins version of Hazelburn was much more complex and frankly more enjoyable than this standard 10-year old. And despite the jump in price, I'd say it's well worth it if you're searching for a good introduction to Hazelburn. Well, provided you can still find a bottle of the "R&K" in your neck of the woods. There is also a 12-year old sherry cask matured version of Hazelburn, but I'm yet to try this one myself.

While I did enjoy this dram, based on what I've tried so far, I can pretty safely say that triple distilled whisky is not really my thing. Although I enjoyed the Rosebank I was lucky enough to try, I'm still yet to come across a triple distilled whisky that I would gladly swap with one that was double distilled (or the 2.5-times distilled Springbank). They just seem to lack the personality, character and texture that I look for in a dram, and there's often too much of an acetone or ethanol note that is still present, despite generally being bottled at a lower ABV than what I'm used to these days. I think this is also the main reason that I'm not generally a big fan of Irish whiskey, except for the double-distilled (and peated) Connemara that is.

So I can't say I was disappointed with this 10-year old Hazelburn, it is basically what I expected, but for my personal tastes this one can't hold a candle to the equivalent Springbank or Longrow expressions. But that's just my take, as always.