House of Hazelwood

This past week was a very special one in my whisky journey. A while ago I was contacted by House of Hazelwood to see if I wanted to do a review on some of their rare and old whiskies, and last Monday two samples arrived at my doorstep: “Sunshine on Speyside” a 39-year-old blended malt, and “The Long Marriage” a 56-year-old blended scotch.

As a whisky enthusiast I obviously got very excited to do a review on such rare, old, and remarkable whiskies as this. Not in the last place because of the historical significance they represent. These drams have been hand selected from the Gordon family collection, which until now had never been released to the public. For those where the Gordon name does not ring a bell, allow me to elaborate the significance of this fact.

In 1923 William Grant’s grandson, Grant Gordon, joined the Glenfiddich distillery and while prohibition was still in full swing, he surprises the industry by increasing whisky production. This paved the way for the future of Glenfiddich, as by the end of prohibition they we’re one of the few distilleries left to meet the new surge in demand for whisky. In 1953 Charles Gordon became director of William Grant & Sons and was later joined by his younger brother Sandy. And once again their family revolutionised the world of whisky.

It was under their guidance that Glenfiddich released their “Straight” malt, which marked the beginnings of single malt Scotch as we know it today. Their love for Scotch – and the way they propelled whisky to become what it is today – play a big role in what makes the House of Hazelwood collection so special. Because these are whiskies that the Gordon family themselves thought to be special enough to store away in their private collection. And personally, I think if you ever get the chance to try a dram that was hand selected by one of whiskies all-time greats, that that’s a chance you take with both hands.

So, obviously that counted for me as well. But I felt compelled to do a little more than just a simple review and tasting notes. I wanted to share the story behind House of Hazelwood with you as well. House of Hazelwood and their whiskies are built on stories that deserve to be told and the enthusiasm of the team behind it shows that they feel the same way. I found the staff more than willing to provide me with information for this article and even director Jonathan Gibson was willing to set up an interview to answer my questions.

Last Friday that interview took place and in Jonathan Gibson I found a true whisky lover. I had prepared a couple of questions but in the end that wouldn’t have been necessary at all. The subject of Scotch and the whiskies I got to try flowed natural and it quickly became more of a conversation between fellow enthusiasts than an interview. His true passion for their line-up of whiskies also showed when he told me that he hoped the people would be drinking and not just collecting them. That they we’re always meant to be enjoyed and that every whisky in their line-up tells a story that deserves to be told. A story best heard while enjoying a wee dram.

His passion showed further from the way he spoke about the company’s philosophy: It’s Ready When It’s Ready. He told me that they don’t look to reach a certain age statement or reach a certain value. They just want to bring you the best whisky possible. If that means a whisky is at its best at 39 years, then that’s when it will be bottled. But if it takes fifty or more years, they have the luxury to patiently wait.

But it’s not just about age, it also means that they don’t look to reach a certain prestige. Grain whiskies for example, might not have the same good name as Single Malts. But they release them nonetheless, because they make extraordinary whiskies. He elaborated that grain whiskies are not only usually avoided by producers because of the prestige, but also because they take much longer to age to perfection. That’s why in their line-up you’ll find grain whiskies that have been distilled in 1964 and 1962!

Being able to release whiskies like that really stems from the fact that this collection was family owned. Because not many distilleries would put a grain whisky in a barrel and store it away just to see what it will taste like in sixty years. But the Gordon family always had a tremendous love for whisky and an adventurous streak as well. They we’re always curious to explore the possibilities of whisky as a category in general. Which led (among other things) to whiskies that were blended straight after they came off the still, and blended malts that have been married for 56 years.

One of the whiskies in their line-up was unique for a different reason: “The First Drop” is a bottling of the very first distillate that came off the Girvain distillery and had been left to age since 1964. It’s a true piece of Scottish distilling history and here you can see the tangible emotion that goes into these drams. The emotion lies in the fact that it was the very first which can never be recreated. But still, Jonathan emphasizes, it’s meant to be enjoyed. There’s a duality to it, because once it’s gone you can never get it back. But that makes enjoying it even more beautiful. The most beautiful memories in life are passing things but that’s why it’s good to enjoy them in the moment, just like you should do with these drams.

A fun fact about The First Drop: What makes this dram extra rare is the fact that a whopping 75%! of the liquid inside the barrels went to the angel’s share.

“Sunshine on Speyside” is a dram I also got to enjoy, and it shows another beautiful aspect of whisky. The fact that every whisky seems to have a mind of its own and its own story to tell. This bottling surprised a lot of people, as it managed to keep elements of a younger character even after 39 years. Jonathan had a beautiful way of describing how every whisky is unique: Ageing whiskies is like raising children; you can provide them with the same upbringing but when they grow up, they can be completely different from one another. They become their own person.

Even if you put the same spirit, in the same barrel, in the same warehouse, next to each other… the result will never be the same. Every whisky is unique and has its own story. And for me personally that’s exactly why I like to sit back with a dram and let the nose, palate, and finish, tell me its story.

For Jonathan there’s a very personal aspect attached to whisky as well. He was born and raised in Scotland, but moved to London after getting married. And getting to work with the Gordon family collection keeps him connected to his roots. Because whisky is so evocative of Scottish culture. It also doesn’t hurt of course that he gets to make work trips to Speyside. When he visits and sees the sun set on the freshly harvested fields of barley, he can feel himself unwind. It’s like coming home.

I think it’s beautiful to see the love people have for whisky, and for the people of House of Hazelwood that’s certainly the case. Their passion for the product is almost tangible and it made it a joy to talk to them about the subject. None of the conversations were business like. They were filled with the same passion and love so many of us have for our dram. And I would like to take this opportunity to thank them all for the amazing whiskies I got to try, but also especially for the great conversations I had with fellow enthusiasts. Jonathan, Katy, and Kyle: Thank you so much! It was a pleasure getting to know all of you. I’m convinced that under your passionate guidance House of Hazelwood is going to keep doing great things for the whisky community.

I would implore you all to have a look at their website. To read their story and keep an eye on the latest news. They have amazing things going on and there will be some exciting releases coming soon. For example: a peated expression is on the horizon! You can sign up as a Keyholder if you want to make sure you get all the latest news. But also the first chance to buy new offerings and perhaps take part in future events. Best of all, signing up is free! You can read all about it at https://www.houseofhazelwood.com/

And while you’re there… have a look at the Whisky Concierge if you’re in the market for something truly special. You might just end up creating a whisky from the Gordon family collection stocks yourself!

To finish this article off with a big bang, I will give you the tasting notes of the drams I got to try. And I can already tell you one thing, tasting them was an experience I will never forget! And for the afficionados out there: They’re both bottled un-chillfiltered, with natural colour, and at cask strength!

Tasting Notes: House of Hazelwood, The Long Marriage

Stats:

ABV: 48,7% (97,4 proof)

Age: 56 years old

Bottled by: House of Hazelwood

Collection: The Charles Gordon Collection

Category: Blended Scotch Whisky (Cask Strength)

Chill Filtered: No

Natural Colour: Yes

Nose:

I will admit that some of these tasting notes are similar to the ones mentioned on their own website. Not because I’m copy pasting but because they really did a great job, and I couldn’t agree more. Just like them I find candlewax, paraffin, and old lacquered wood. If you put your nose too deep into the glass there’s a varnish note that can overwhelm. But if you keep enough distance from the glass, the nose is well layered and balanced. They also write about the sensation of stepping into an old Victorian home, but my mind immediately went to my grandfather.

He used to have a little chamber where he would do his wood working and even though he never got an eduction, there was nothing he couldn’t make. I felt myself stepping into that room again as a little child. The time we made a sailboat out of a wooden shoe together. I had a very special bond with my grandfather, and the memory from this nose was so intense that it brought tears to my eyes. Never before have I experienced that from a whisky and I’m so grateful that it happened that day. Because they were tears of joy, as it almost felt like I got to see him one last time.

Palate:

This is the thickest whisky I ever had, without a doubt. It’s almost like a maple syrup, without being overly sweet though. If you’ve ever had aged maple syrup, that would be a better reference point. There’s also coffee and a type of hard candy we have in the Netherlands called “Hopjes”. There’s some cinnamon spice here as well and a little oak bitterness. I also get thick molasses and strangely enough the candlewax and lacquered wood show up on the palate as well… not that I ever tasted those. But they were there.

Finish:

Like their website says: Meandering. It’s a lovely word to describe it. It’s quite dry and bitter, but also sweet. If you ever had a Turkish tea, that’s what it reminds me off. A very strong flavour that lingers. This is a wonderful whisky to do some breathing exercises with, because every breath lights up the finish again.

Verdict:

What a ride this whisky took me on, even now thinking back on it sends those memories of my grandfather flying back into my mind. But while I was sipping it, it felt like I was there again. This is a wonderful complex whisky and because of the ride it took me on it is the whisky I rate the highest of everything I ever had, and likely it will stay just that for a very long time. It has a much stronger and more outspoken character though which might not be for everyone. Where the Sunshine on Speyside is a dram anyone can appreciate, this one requires a palate that fits. But when it does… magic!

Rating:

98/100

Tasting Notes: House of Hazelwood, Sunshine on Speyside

Stats:

ABV: 42,5% (85 proof)

Age: 39 years old

Bottled by: House of Hazelwood

Collection: The Legacy Collection

Category: Blended Malt Scotch Whisky (Cask Strength)

Chill Filtered: No

Natural Colour: Yes

Nose:

The nose is bright and sweet. There’s pineapple on the nose stronger than anything I ever smelled in a whisky before. There’s honey straight from the comb, cherry blossom, and old-fashioned hard candy. A little red apple and some cinnamon is there too, and altogether it paints a beautiful picture in my mind. I’m 9 years old again, it’s one of the first warm days of springtime and the cherry blossoms are in bloom. There’s a fair in town and I’ve just bought myself some hard candy from the old-fashioned candy stand. I sit down underneath the blossom tree as the petals swirl around. I enjoy the candy before going back home as it’s almost dinner time and my mother would surely tell me to put it away, so I won’t spoil my appetite.

Palate:

On the palate I immediately get tea, and that note lingers throughout the experience. But there’s also spiciness, not overwhelming but very mild. It’s complex and the sweetness and spiciness play off each other well. The pineapple from the nose seems to have turned into a mango. And combined with the spice it almost reminds me of a curry with mango chutney on the side. The honey from the nose finds its way back as well.

Finish:

The finish is very long and wonderful. The tea note is still very much present and every breath you take feels like you’re taking another sip. The pineapple turns to a peach and there’s some mild liquorice root as well. And at the very end it turns to salmiac liquorice. It’s ever evolving, like a dream you don’t want to wake up from.

Verdict:

Drinking this whisky was an amazing experience. It really swept me away and took me on a wonderful trip down memory lane. A truly unique scotch and something to enjoy on a very special occasion. It’s clear and bright, the aspects of a younger scotch remain but the harsher sides have worn down. A dram that I expect even non whisky drinkers will greatly enjoy.

Rating:

96/100

Click here to learn more about how I come up with my tasting notes and how I determine rating and value.

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