We’re delighted to welcome a new voice to The Dramble team. Zander’s passion for all things whisky started at the University of Edinburgh’s Water of Life Society whilst he was studying for his PhD. He spent a year as the Society’s whisky broker – selecting themes and whiskies as well as presenting at tastings. As an applied health statistician by day, and like with his work, he enjoys taking a detailed and thoughtful approach to the whiskies he tastes. Today he presents his ‘inaugural release’ for The Dramble with an in depth look at spirit cuts and a review of Hazelburn 10 year old. Welcome Zander!
When whisky drinkers think of triple distillation, their minds are likely to turn to Ireland and, in Scotland, to Auchentoshan. For these whiskies, triple distillation is generally touted as a virtue because it produces a lighter spirit that tastes more floral and fruity. Thanks to some key differences in production, Hazelburn – Springbank’s unpeated, triple-distilled variant – is far from a typical triple-distilled whisky.
The cut points in the second and third distillations are very different with Hazelburn compared to most triple distilled whisky. The first distillation in triple distillation almost always proceeds as in double distillation; no cuts are made and all of the low wines are taken forward. In the second distillation of the three, Auchentoshan and Midleton make one cut to make the spirit lighter; the higher strength portion is taken forward to the spirit still, while the lower strength portion is redistilled in the intermediate still. With Hazelburn, the second distillation is a blank run where no cuts are taken. This means there is more copper contact but the heavier compounds remaining are carried forward to the spirit still.
In the spirit still run, each distillery splits their run as normal into heads (foreshots), hearts – the new make spirit taken forward to be matured into whisky – and tails (feints). Auchentoshan boasts that it has one of the narrowest spirit still cuts around. The heart of its run is from 82% ABV to 80% ABV. They take an early, narrow cut because they want the typical light and delicate character provided by triple distillation. In great contrast, Hazelburn has a later, wider hearts run, from 78% ABV to 63% ABV. The wide cut means that Hazelburn distillate has some fruity, malty elements from earlier in the run, but is overall a rather heavy, oily spirit due to the character they keep from the late part of the run.
Aside from the distillation cuts, Hazelburn also possesses the various production quirks of all Springbank distillery whiskies. These include the barley being floor malted at the distillery, a small amount of yeast being pitched into the washbacks, and a unique mix of still heating and spirit condensation methods. Hazelburn’s unusual approach to triple distillation might confuse some consumers if it was mass marketed. But it won’t appear on supermarket shelves anytime soon, and as it is a bit of a Springbank remix, Springbank’s cult following is more than happy enough to keep buying the very small quantities produced.
Today’s whisky is Hazelburn 10 year old, which is currently the only regularly available Hazelburn bottling. It is matured in bourbon casks before being bottled at 46% ABV, non-chill filtered and natural colour. According to the bottle, this batch was bottled on 5th September 2017 (batch 17/405). You can pick up your own bottle from Master of Malt for £37.99.
Nose: Lemons and gooseberries sit atop a mineralic sheen of flint. With time, musty earth emerges. We’re smelling citrus somewhere between a wet, rocky shore and a dunnage warehouse. Adding water amplifies the damp rocks and adds hints of engine oil.
Taste: With a waxy and oily mouthfeel, the entry is sweet and citric on lemons and pineapple. The mineralic character is still there on the mid-palate, as are hints of salt, forest floor and farmy peat. In the back palate, there is ginger and a little black pepper from the bourbon casks. With water, the citrus gets juicier and creamier – lemon yoghurt – and the mineralic notes of damp seaside rocks are intensified.
Finish: Initially gentle farmy peat, then the linger is a balance of citrus sweetness at the front of the mouth and bitter cask char at the back.
Hazelburn 10 year old is one of the best entry level, unpeated, bourbon cask-matured malts available. Like others in that category, it has some fruity sweetness, but it also has more complexity than most whiskies at this age and price point. Compared to the two-and-a-half times distilled, lightly peated Springbank, the triple distillation seems to have added citrus, while the wide cuts and unpeated barley have put the focus on minerals and must rather than farmy peat. Although unpeated barley has been used, there are subtle hints of peat, perhaps unintentionally added by using refill Springbank or Longrow casks. Lovely whisky, and a great reminder that there is often a lot more to whisky production than the producers say on the tin.