Today, let’s take a look at a Hazelburn 8 year old Single Malt whisky from the Springbank distillery. The whisky we are reviewing was distilled June 2002 and bottled February 2011 at an abv of 55.9%. Maturation was 5 years in Refill Bourbon casks, then 3 years in French Oak Limousin Sauternes casks. Outturn was 9,180 bottles.
Springbank is one of the last remaining Campbeltown distilleries in an area that was, at one time, so prominent that it was referred to as the Whisky Capital of the World! The size of its industry combined with the unique style of its malts helped Campbeltown become one of the formally recognized whisky regions along with Islay, Speyside, the Highlands, the Islands, and the Lowlands.
Unfortunately, several factors combined to decimate this once thriving industry: World War I, Prohibition in the US, and greed. The first two factors are fairly self-explanatory. Like many other distilleries in the UK, Springbank closed during WWI due to restrictions on the use of barley implemented by the government to ensure sufficient supplies of bread for the country’s populace.
Prohibition was perhaps even more significant to Campbeltown. At its peak, Campbeltown was a major exporter of whiskies to the United States. Campbeltown’s location on the far west coast of Scotland and its harbor made shipping more efficient. As a result, Campbeltown found a welcoming market for its whiskies in the US.
But this is where the third factor comes into play. In attempts to satiate the seemingly limitless demand for their whiskies, distilleries began cutting corners, ultimately producing inferior whiskies – some downright terrible. While the Campbeltown whisky industry might have survived both WWI and Prohibition, the poor quality of their whiskies almost put the final nail in the Campbeltown whisky industry’s coffin.
From a high of over thirty distilleries in the early 20th Century, by the early 1930’s only two remained.
Today, Campbeltown has three* active distilleries: Springbank, Glengyle and Glen Scotia. I put an asterisk on the number three because Glengyle was only recently restarted by the owners of Springbank. Glengyle produces Kilkerran whiskies, but that’s for another day. The third distillery, Glen Scotia, was frequently silent, sometimes for many years, and in other years it only produced part-time. In fact, it was often Springbank distillery personnel who went over to Glen Scotia part-time to produce whisky to keep the stills and equipment in working order.
Springbank itself produces three distinct lines of whisky under different names; Hazelburn, which is unpeated and triple distilled; Springbank, which is both lightly peated and, uniquely, 2.8 distilled (more on that when I review a Springbank release); and Longrow, which is their heavily peated whisky. In addition to these primary styles, Springbank, like so many other distilleries, has also experimented with alternative maturation and finishing methods using various wine casks.
The name Hazelburn comes from the name of a Campbeltown distillery that closed in the 1920’s. The name was revived by Springbank and, in 2005, they release the first official bottling of Hazelburn 8-year old. Now, Springbank is releasing three age statement bottlings of Hazelburn, an 8, 12 and just recently an 18 year old. They are also releasing various age whiskies with differing maturation and finishing styles.
Review: Hazelburn 8 year-old Single Malt whisky
Color: Bronze, dark mahogany
(Neat) Nose: Surprisingly floral, a bit winey and with loads or raisins. There is a hint of bonfire smoke – interesting since Hazelburn is non-peated. Some vanilla sweetness, oak spices, particularly some white pepper.
Taste: A rather delicate entry, especially for such a high abv. Starts fruity, but then becomes more winey. Tart and sweet, shows a coastal-ness with bit of sea spray, and some mineral earthiness. Comes across as older than its 8 years.
(Water) Nose: water brings out stronger notes from the French Oak, a touch of sweet grapes, and more herbal. But it also shows more damp earth and minerality now. Quite interesting!
Taste: again, this is a fruity sweet arrival. More apples, berries along with raisins. A splash of citric tartness.
Finish: The finish is somewhat short. Starts with the fruity sweetness and wine notes, a blast of lemon citric tartness, and with a slightly tannic bitterness at the end.
Overall: This is a fun and interesting whisky. The wine maturation – not sure you can qualify three-years as a finish – adds some benefits, but also interjects some minor flaws to this one. At times there is a grapey-winey note that sits just outside the pocket of where it should be. Yet at other times it adds an intriguing sweetness that complements the floral and herbal notes. The nose is better without water, but the palate improves slightly, with the flavors becoming bolder, denser. A nice balance of coastal fruitiness and herbal/floral notes with enough tannins to mitigate the sweetness. If only the wine aspects were better integrated…..
Type: Single Malt Whisky
Age: 8 year-old (bottled 2011)
Maturation: 5 years Refill Bourbon, 3 years French Oak Limousin (Sauternes)
Availability: Unavailable at retail
Sample Source: Sorin T.