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6 February 2024

House Of Hazlewood Autumn Collection

I was going to start this feature by saying “Once in a while” but it needs to start with “Once in a generation”

House of Hazelwood launched earlier this year as an independent bottler. Its USP is not that it buys in barrels of whisky to bottle, but that the Gordon family has owned them for decades. This is quite extraordinary – these prized barrels, purchased long before most of us were born, must be considered family jewels, handed down through the generations. Treasured family heirlooms are being shared with the world. Of course, there are other bottlers doing this, but they have been releasing whisky for decades. This is akin to someone finding a collection of old masterpieces and showing them to the world for the first time. You will not find youthful whisky being released here, the youngest they have released so far is 33 years old. 

I have taken moments to reflect on this, which encapsulates what I love about whisky. With exceptional wood management, whisky has the ability to age, not indefinitely, but to a peak. When that peak occurs is unknown at the outset. Would the distillers in 1963 (the 58-year-old and oldest of the House of Hazelwood’s current releases) have envisaged the spirits they made, not being bottled until 2022 with only 74 bottles, due to the Angels Share being sold globally? 

To me, this range of whisky brings excitement and intrigue. My mind races as to what the family has stored throughout Scotland. My guess is a substantial number of barrels at premium distilleries, maturing slowly for us to discover, and for future generations of our own families. 

I plan on covering future releases from the House of Hazelwood and writing more in-depth about them. In the meantime, and as an introduction to the brand, I asked Jonathan Gibson, the Marketing Director of House of Hazelwood a few initial questions-:

The House of Hazelwood collection is remarkable – how hard has it been to curate and develop a release schedule?  

We are in the fortunate position of being able to build on the foresight, creative thinking and endeavours of generations of the Gordons that came before us. Over the course of much of the last century, the family laid down stocks of whisky for long-term ageing, at times out of intellectual curiosity (exploring the impact of certain casks on certain styles of malt, grain and blends) but also with personal consumption and gifting in mind. Much of this happened throughout periods when greatly aged Scotch whisky was neither fashionable nor in demand, showing remarkable prescience and perhaps an instinct for what would come in the years ahead. 

The stocks grew over time and improved with age and today we are able to open the doors to what is without question an unrivalled inventory of greatly aged, rare and collectable Scotch whisky. These are truly remarkable liquids; the consequence of remarkable thinking, brave decision-making and the luxury of time that private family ownership brings. As you suggest, the main challenge we have today is finding our way through the stocks and curating a collection intended to be at once diverse yet with an identity of its own. Our ambition in doing so is that the whiskies we present today reflect the family and individuals that laid the original stocks down all those years ago – their mindset, their character, and their ambitions. These should all shine through in the releases we bring to market. 


What is the oldest whisky you have and when do you think it will be released? 

You will understand that we need to keep some cards close to our chest, but I can tell you that we have some exceptionally old stocks in the inventory. We are also fortunate that many of these whiskies are at a strength and of a character that means that they will continue to improve for a number of years. 

In terms of exactly when our oldest release will be made available, that’s hard to answer today. We have a few very simple rules that we use when selecting whiskies for release under the House of Hazelwood name. One of these is that the whisky is ready when it is ready. I honestly couldn’t tell you when that will be for our oldest stocks – they are very closely monitored and only when we believe they are at their peak will they be bottled. 


You mention that you have barrels all over Scotland – can you tell us from which distilleries? 

The way these stocks were bought or traded in by the Gordon family typically prohibits us from revealing the distilleries that the liquids first came from. Such ‘gentlemen’s agreements were traditional practice within the Scotch whisky industry and prevented one distiller from trading on the strength of another distillery’s reputation. We respect these agreements to this day and are, therefore, regrettably, typically unable to reveal distillery names for our releases. 

While distillery source can of course be important it is also worth noting that in many instances for the whiskies we are bringing to market (typically greatly aged Blended Malt, Blended Grain or Blended Scotch) the majority of the liquid character is attributable to the decisions made after distillation (cask selection, blending, marrying period and, where applicable, finishing). For us, this is often where the real story lies – it can be an overlooked part of the narrative. 


Are there any single barrels that are really exciting you? 

All of them are exciting for very different reasons but if I had to pick a few highlights I would say from our summer collection The First Drop was simply a remarkable piece of Scotch whisky history – we bottled literally the very first drops of whisky to run off the stills at Girvan, almost sixty years ago. That release sold out in full over the course of just a few weeks, reflecting its rarity. 

From our autumn release, I would have to say that our 1963 vintage release A Singular Blend is unlike anything that I’ve ever seen come to market before. A rare composition, this is a blend of malt and grain whiskies distilled in the same Highland distillery in the same year of production in the middle of last century. It is unheard of to see a release of such provenance at this age and the whisky carries a truly outstanding character that makes it at once a joy to drink and a treasure to collect. The release perfectly encapsulated what we aspire to add to the market and reflects the ambitions and character of the family that first acquired and laid down the stocks.


Has the love of whisky been passed down through the generations? 

Absolutely. House of Hazelwood is a business that draws on rare and aged whisky stocks that have been accumulated by the Gordon family over the last century. The name House of Hazelwood comes directly from Hazelwood House, the family home of the Gordons near Dufftown in Speyside. We’ve drawn on that name for the business because of the strong link between several generations of the family, the home itself and the whiskies that we are lucky enough to be able to draw from today. It is the character of those family members, the decisions they made, the stocks they laid down, the experiments that they trialled that have ultimately given us an inventory of such extraordinary breadth and depth. And at the heart of everything, through the generations was Hazelwood House. 


Have you always been buying whisky, or did it stop some years ago, leaving you with only very rare and old stock? 

The business continues to lay down new stocks today in the same way that the Gordon family have for generations. As a result, we are fortunate to have access to an inventory that is already large and diverse to which we will continue to add over the years ahead. This is very much a long-term business, and we fully expect to be here into the next century.  But the emphasis of the business will always be at the top end of the market – so if you look at what we’re bringing to market you’ll understand that it’s very unlikely we will touch any new stocks we’re laying down today for thirty, forty, fifty years. The main thing is that they will be there when we seek to draw on them. 


What happens to the older barrels once emptied?

We operate at a very manual ‘cottage industry’ scale and the simple answer is that it varies from one barrel to the next. Typically, the casks will be re-used for other projects but there will be some that have reached the end of their usable life. We use a range of cask types across the inventory to achieve varying degrees of wood impact (sometimes we seek casks that will have a strong impact on the maturing spirit but equally there are times where a well-used, less active cask is desirable) but they must all respect and enhance the liquid they hold.


Your current releases include an absolutely incredible 58-year-old that is a combination of grain and malt. Were these aged in the same barrel or combined at a later date?

Unprecedented at this age A Singular Blend is composed not only of whiskies from the same region but from the same Highland Distillery – with both grain and malt components stemming from the same year of production. The grain and malt components were blended and given a long-term maturation in American oak, allowing them to take on the rich layers of complexity that complement and enhance both aspects of the distillery character. With just 74 bottles available worldwide, this is a truly rare blend. 


What are your visions for the brand? 

We want to do justice to the stocks that we have access to. These are incredible whiskies that deserve the attention of collectors and enthusiasts around the world. Our role, our vision for the brand is to do just that – to open the doors for the right consumers to discover them. The whiskies will always be at the heart of what we do – bringing people into the stories behind them, the liquid character. That is the joy of our business and the thing that we want to take out into the world. 


Who are your potential customers? 

The collection appeals to collectors and enthusiasts with some customers looking to consume the whiskies in the near future and some purchasing more with a view to collecting them for consumption further into the future. Our customers are located all over the world – a real geographical spread – but Asia, Europe and North America are focal points for us. 


What influenced the family to finally release their whisky and do they keep a bottle of every release for their own enjoyment? 

Quite simply, the inventory had reached a point where a meaningful proportion of the stock was at its peak. Holding these stocks in cask any longer would not have improved them and the volumes we are talking about (typically 70 – 400 bottles per release) it would not be practical to bottle purely for personal consumption or gifting.  That said, the family do maintain a close personal interest in these stocks, and we hold back a small number of bottles of every release for posterity! 


House of Hazelwood Autumn Collection


The Eight Grain, 40 Year old Blended Grain – The Legacy Collection – £1200

A beautiful nose of milled grain and dried stone fruit including apricot. The palate is immediately appealing and does not hint at its age. The length is a little short but full of flavour, compromising of toffee apple. It has a beautiful creamy texture. 

A Trail of Smoke, 42 Year old Blended Scotch – The Legacy Collection – £1900

The nose is sweet and seductive, with hints of bubblegum in a good way and blackcurrant jelly. The palate is a total contrast being dry, old smoke, in the way a fire is almost out. The meaty flavours linger on. It almost tastes like a fine steak with whisky-based cream sauce. 

The Old Confectioner’s 44 Year old Blended Malt – The Charles Gordon Collection – £3000

The nose is rich and decadent with honeysuckle and heather. The palate is strong and sherried, or is that just dark fruits showing through? Over time new layers emerge of toffee, vanilla, and butterscotch. There is still a lot of flavour here and not wood dominant. Very nice!

The Next Chapter, 50 Year old Blended Scotch – The Charles Gordon Collection – £4000

Just wow! What a nose this has. Intoxicating and more like an aftershave than a whisky. Quite unreal – is this actual whisky? Of course, it is, just a sublime one. Its mouthfeel and flavour are impressive, long and powerful. Layers of dark chocolate, caramel, a touch of aniseed, roasted hazelnuts and dark marmalade. Delicious. Going on a walk after tasting, I could still taste this whisky 25 minutes later. Quite remarkable and my pick of this group. 

A Singular Blend, 1963 Blended Scotch Whisky – The Charles Gordon Collection – £4900

The first thing that strikes you is the nose, a big honey hit followed by rich marmalade with hints of cloves and ginger, roasted nuts and vanilla. It is harmonious and glorious. The palate is intriguing, made from a mixture of grain and malt whiskies, from the same distillery, in the same year. I found hazelnuts, liquorice, manuka honey and baking spices. The palate grows and is bewildering in that it shows signs of sweetness but has an underlying savouriness to it. Delicious!


The whiskies are available from The House of Hazlewood


Category: Food & Drink