Hazelburn is a single malt whisky that is made by the Springbank distillery. It is located on the Campbeltown peninsula on the west Highland coast. Springbank is one of only three distilleries left in an area of Scotland that 200 years ago supported over 30 distilleries (Glen Scotia and Glengyle are the others). Springbank is small with a production capacity of only 750,000 litres per year, but their whiskies are highly regarded around the world. It has been owned by the same family, the Mitchell's, since it was founded in 1828 and this makes Springbank the oldest distillery in Scotland that has been continually owned by the same family.
Springbank is the only distillery in Scotland to regularly produce three different single malt whiskies - Springbank, Longrow and Hazelburn - using three different production methods. The production is split between the three throughout the year with roughly 80% of the time going to Springbank, 10% to Longrow and 10% to Hazelburn. Springbank is made in the lightly peated style, Longrow is heavily peated and Hazelburn is unpeated.
Hazelburn whisky was first distilled in 1997, with the first release in 2005 as an 8 year old single malt. It is distilled three times and is one of the only Scottish whiskies to experience a full third distillation. Only a limited number of bottles are released each year. Hazelburn is available as an 8 year old (now on its 4th release) and this 12 years old, which was first released in August 2009 and is limited to 3900 bottles. Hazelburn is named after one of the long defunct Campbeltown distilleries, as is Longrow.
The colour of this Hazelburn 12 years old is an intense dark burnt amber, showing that the whisky has been matured in some serious sherry casks. The nose is highly aromatic and packed with the common characteristics associated with sherry cask maturation - plenty of dried fruits (think of raisins and candied orange peel), sweet caramel, nuts (especially something like walnut) and spice (imagine cinnamon and nutmeg). However, there are also some darker, more bitter notes on this complex nose - dark chocolate, damp wood, roasted coffee beans and just a hint of smoke, although this is slightly sulphuric and tobacco-like. On the palate, this is rich, dense and creamy with many of the elements of the nose carried through. There is sweetness coming from the dried fruit/citrus peel (there is an orange marmalade feel), caramel and nutty influences and these are balanced by the darker bitter notes such as the chocolate, coffee and spices (ginger is particularly prominent). The finish is long with lots of caramel sweetness followed by drier woody and spicy (especially nutmeg) notes.
The Hazelburn 12 years old is an interesting, intense and complex whisky. It is an enjoyable dram but the intensity of the sherry cask influence may be too much for some palates and is in danger of overpowering what is undoubtedly a lovely, creamy triple distilled spirit. It will be interesting to see how the future releases of Hazelburn are to be matured and what they will taste like. A bottle of this first release will be found in specialist whisky retailers for £45-50.