One of the many great aspects of the Scottish countryside is the ‘right to roam’, a legal act which allows anyone to access almost all of Scotland’s rich outdoors. But whenever I traverse Scotland, it is not her verdant valleys and rugged hillsides that I yearn to explore, but the whisky warehouses that make up as much of the country’s scenery as the freely accessible forests, mountains and rivers. Luckily, the new House of Hazelwood collection has evoked the whisky equivalent of the right to roam through the release of some of the oldest and rarest Scotches from a personal collection of some serious standing.
The House of Hazelwood is the name under which the Gordons – one of Scotland’s most important and influential families – are now releasing small batches of whisky bottlings derived from a collection previously reserved for family members. Their stash of casks is the greatest inventory of long-aged Scotch held in a personal collection anywhere in the world. The diversity of the whiskies they hold represents all aspects of the Scotch business, across grain, malt and blends – and these postcards from the past are now being made available for the first time in bottle.
With a resounding legacy in the world of distilled drinks as the owners of William Grant and Sons, the Gordons have always challenged the norm. It was the family’s innovative thinking that gave birth to the modern single malt category, with a groundbreaking focus on its Glenfiddich distillery in a mid-century market where blends took up a near-100 per cent of sales. It was the same family’s attitude that allowed Scotch to have a more playful side through Monkey Shoulder blended malt, a generation later. In between, they have pioneered techniques such as ‘double maturation’, now a widely used method for ageing whisky. Yet today, the family has turned its thinking backwards, not forwards, towards its personal stocks of long-built-up, well-aged whisky that has been slumbering for nearly one hundred years.
‘There is such a wealth of whisky in the family’s personal archive…it is an embarrassment of riches, really, and our first releases are just the tip of the iceberg’
‘This is a passion project drawing on a family collection built up over generations, chosen simply because they are remarkable whiskies and deserve a wider audience,’ says Jonathan Gibson, managing director of the House of Hazelwood. Previously of highly regarded boutique blending house Compass Box, Gibson has been anointed by the family to manage the release of its rare stocks. Far from being a traditional MD, he is a liquid archivist, ensuring every bottle – each of which is being offered directly to consumers by the family – is sold with the care it deserves. ‘It is a real privilege to be involved in this, as these whiskies mean so much to the family,’ he says.
The inaugural bottlings from the House of Hazelwood – a label which takes its name from the former family home in Dufftown – are split into two sub-collections, whetting the appetite for future releases. The Charles Gordon Collection focuses on rare and old whiskies laid down over fifty years ago by prior generations of the family. It represents the most precious stock within the archive. Four bottles have been chosen to start this branch of the House of Hazelwood, including a 1965 vintage blend, ‘Blended At Birth’ (with 288 bottles for sale at £4,000 each). It highlights the now-lost practice of blending whisky before ageing, and results in a wonderfully rich and complex tapestry of malt and grain whisky.
The Legacy Collection shows off a more innovative side of aged Scotch, and liquid with a unique flavour profile. Take ‘The Tops’, for example: this 33-year-old blend (of which 523 bottles are on the market at £1,450 each) features the richest whiskies available from the inventory. They’re spirits typically used sparingly in blends due to their rarity and age, and give a seriously weighty, unctuous and rich result when blended together for this singular expression.
‘There is such a wealth of whisky in the family’s personal archive,’ says Gibson. ‘It is an embarrassment of riches, really, and our first releases are just the tip of the iceberg.’ The family has even created a haven for these rare casks of whisky, in an historic warehouse at the now-closed Convalmore distillery, to ensure there is a diligent eye keeping watch of their most precious stocks.
Here, the succession planning has already started, with casks earmarked for future releases given pride of place at the entrance, while other wait patiently to be shuffled forward once the team deem the whisky exceptional enough to carry the family name and the new House of Hazelwood hallmark. This is not a sparse warehouse; it is a collection of ancient Scotch on an almost obsessive level, rarely seen and even more rarely bottled with drinking in mind.
The plan is for two releases a year, each comprising eight different, rare expressions. And with this initial selection showing incredible depth at amazing value, it is an exciting journey for the House of Hazelwood to be taking whisky fans on.
The element that resonates most, however, is not the astonishing age of the whiskies, the complexity of the blends nor myriad of flavours still found in such long-aged Scotch. It is what these heirlooms say about their owners. With this collection, it feels like an invitation to the Gordon family home; a warming welcome where only the very best whisky is reserved for sharing with a special guest. No longer left wondering what is hidden behind closed doors; the House of Hazelwood has flung them open, poured a dram, and invited whisky lovers in.