A Collector's Dream: House of Hazelwood Interview
Tell us about the Gordon family. How has their collection developed over the years?
The Gordon family have been extremely generous with me and with our team in opening the doors to what was, until now, a private inventory of aged whisky. The stocks were built up through the generations on a parcel-by-parcel basis – the consequence at times of an experimental mindset, at times of casks held back to see how they developed and at times because the stocks in question were of obvious historical significance (for example, the first drops of whisky that ran off the stills at Girvan). 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.
Over the years the collection grew to a scale, breadth, and depth that is truly unrivalled. And this, in turn, puts us in the fortunate position of being able to build on the foresight, creative thinking, and endeavours of those that came before us.
How long has the collection been building?
To date, the oldest release we have brought to market is the 1963 Single Distillery Blended Scotch Whisky – A Singular Blend. But the stocks within the collection go back comfortably beyond that, so this really is a case of a collection that is generations in the making.
Of course, one of the fascinating things about the inventory is that it was not initially intended as a commercial proposition. If you look back to the 1950s there was no grand plan to launch House of Hazelwood seventy years down the line. This is the consequence of a distilling family’s inquisitive mindset, individuals that loved to experiment, to explore, to lay down stock. A family that had the luxury of time and the freedom that private ownership brings.
The fact that the collection has grown to the size that it can now be shared with those outside the family is a testament to the quality of the stocks that were kept, the success of the inventory and the way in which it has developed over time.
How did they choose the stocks?
Undoubtedly the best part of our job is to work with the family to explore the stocks available within the inventory, to decide on which are ready for release, which should be held back a little longer and the best ways to articulate the stories attached to each liquid.
The breadth and depth of whiskies is astonishing and those that have reached their peak are without exception remarkable liquids; the consequence of remarkable thinking, of brave decision-making and the luxury of time that private family ownership brings. The biggest challenge is picking our way through the inventory to bring together a collection that is at once diverse and yet that carries an identity of its own.
When we do this, we set out to ensure 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, their ambitions. These all need to shine through in the releases we make available.
Can you tell us how large the inventory is?
I’m sure you will appreciate that specific details regarding the size of the inventory are commercially sensitive, but I can tell you that the stocks cover every category and vintage you can think of, going back to the middle of last century. It’s an extensive stockholding and it represents the very best of each period – stocks that were held back specifically because of their quality, their character, and their historical significance.
The business continues to lay down new stocks today. It’s unlikely we will touch any of these new stocks for thirty, forty, fifty years but they will be there when we seek to draw on them – a legacy from our generation to the next.
Does the collection feature many casks from now-silent distilleries?
We do hold casks from silent distilleries and if you look at our releases to date you will see this represented within our first two collections. The Lost Estate is a Blended Grain whisky from our summer launch collection comprised entirely of Scotch from now-silent distilleries. Similarly, The Eight Grain from our autumn collection contains stocks from both closed and active distilleries.
In the inventory we hold many parcels of aged malt and grain stocks from distilleries that have now closed but this will never be the primary consideration when selecting them for release. First and foremost, we look at liquid character and quality.
Why is now the right time to start releasing bottlings?
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 at 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!
What is it that makes House of Hazelwood stand out in the whisky industry?
These are the most compelling whiskies to come from one of the foremost families in Scotch. And the liquid itself will always lie at the heart of House of Hazelwood – each release demonstrates the remarkable character and brave decision-making of the individuals that laid the stocks down, as well as the luxury of time that private family ownership brings.
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, to share the stories behind them. That is the joy of our business.
Can you tell us anything about what kind of expressions we can expect to see next?
I’m afraid we keep our future releases very quiet indeed so I can’t share too many details at this stage! But if you look at what we’ve released to date – the first drops of whisky to run off the stills at Girvan, rare old stock from silent distilleries, what we believe to be the oldest single distillery blend ever released to market you get a sense for just how special the stocks we’re working with are. And I’m pleased to say that future collections will contain more of the same – exceptional releases, every one remarkable in its own right. Each with a story to tell that links back to the family, the era and the place behind it.
You can explore our selection of House of Hazelwood products here at The Whisky Shop today.