Firstly, could you give us a little background on the Gordon family and Hazelwood House, why they’re so important to the story of Scottish whisky in the 20th century?
Charles Gordon’s family came from the Cabrach where he was the schoolmaster. In 1897, he married Isabella Grant, William Grant’s daughter. Charles’ grandsons Charles (Charlie) and Alexander (Sandy) Gordon became directors of Wm Grant & Sons in the early 1950s after the death of their father. They were mentored by their uncle Eric Roberts, the husband of Janet Roberts (another of William Grants’ granddaughters) who owned Hazelwood House.
Why are they important? In the 1950s blended Scotch whisky was growing but was effectively controlled by DCL which dominated both sales and production - especially grain. In an attempt to build the Grant’s ‘Standfast’ blend, Charlie and Sandy decided to advertise it on TV, breaking the gentleman’s agreement that nothing as sordidly commercial as that should happen (this was also to prevent any DCL brands - which operated in a semi-autonomous way - from breaking ranks, advertising and potentially establishing an advantage over their colleagues/rivals).
As a result of the Gordon brothers’ effrontery, DCL cut off grain supply. In response, Charlie built Girvan grain distillery in a year and Sandy created Glenfiddich as a single malt brand.. It changed the landscape. It was Sandy who later was behind opening Glenfiddich for public tours while Charlie created the on-site coppersmiths, expanded the cooperage and bottling line at Glenfiddich and Balvenie. The key for both was independence, self-reliance and control of their own destiny. Charlie the great marketeer, headstrong, energetic, restless was known as 'The Accelerator' Sandy more cautious and thoughtful was 'The Brake'. You need them both.
How important is storytelling to you when it comes to enjoying a dram?
It’s vital - as long as the story is true. What I came to realise when I was researching the project was how important the human side of the whiskies was - whether that was Charlie and Sandy, the family today, or the people who made them.
We can easily obsess about age and cask and production details, but it is the people behind the whiskies, the folk who asked ‘what if?’ that matter. The House of Hazelwood whiskies are hard to categorise - there’s single grains, but also blended grains, experimental vattings, trials. All of these came about with someone asking ‘why don’t we try this?’ and the family then saying ‘go for it’.
How did you first become aware of the family’s extensive cask reserves and how did the collaboration come about?
I first heard about them at the launch of the brand. I was really impressed by the diversity of the whiskies but wondered what the unifying story might be. What started as a possible feature became a project for the firm, then a film, then a whisky! One thing that’s striking with the House of Hazelwood collection is the way the whiskies are named and presented.
Can you describe the process of selecting the specific whiskies for 'The Accelerator & The Brake'? How many whiskies did you taste as part of the process and what characteristics were you specifically looking for to represent Charles and Sandy Gordon?
First off, I didn’t make this whisky. Eilidh Muir did. She is an amazing blender who took some notions that I had and made them a reality.
It struck me that the key to understanding the House of Hazelwood whiskies was getting to know the family and their motivation. They are family casks after all. That started with Charlie and Sandy, so let’s find whiskies that encapsulated energy and calm. One as the accelerator, the other as the brake.
The majority of the House of Hazelwood whiskies are blends, so a mix of grains and malts made sense. I also wanted to get the idea of the two brothers working against the norm, so something ‘unconventional’ was needed. That was the initial brief I gave to Eilidh. She then came back with a table full of options. Tasting them I wondered if we could turn the conventions of blending on their head and have the grain as the characterful driving force and the malt as the base. There were two samples which stood out - a really bold grain, complex, rich (everything you don’t expect a grain to be) and a blended malt which was oily, gentle, enigmatic. Eilidh took them and worked her magic.
Aside from the whiskies that went into the ‘The Accelerator and The Brake’, what were the highlights of the tasting?
So many… but as they could well be used in different formulations for future releases. I'm keeping quiet!
This mature spirit boasts a dense, heavy character reminiscent of an autumnal forest, brightened by hints of sunlight. It unveils an aromatic blend of dark berries, subtle leather, light smoke, and roasted Oolong tea. The palate surprises with its initial sweetness, revealing flavors of maple, pecan pie, and chocolate, evolving into a profile similar to old rum with notes of allspice and molasses. Its linseed oil-like texture adds silkiness, balance, and length. The finish is long, starting with ripe fruits and transitioning to intense, mellowing spices, reminiscent of After Eight mints. This blend showcases an exceptional balance and complexity, with a dynamic grain flavor complemented by a more subdued malt presence, creating a unique and powerful experience.