“And suddenly, you’re standing in a warehouse!” — luminary whisky writer Dave Broom is describing what could fairly be attributed to magic. A celebrated storyteller, he’s relaying the history of whisky pioneers Charles and Sandy Gordon and how he came to tell their remarkable tale. For him, that discovery started with the launch of House of Hazelwood in the autumn of 2022.
For Broom, something was immediately distinct. “The approach was not your standard new, very old luxury launch. There was something behind it.” He was struck. “The liquids are fantastic, really interesting whiskies, complex whiskies, different.”
That’s House of Hazelwood in a nutshell. From the family behind some of the world’s most famous Scotch whisky distilleries and brands, it’s less a brand and more a glimpse into the Gordon family’s personal archive. Named after their private Speyside residence Hazelwood House, this new maison has quickly gained a reputation for releasing outstanding collections of old and rare Scotch whiskies, usually blends, which are pulled from what the team behind it describes as the greatest archive of rare whiskies in the world.
Each expression, exactingly blended from these scarce reserves, tells a story. Take, for instance, A Breath of Fresh Air, from House of Hazelwood’s Legacy Collection. The 37-year-old blended grain evokes the redolent Speyside countryside that the Gordon family calls home. Others, with age statements stretching towards 60 years, speak of long marriages and next chapters. Family life, essentially.
“House of Hazelwood is a story about the people behind those great whiskies, because it's about family, their thinking, and why the stocks were laid down over the years,” Broom details. So, he headed to Scotland to get under the skin of what makes House of Hazelwood special.
It quickly became clear that the dense fabric woven by generations of whisky makers was better suited to a film than a written feature. Two characters particularly stood out. The late brothers Charles Gordon and Sandy Gordon shaped whisky-making in the second half of the 20th century. But they had very different approaches.
“What was fascinating about them is that they became directors, essentially running the company at a very young age, because their father died when he was young,” Broom outlines. Under the watchful eye of their uncle Eric Roberts, they took over their family firm in the 1950s.
“The decade was a pretty tough time for Scotch,” he gives historical context. “It's kind of the last man standing. Ireland’s gone, America has just restarted selling, the war has just finished.” From an export perspective, the pressure was on Scotland’s whisky producers. “What I believe these two young men did was to establish a template for the modern whisky industry.” Their numerous achievements included building the Girvan grain distillery in just nine months and pioneering the development of the single malt category in North America. They also started laying down the remarkable stocks House of Hazelwood draws from today for its unique collection of blended whiskies.
The secret to their success lay in their individual characters. “Charlie was the marketing genius. Full speed ahead, trying new ideas. A restless man.” Everything for him was led by innovation, a drive for the business to be self-sufficient, bold. He was the accelerator. His irrepressible creativity was balanced by his brother.
“Sandy was the calm guy,” Broom continues. “He was probably the only person to be able to go, ‘hang on a minute, Charlie, let's just think about this’.” He was the brake. The dynamic between the pair is what set the business up for long-term success. One without the other wouldn’t have worked so effectively. Broom was so inspired by their collective approach that he felt compelled to capture their spirit not just in moving pictures, but also in a very special House of Hazelwood blend, appropriately named The Accelerator and The Brake. This is how he found himself standing in that warehouse with Eilidh Muir, from House of Hazelwood’s whisky stocks team, surrounded by 40 truly outstanding cask samples from the family reserves.
An unconventional whisky
The pioneering temperaments of Charlie and Sandy informed every part of the blending process. The very principle of blended whisky is that it is an amalgam of grain and malt whisky, melded in a way that brings out the best of both. Grain is typically the base, with malt adding the colour, the complexity. It’s a time-old, proven approach. But not here.
“When I went through the samples, there was this amazing grain, which was just a brimful of personality,” Broom recalls. “Then there was this one malt that was kind of oily, I think the sample was called oily tobacco.” It was smooth, gentle, and almost fused everything together. “I was tasting the whiskies and had this idea: why don’t we kind of flip this on its head?” The result is an unconventional inversion of the traditional blending methodology. The grain takes centre stage, shining on top of a malt base. Predominantly aged in American white oak, a small portion also spent time in virgin oak. Nothing is too much here – it’s all perfectly balanced.
“We could’ve made some amazing whiskies, but they’d be like the rest of the range,” Broom continues. Here there’s a different structure, a different texture. And two component parts that represent Charles and Sandy: the vibrant, pacy grain and the relaxed, sanguine malt. The Accelerator and The Brake was born.
“What I took away was an understanding of how important quiet whiskies are,” he reflects on the process. To find the perfect component parts, he’d nosed and tasted extensively, seeking out the two that he felt best summed up the brothers. “Also, that as grain gets older, it just gets more and more fascinating.” With lengthy maturation, he feels grain and malt can “flip” – too much age and malt can flatten, whereas grain comes alive.
“A major takeaway was the way in which blenders work with different combinations to produce different flavour groupings,” he added. “It’s not as simple as Distillery X and Distillery Y.” It’s about creating something truly different out of curiosity. “And the other thing is how rich and complex those blending stocks are.” It is from those stocks and working with Muir that Broom managed to craft their legacy in liquid form.
The result is a feat of blending. The Accelerator and The Brake 33 Years Old Blended Scotch Whisky has been bottled at natural cask strength of 57.6%, with no added colour or chill-filtration. Just 209 bottles have been released, priced at £1700. It’s a fittingly elegant tribute to two men that shaped the Scotch whisky industry.
The story continues
The whisky itself is a significant chapter in the story – but it’s not the only narrative. The rich history of House of Hazelwood has been captured in documentary form. It was the only way to meaningfully capture the abundance of family history behind the whiskies.
“To get to the real story, you've got to go and talk about the people,” Broom states. And it’s true. Five episodes of House of Hazelwood: The Documentary follow his time spent with the family, from delving into the archives with fifth-generation descendant Kirsten Grant Meikle. From the innovations that play out behind the scenes to the making of The Accelerator and the Brake, and of course, delving into the personalities of Charles and Sandy too.
What’s perhaps most remarkable is that the boldness of Charles and the calm of Sandy truly do continue today. Not only through their blend, or even on screen. But through the whisky stocks they laid down, and the family that continues their legacy from their family home in Speyside. And we’re invited to join in.
Dave Broom shares his personal tasting notes for his House of Hazelwood creation.
The Accelerator and The Brake
33 Years Old Blended Scotch Whisky
House of Hazelwood
Availability: Visit www.houseofhazelwood.com to pre-order a bottle from 19 September.
Appearance: Rich walnut
Nose: Autumnal forest floor, yet with brightness and lift, then some oiliness. In time, dark berry fruit, a touch of leather, light smoke and roasted Oolong tea.
Palate: Sweeter than you might expect to start – heavy maple, pecan pie and, in time, chocolate. Clearly mature with rich black fruits, while the oiliness provides a silky texture. Real energy and power with no sign of fatigue.
Finish: Long. Ripe fruits, then intense spices that mellow into After Eight mints.