28 July 2022

116th Whisky Insiders Interview - Jonathan Gibson

House of Hazelwood
Marketing Director

How long have you been working in the whisky industry?
I’ve been in and around the whisky industry for most of my working life. I started working across new product development and packaging projects for a range of brands before moving to Compass Box, where we launched a range of initiatives including the Scotch Whisky Transparency campaign. Even when I’ve dipped out of the industry into rum or beer, I’ve always found the chance to squeeze in a cask exchange project or two to keep things interesting.
What has been your biggest career highlight to date?
Without question, creating and launching House of Hazelwood in June of this year. The liquids we have access to within the Gordon family’s private inventory are simply phenomenal. The opportunity to work with these very old stocks, to explore their provenance, their place within the broader history of Scotch and to build a new standalone business around the liquids is a dream for any Scotch enthusiast.
Can you remember your first dram, and indeed what it was?
Unfortunately, I do. It was a supermarket blend sampled midway through a house party in my teens and it wasn’t a successful introduction.  Happily enough, I tried one of the early batches of Aberlour’s A’Bunadh a couple of years later and it really opened my eyes. I joined the SMWS shortly after that and started exploring the category more widely.
What does whisky mean to you?
I now spend much of my time outside Scotland and whisky gives me a very personal connection back to places and milestones that have been important in my life. I met my wife through the whisky industry, my brothers and I grew up exploring the whisky-making regions of the north through our childhood holidays and that love for and appreciation of these very special places has endured into my adult life. We should never forget just how fortunate we are to have this incredible history, these remarkable places and this living culture within our country. It’s a connection that I hope to pass on to my children in due course.
Where would you like to see yourself in five years’ time?
One of the great things about whisky is its ability to connect people all around the world to the places, people and stories that make Scotland so remarkable. In five years’ time, I would like for us to have taken House of Hazelwood – the whiskies and the stories that each one represents – more extensively around the world. I’d also love for us to find ways to celebrate blending more widely at the top of the Scotch industry and that’s certainly something that we’ll be championing in the future.
What was your last dram?
It sounds like I’m giving you a marketing line but, in all honesty, the last dram I had was two days ago with my colleague, Phil Keene, when we reviewed the final cask samples for our House of Hazelwood autumn releases. We worked through a number of whiskies but ended on a truly remarkable, highly unusual 58 year-old blend, which I’m pleased to say looks likely to make the cut!
Do you have a favourite whisky and food pairing combination?
John Glaser at Compass Box introduced me to the idea of pairing whisky with cheese and I have to say I think it’s a stroke of genius. At the end of a meal there I challenge you to find anything more satisfying than bringing out a few different bottles and a good cheeseboard and going back time and again to try new combinations. Whether it’s a rich blue cheese with a sherry-matured dram, or something like a Comte with an old grain whisky it is one of these things that is just the right thing at the right time.
What’s your favourite time and place to enjoy a dram?
We don’t live in the countryside anymore but we do escape somewhere remote at least once a year and occasionally the weather plays ball. For me, a quiet fifteen minutes outside before dinner on a sunny evening, somewhere with a view is the perfect time and place. The day behind you and the evening ahead.
What do you think is going to be the next big thing on the whisky horizon?

I think the next ten years could see the established order and ‘rules’ of the industry challenged by a new wave of international and small-scale craft producers. Within that context, I believe there will be room for more people to look past the ‘Single Malt’ badge and come to appreciate the flavour profile that old grain whiskies and blends can offer. It’s traditionally been an undervalued part of our industry but the liquids can be astonishing.
What’s the one dram you couldn’t live without?
I actually have a ‘house blend’ of sorts that I make myself at home – a combination of a few bright and estery Highland and Speyside malts that I like with some well-aged grain in there too. I’m not going to claim that it’s the greatest dram in the world but I would certainly miss the process of piecing a blend together if I ever stopped.

Many thanks to Jonathan Gibson. Who will be our next Whisky Insider? Click back soon to find out!