Wolfburn Northlands Single Malt – Distillery: Wolfburn. Region: Highlands. ABV: 46%. No age statement (3+ years old). Price: $55-60.
Wolburn Aurora Sherry Oak Single Malt – Distillery: Wolfburn. Region: Highlands. ABV: 46%. No age statement (3+ years old). Price: $55-60.
Even before my first taste of Wolfburn, I had questions. Why go through the massive expense and effort of setting up a new Scotch whisky distillery at a time when even the big boys have to fight to keep their market share?
“Fortune favors the brave,” Wolfburn founder Andrew Thompson told me. “Put it all on black and spin the wheel.”
Once I’d tasted, the question became: How did they make whisky this good this fast?
“I spend my life doing two things,” Andrew said. “One, convincing people to try a 3-year-old whisky–well, now mostly 4, but only just. Two, then explaining why it is good. The first one is irritating but the reward comes with the second one after they try it.”
They don’t have a secret, but they do have a method. Andrew’s full explanation deserves a staging as a one-man show–or at least a trip to the far-northern Highlands distillery, opened in 2011, to hear it yourself.
In a nutshell, it involves custom stills from legendary coppersmith Richard Forsyth, zero automation, 25-year industry vet Shane Fraser (ex-Oban, ex-Glenfarclas) as distiller manager, and a relentless focus on producing the best new make they can.
A little more than 3 years later, they’ve got a product that is changing people’s minds about just how good a very young single malt can be–mine included.
“There really are no secrets at Wolfburn, hence people like Ichiro Akito from Chichibu, amongst others, send their people to chat to us and learn,” Andrew said.
“A fully automated system creates one kind of consistency. A man using his nose and hands creates another. By no means a better one, just a different one. For us, as a new start up, obsessed with looking after the whisky above all else, with no pre-programmed set of rules, it’s the later type of consistency we look for.”
“So now we have our new make–it’s really good new make,” Andrew said, “Let’s now put it in the best casks we can possibly find and then put it in our own warehouses and stack it, dunnage style, ourselves.”
On to the results. Both current releases are 46% ABV, $55-60, just over 3 years old (the minimum by Scottish law).
“Would we have delayed if it wasn’t ready?” Andrew said. “Absolutely. Look after the whisky and it will look after you.”
Wolfburn Northland is matured in Quarter Casks that previously held peated Islay whisky. Nose: fresh grain. Salted caramel. Almond croissant. Faint lime custard. Palate: sweeter than the nose. Nice spice. Lemon tart with graham cracker crust. A suggestion of toasty peat from the cask, which compliments the brashness of the young malt wonderfully. Finish: salty. White chocolate. Charred baked apple bottom. Very, very tasty.
Wolfburn Aurora is matured in ex-sherry casks. Nose: fresh malted barley. Blueberry and blackberry. Mocha dusted with nutmeg. Palate: juicy, alive. Raspberry jam, restrained sweetness. Shades toward orange marmalade closer late on. The finish has white chocolate, bananas foster, and a little lemon pepper.
What a start for Wolfburn! The Northland is my favorite of the two, but both show huge promise–and are ready to be enjoyed right now.
What’s next, apart from steadily more mature releases?
“We have a lightly peated whisky coming out in September of –just 10ppm,” Andrew said. The original Wolfburn distillery, which was founded in 1821 but had long since been a pile of rubble by the time the new team came along, would have used exclusively peated malt, “so it would be a shame not to have tried some.”
Beyond that, “the warehouse has mainly American Standard Barrels, quarter casks, and sherry butts in it, so lots and lots to come in the future. And the maturation is going very well indeed.”
I’d say. Here’s to taking chances. Cheers, whisky friends! – BO
Wolfburn graciously provided samples for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.