As we’re lining up great American whiskies for a great American holiday weekend, we’re also counting the days until TheWhiskyX, an exciting new whisk(e)y festival happening in Brooklyn on June 8, 2017: 60+ whiskies, food trucks, cigars, a concert by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, and lots of other goodies.
We’re giving away 2 VIP tickets to Axis friends–just leave a comment below to be entered, and we’ll pick at random from commenters here and on Instagram (21 and over, of course).
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.
Released in 2011, the Glenmorangie Artein is the third release of the Glenmorangie Private Edition series. It’s a rich blend of 21- and 15-year-old whisky finished in Super Tuscan Sassicaia wine barrels.
The Artein has a lot of depth and complexity, which makes it one of my favorites among the Private Editions. Loads of sweet berries and peppermint are on the nose. The palate is creamy with notes of peach cobbler, vanilla, honey, spice and shaved milk chocolate. The sweet finish has just the right amount of warmth and length.
If you come across an old bottle of this, definitely snatch it up. Cheers! – JTR
One of the stronger entrants in the “lovable oddball” category: the Balvenie 17-Year-Old Peated Cask.
Used to getting your smokey prickle from the good old peated barley in the grain bill? The other way is to mature unpeated malt whisky in barrels that previously held peated (most often Islay) whisky. Glenlivet takes this approach in their Nadurra Peated Cask, which I liked quite a bit. Balvenie does the same here.
I should say “did,” actually. This one was a limited edition, and it’s a big rarity now. I was stunned to find it in a corner store a few months back. I splurged on the bottle, hoping it would offer more than just novelty appeal.
Does it ever. The nose has strong dark vanilla from the partial virgin oak maturation. Dried fig. Some tropical fruit. Grilled pineapple. Raisin bars. The peat cask influence comes through as a little barbecue char.
The palate highlights the sherry-matured component first. Then the peat comes through, toasty rather than briny, and much much milder than in the Glenlivent Nadurra Peated Cask. The tropical notes come back late on. The finish has poached pear in syrup, molasses, gingerbread, and graham crackers.
Some people grumble at these peated cask experiments, saying peat should be left to the experts in Islay. I say: when the experiments work this well, bring them on.
After some malternative exploration in the cognac vein, it seemed high time to dip into mezcal. Ilegal Mezcal is a great way to do it.
The agave-based spirit is often recommended to scotch drinkers because of its distinctive smokiness, a result of the agave being cooked in an underground pit for several days before distillation.
But smoke alone isn’t enough to convert the whisky crowd, of course–not least because not all scotch lovers are peat freaks. We’re also used to the subtlety, complexity, and depth of flavor that come from a maturation process in oak that can’t be rushed. (Usually.)
Ilegal is a premium mezcal that has all of the above, even in its unaged version. Let’s dive in, shall we?
The Ilegal Joven (unaged) has a bright, fresh nose, sweet and grassy. The smoke is just barely detectable, which is characteristic of the whole line–and may be welcome news for curious scotch drinkers who hew more to Speysides and Highlands than Islays. The palate has bright fresh fruit notes, agave of course, along with apple. There’s a welcome creaminess to the mouthfeel, and a subtly buttery note to go with it.
The smoke starts to emerge–still restrained–toward the finish, along with a hit of roasted coffee. The lack of barrel maturation means it lacks the vanilla and caramel more familiar to whisky-drinkers, but don’t let that get in your way. This is delicious all on its own.
The Ilegal Reposado adds four months of aging in American oak, and with it, additional complexity. There’s a bright, pure sweetness on the nose here too–think just-ripe wild strawberries. Lemon curd. Floral scents, then a toasted coconut note that delivers the subtle influence of the smoke.
The palate is rich, with kumquat, blood orange rind, and sesame cookies with browned bottoms. The finish balances the fruit and smoke, with the strawberry note back for an encore.
The Ilegal Añejo is the richest of the bunch, aged 13 months in American and French oak. It also has the most familiar profile for whisky-drinkers. The nose is a vanilla custard tart with fresh berries, then a drizzle of caramel. The smoke is more pronounced but well integrated. The palate has the most heft and depth of the three. Ripe aromatic fruit mixes with dark chocolate, spice, and delicate smoke. Finish is long and delectable, mixing sweet and savory.
All three of these should put a smile on the face of a whisky lover. Happily for mezcal lovers and the mezcal curious, Ilegal recently signed a national distribution agreement with Southern Wine & Spirits, so this excellent sipper should be a more common sight.
The Barrell Bourbon Batch 11 is from barrels distilled and aged in Tennessee, then bottled in Kentucky, with a mash bill of 70% corn, 25% rye, and 5% malted barley.
As you’d expect from a barrel strength bottling, this bourbon truly opens with a splash of water. I caught vanilla and caramel on the nose, along with summer county fair corn on the cob and a hint of cotton candy. The palate is a thing of complex and rich beauty. There’s a bit of brown butter sauce, subtle layers of spice over oat cakes, and a delightful hint of peanut brittle. The finish has all these flavors and more and is very nicely sustained. Very pleasingly to me, there was even a faint note of French press at the back end.
I was thrilled with my first Barrell experience and I can’t wait to see the next batch. Cheers, friends! – TM
Barrell Craft Spirits graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.