Tag Archives: highlands

Wolfburn Whisky Review & Interview

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.

Wolfburn Distillery Manager Shane Fraser. Image from wolfburn.com

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.”

Image from wolfburn.com

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 [2017]–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.

Glenmorangie Artein

Distiller: Glenmorangie. Region: Highlands. ABV: 46%. Age: 15 years. Price: $80/auction.

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

Macallan Edition 2 Review

Distiller: Macallan. Region: Highlands. ABV: 48.2%. No age statement. Price: $80-100.

I think I’ve got a new favorite Macallan. Got an overdue taste of the excellent Edition No. 2 with my friends at Jay’s Bar recently. I’d heard raves about this no-age-statement release from Mark  good folks at Scotch ‘n’ Sniff and Malt Review. Now I know why.

The Edition No. 2 is a collaboration between Macallan Whisky Maker Bob Dalgamo and Catalonia’s legendary El Cellar de Can Roca restaurant. In terms of profile, it’s square in Macallan’s sweet spot: dense sherried goodness balanced by just the right amount of darker, drier tannic notes.

On the nose there’s blood orange, marzipan, marshmallow, sweet old oak, and a whisper of mint. The palate adds sponge cake, toasted coconut macaroons, candied ginger, and fig. Full body. The finish has clove-studded Christmas orange with musty grapevine and more sweet oak.

BIG success, this one. Looking forward to adding a bottle to my collection–and trying it alongside the Edition 1.

Slàinte, whisky friends! – BO

Oban 14 Review

Distiller: Oban. Region: Highlands. ABV: 43%. Age: 14 years. Price: $60-70.

Oban is part of Diageo’s Classic Malts line, and is beloved in the U.S. for being rich, versatile, and approachable. And for being easy to pronounce.

Chicago’s weather calls for very specific whiskies in the spring, and I’d say the Oban 14 fits the bill perfectly. The nose has gentle heather, with hints of toffee, pine, and pear. The palate is more of this gentle wash, with an underlay of pan drippings. And the sustained finish is a minor miracle, one that grows in strength, only to ease away for a rolling delight. It’s one of my faves and fits our ever-changing weather beautifully.

If you’re looking to explore the distillery further, there’s an excellent annual Oban Distiller’s Edition, as well as a no-age-statement Little Bay, which has both fans and detractors. We’ll bring you a review of the latter soon.

Slàinte, friends! – TM

Virginia Highland Malt Whisky Review

Producer: Virginia Distillery Company. Distiller: undisclosed Highland distillery. Region: Highlands. ABV: 46%. No age statement. Price: $50-55.

The Virginia Distillery Company is tucked away in Virginia’s Blue Ridge mountains, which, as you know if you’ve been there, is one of the most preposterously idyllic spots on earth. They’re currently maturing the American single malt they’re distilling themselves, which I’m already eager to try given that it’s aging in ex-bourbon barrels, as opposed to the overwhelming preponderance of virgin oak maturation among other American single malts.

In the meantime, they’re also sourcing Highland malt from an undisclosed Scottish distiller and finishing it in Virginia port barrels. The result is their Virginia Highland Malt Whisky.

It has a very appealing traditional Highland nose, one I’d put somewhere between Tomatin and Aberlour: Red Delicious apple, stewed pear, and butterscotch.

The palate immediately restrains the sweeter notes in a broad tannic grip–a great compliment to the fruit core. Texture and substance to the body. Hints at a sherry notes, but the port inclines things more toward raspberry and cranberry than raisin and fig. Dried orange rind late on. The finish is nicely lingering, with blackberry tea.

The Virginia Distillery Company has a winner on their hands here. And it should get some more attention after being lauded in the 2017 Whisky Magazine awards. The only downside is how high they’ve set the bar for their own single malt. Luxury problems, as they say.

Cheers, friends! – BO

The Virginia Distillery Company graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Chieftan’s Choice Single Malt Reviews

There comes a time in every whisky-lover’s education when independent bottlers are key. Maybe you’ve exhausted a favorite distillery’s official bottlings and want to dig in further. Maybe you want to see how different a given distillery’s spirit can be when it’s in someone else’s hands (and barrels). Maybe you just love the oddballs.

Independent bottlers take a range of approaches. Some buy odd barrels of mature whiskies that happen to be up for grabs, bottle them, market them, and that’s that. Some add their own finishes. Gordon & MacPhail, of which I’m quite fond, acquires new-make spirit, then matures and finishes in their own barrels, allowing a broader look at what a distillery can do than a brand’s own bottlings can. Some add a teaspoon of cask debris to each bottle for extra authenticity–looking at you, Blackadder.

The Chieftan’s Choice line from Ian MacCleod (owner of Glengoyne, Tamdhu, and many blended whisky brands) focuses on rarities, including little-known or closed distilleries. They’ve been showing up more and more in my neck of the woods these days, and I’m happy to share a look at some recent releases, because I’ve been more than happy to try them.

Chieftan’s Bowmore 2002. Region: Islay. ABV: 46%. Age: 13 years.

Bowmore’s official distillery bottlings have been devilishly inconsistent in recent years–which makes it particularly enjoyable to see the Islay brand in fine form here.

Nose of lime taffy. Toasty pie crust. Watermelon. Just a hint of brine. The watermelon shades into cantaloupe on the palate. The peat is sooty, but with some hickory savor. It intensifies on the finish–long and salty. A squeeze of fresh lemon over hot coals at the end.

Chieftan’s Linkwood 1991. Region: Speyside. ABV: 46%. Age: 24 years.

Diageo pours much of Linkwood’s output into the Johnnie Walker and White Horse blends, so with the exception of an occasional official bottling, Linkwood is most often seen in independent bottlings like these.

Brilliant nose on this one. Bright raspberry. Honey. Cotton candy. Baked pear in Chardonnay. Orange sherbet. Fragrant oak. Lots going on. The palate is rich and lively, with the same constant evolution: fresh nuances of fruit and spice around a core of berry compote and bitter orange. Just enough tannic backbone. The tannins are stronger leading into the finish. It’s earthy and spicy, but with a final touch of sweetness: stewed strawberries on a buttery baguette. Lovely.

Chieftan’s Glenturret 1990. Region: Highlands. ABV: 49.7%. Age: 25 years.

Here come the big guns. The highest-proof of the bunch, and packing a big PX punch. If you haven’t had Edrington-owned Glenturret as a single malt, you may have had it in the Famous Grouse blend. On its own, at the ripe old age of 25, and finished in Pedro Ximenez casks, it’s quite a different animal.

Explosive butter bomb of a nose from the PX. Wow. Dense and intense. Bundt cake with blackberries. Cinnamon bark. Sea salt. French toast drizzled with blackberry brandy. Old parchment. Palate is no less intense. Musty blackberries with the vine and the leaves thrown in for good measure. Fresh sweet tobacco soaked in cognac. After all this, the finish is surprisingly elegant, like the end of a cocktail with Dolin rouge and singed orange rind.

Excellent stuff from Chieftan’s. Their other current releases include a 19-year-old Glen Grant PX Finish, a 19-year-old Glenrothes PX Finish, and a 23-year-old Glen Keith. I can’t speak for those three, but this trio was a delight.

A Chieftan’s representative graciously provided samples for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.