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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.

Whiskey Is an Art: A conversation with FEW Spirits Founder Paul Hletko

Whiskey Is an Art: A conversation with FEW Spirits Founder, Paul Hletko

The FEW Spirits distillery is tucked down an alleyway in an old, refurbished garage. Rumor has it that the garage was once a chop-shop. It’s a good legend for a distillery that practically demands one, even though its true story is impressive all on its own.

FEW entry 640

You’ve heard this story almost as many times as you’ve had a dram. Young professional (a patent attorney in this case) tires of spending his days toiling in service of someone else’s profit and pursues his dream of working with great spirits. The challenges are immense. How do you whet prospective buyers’ interest when the bourbon takes so long to mature? How do you get the word out once you have? How do you remain relevant once you’ve made your first big splash in a market that’s always looking for the next big thing?

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Interview with Joe Beatrice of Barrell Bourbon

Joe Beatrice of Barrell Bourbon — a blender and bottler of cask-strength American whiskies that’s collected serious accolades since its launch in January 2014 — generously made time for a fun and frank Q&A with the Axis on the origins of Barrell Bourbon, the bourbon shortage (or myth thereof), class action lawsuits, transparency, and more.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity, and corrects the mashbill of Barrell Bourbon Batch 005.

Q. How did you move from the ad game into whiskey bottling? What’s your whiskey love story?

A. I started in advertising and direct marketing early on. In 1989 I had the first of two big revelations in my life: I knew the Internet was where I wanted to work. I started a company that did web development, online strategy, and marketing for some pretty big clients. We always had a spirits vertical. We worked with Glenmore Distilleries, which was sold to United Distillers and run by Chris Morris. [Morris is now Master Distiller at Brown-Forman. -BO]

Life went on as it does. Years later my wife and I were at a distillery — just taking a tour as civilians — and I had my second big epiphany: This is what I want to do.

I’d been a brewer my whole life, and the first thing anybody wants to do in the spirit business is to distill. That lasted about a week. The economics of it are awful. I decided I had to make money another way, then come back in a couple of years as a gentleman distiller.

Photo from instagram.com/barrellbourbon
Photo from instagram.com/barrellbourbon

This was at the very beginning of the comeback of bourbon and brown spirits. I saw that the premium and ultrapremium whiskey segments were growing, and I wanted to play in cask strength, because I’d tasted cask strength from the barrel during my career and thought, “Why isn’t everybody drinking it like this?”

Continue reading Interview with Joe Beatrice of Barrell Bourbon