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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.

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

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.

Do Good Distillery Benevolent Czar Review

Distiller: Do Good Distillery. ABV: 119.8%. No age statement. Price: $50 (375 ml).

Do Good Distillery caught my eye a few months ago with their unusual name and wide range of smoked whiskies made in Modesto, CA. They have some interesting parallels with our friends at Seven Stills, 90 minutes to the west in San Francisco. Both were dreamt up by craft beer lovers who decided to take their home brewing efforts to the next level. Both consciously reproduce craft beer profiles or elements thereof in their whiskies. And both like to experiment.

Do Good’s line includes bourbons, malt whiskies, and a few white spirits. The Benevolent Czar (just in time for the centenary of the fall of the Romanov dynasty) is their boldest offering. It’s a cask strength behemoth that reproduces the intense flavors of a Russian Imperial Stout–a favorite of the Do Good team, and, I should say, of mine too.

The nose is dense and sweet, with cocoa, orange zest, sweet oak, and a beery/yeasty note. It recalled the Wasmund’s Single Malt (without the tennis ball note), but Do Good doesn’t go the infusion route: its flavors come entirely from the grain bill and a range of small barrels. The palate has very pronounced coffee notes, verging on Seven Stills Fluxuate. Orange-infused bitter chocolate. On the sweeter side, but not overly so. The finish is pure coffee porter.

Remarkable density of flavors, nearly dessert dram territory. How do they do it? The grain bill is proprietary, but Do Good rep Andrew Bennett pointed to the traditional Imperial Stout components: pale malt, crystal malt, chocolate malt, and roasted barley. “Some of our single malts were actually beers we used to enjoy as beers,” he wrote. “We brew our version of a Russian Imperial stout, ferment and distill with the grain on, then we barrel age it in new American Oak Barrels with a heavy char.  The barrels are new and not dosed and there is no infusion of any kind. Brewed, distilled and barrel aged, that’s it.”

Do Good gets most of its grain from farms within 90 miles of Modesto–always good to see–and their experiments are only getting bolder. “Our philosophy is to have something for everyone,” Andrew said. (Shochu was also mentioned.) The Benevolent Czar isn’t cheap, but there are plenty of options in the rest of their range that hit the $50 for 750ml microdistillery sweet spot.

Hats off to Do Good for bringing good new things to the ever-more-interesting California microdistilling scene. Cheers, friends! – BO

Buy Do Good spirits online

Do Good graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Ardbeg Corryvreckan Review

Distiller: Ardbeg. Region: Islay. ABV: 57.1%. No age statement. Price: $75-80.

There have been plenty of reasons to complain about the no-age-statement trend in Scotch whisky (and all whisk(e)y) in recent years. But there are undisputed NAS gems out there. Ardbeg, ever the overachiever, has two of them.

The first is the Uigeadail, about which more here. The other is the Corryvreckan (so named for a certain Scottish whirlpool).

I’ll admit it: I’m so partial to the Uigeadail that I’d underestimated the Corryvreckan for some time. But making my way through a Christmas bottle over the last few months has changed my mind for good.

What sets the Corry apart for me is the pronounced but wonderfully integrated wine cask influence–the original 2009 release, at least, was matured partially in Burgundy casks. (I’ve been particularly attuned to this because of the variety of excellent wine-cask-finished single malts I’ve been sampling recently, from Springbank, Bruichladdich, and others.)

The wine cask is there on the nose as a sort of fermented currant note–dark, dense, winey fruit. Sweet and savory notes mingle: buttered popcorn, candied lemon, plenty of nuances in between.

The palate has sweet barbecued pork. Smoked bacon. Strong peat but not brash or challenging–more restrained and mature than the Ardbeg 10 in that regard.

The finish has key lime pie with a buttery, toasty graham cracker crust. In short, the dram start to finish has the range, variety, and dramatic arc of a great meal.

It’s interesting how Ardbeg has actually put itself in a bit of a bind with the quality of the Corry and the Oogie. Their annual limited releases are often excellent–this year’s Kelpie, last year’s Dark Cove, and the 2009 and 2010 Supernova are great examples–but they’re also NASes, and always pricier than the Oogie and Corry, while not always being clearly better.

Luxury problems, as they say. I’m happy with a glass of any of them.

Cheers, friends! – BO

Buy Ardbeg whisky online at Mash + Grape

High West Bourye 2017 Review

Producer: High West. Distiller: MGP. ABV: 46%. Age: 10+ years. Blend: it’s complicated. Price: $80.

A few years back, Baldo and I sat down for lunch in my town of Evanston, IL. The restaurant, a very good and basic Italian, had High West’s Bourye as an option. “Grab it,” Baldo said, “you’ll love it.”

Well, it’s two years later and I can’t say he was much off the mark. The 2017 version of the Bourye is a blend of straight bourbon and ryes ranging from 10 to 14 years old, all from MGP. There’s a high-rye rye, a low-rye rye, and a high-rye bourbon in the mix. (Got all that?) And like previous releases, it’s got a welcoming profile that’s good for the novice and experienced consumer alike.

You definitely get that rye on the nose, but there’s also vanilla, raisin, and a hint of blackberry. The palate is really nice, with an initial nutty overlay that’s quickly conquered by the swelling fruits of blackberry, raspberries, and a touch of currant.

I wasn’t mad for the finish, which was too abbreviated for me, but I quite like this one overall.

My main quibble is the price point. I like the whiskey enough where it could be a staple of the collection on taste alone, but it’s just not an $80 whiskey to me.

Cheers, friends! – TM

Buy High West whiskey online at Mash + Grape

High West graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.