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The new Wolfburn distillery was founded in Thurso, the most northerly town on the British mainland, by Aurora Brewing Ltd in 2012. With their spirit now of age and multiple expressions coming to market however, the brand is starting to establish itself and even to be appreciated within the undoubtedly congested single malt category. Interestingly though, it is not the first distillery to carry the name…
To the west of Thurso, a little over 350 metres from the current site, lies a pile of stones where the original Wolfburn once stood. Founded in 1821 by one William Smith, it produced malt whisky until at least 1837 when the operation ceased. The reason for closure is not entirely clear but at least one attempt to resurrect it was made by a man named David Smith in 1852. After just a year however, Smith’s business failed and the stills fell silent once more. Soon, the distillery was abandoned and left to crumble into a state of decay.
The building of the new Wolfburn distillery involved a detailed archaeological excavation of the original site, before the company behind the project could finally break ground, as near to the original location as possible, in August of 2012. Water was sourced from the nearby burn which had inspired the name, and spirit was being produced by January of 2013.
The first single malt was bottled in March 2016. Since then the company has built up a core range comprising of three very different, yet complimentary single malts. Northland combines american oak ex-bourbon barrels with quarter casks which previously held heavily peated Islay whisky, whilst Aurora includes some ex-sherry casks in its recipe.
The most recent addition to the range however is Morven. Created using a lightly peated barley, Morven is partially aged in quarter casks, allowing for greater liquid to wood contact and therefore, speedier maturation. Bottled at 46% alcohol by volume, it is un-chill filtered and natural colour and retails in the UK for around £50 a bottle.
Smell: The youth of the spirit is in evidence but not unpleasantly so… There’s Barley Sugar and Vanilla, Lemon, Apple and Pineapple, Floral and Grassy notes and a hint of Smoke. Surprisingly complex for one so young.
Taste: Salt & Pepper, Oak, Caramel, Fresh Fruit with a touch of zingy Lime and a gentle waft of Smoke.
Value for Money: Young but characterful, it is a decent purchase for those who like whisky with a touch of the sea about it.
A dram which appears at first a little feisty on the nose, but then proves to be altogether mellower on the palate. A good example of a young, spirit-led, as opposed to cask-dominated, coastal single malt. Certainly offers a glimpse of the potential quality of future releases, but it is also a highly enjoyable little firecracker of a dram in its own right. Wolfburn is an interesting proposition and one that will be fascinating to watch as it develops in the years ahead.
*If the whisky reviewed in this article has caught your eye, you can buy it from Master of Malt here. Please be aware that as an affiliate I can be paid a small commission on any purchases you make after following links from my page. The whisky is also available from several other excellent retailers.