Sunday, December 4, 2016

What's on the shelf? - Wolfburn single malt

Last winter I traveled to Florida to host a Scotch whisky dinner which had a theme focused on malt distilleries that had gone online since 1990. At that time the list included 20 facilities, but only nine of them had been operating long enough to have distillate that had aged for three years; the requisite minimum to legally qualify as whisky. Three of the nine were yet to bottle any of their whisky, at least not as single malt, and several of the others were very hard to come by. Needless to say, it was a bit of a challenge to round up four different whiskies to support the chosen topic.

All of that being said, I was excited to see another distillery from the list have its whisky come of age and appear on retail shelves this fall. The post I linked to above is kind of lengthy, so I’ll re-post the list of 20 distilleries here with the years that they began production shown.

(1990) Speyside
(1990) Kininvie
(1995) Arran
(2004) Glengyle
(2005) Daftmill
(2005) Kilchoman
(2007) Ailsa Bay
(2008) Abhain Dearg
(2010) Roseisle
(2013) Strathearn
(2013) Wolfburn
(2014) Annandale
(2014) Ardnamurchan
(2014) Ballindalloch
(2014) Eden Mills
(2015) Arbikie
(2015) Glasgow Distillery Co
(2015) Dalmunach
(2015) Kingsbarn
(2015) Isle of Harris

The Wolfburn distillery went online early in 2013, so the whisky they are selling now is just three years old, or perhaps slightly older.

There are some interesting points of note, both geographically and historically. Located in the town of Thurso, Wolfburn is now the northernmost distillery on Scotland’s mainland. In becoming so, it unseated the Pulteney distillery, which is in the nearby town of Wick, from that title. The only distilleries situated further north in the country are Scapa and Highland Park, both of which can be found on the largest island of the Orkney Islands archipelago.

The new Wolfburn distillery was constructed very close to the site of the original Wolfburn distillery, which was founded in 1821. All that remains of the original is its foundation and unfortunately it ceased production before Alfred Barnard made his tour of all of Scotland’s distilleries in the 1880’s, so our knowledge of it is quite limited. What little is known comes from tax records and Ordnance Survey maps. The distillery seems to have stopped operating some time in the 1850’s or 1860’s, but at one point it was the largest in Caithness County.

I first became aware of the fact that Wolfburn was being bottled and shipped to the U.S. when I saw it on a Florida distributor’s list of products in late September. Since then I’ve seen it on store shelves in NH and MA.

The Wolfburn website makes claims of long fermentations and slow distillations. They are also bottling their whisky without chill filtration or artificial color. All of this bodes well for a quality product. I’ve tasted some very impressive young whiskies from Kilchoman and they have noted that part of their strategy was to use small stills to maximize copper contact during distillation. The stills at Wolfburn are bigger than Kilchoman’s (5500 liters wash and 3600 liters spirit vs. 3230 liters wash and 2070 liters spirit), but nonetheless relatively small in the grand scheme of things.

$60+ may seem a bit expensive for a young whisky, but that’s the price of admission to sample the work of a new distillery when they’re trying to generate some cash flow early on. I’ve been trying to reign in my whisky spending somewhat recently and I hadn’t heard anything about this bottling yet, so I held off. But I am curious about it now so it’s probably just a matter of time before I get around to tasting Wolfburn.

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