Eight hours north from our Manchester base, Wolfburn Whisky sits on the rugged Scottish coast in Thurso, Caithness.
It is situated in the most northerly town on the British mainland just three hundred and fifty yards from its original 18th century foundations; and now, Wolfburn once again, has started to distil whisky.
“If you look over there, that’s where it used to be, but after one hundred and fifty years of neglect all that is left of the old distillery is a pile of stones,” Shane Fraser, distillery manager of Wolfburn explains. The water from the Wolf Burn flows just as it has always done and it is now used once again to turn into whisky. Shane takes us inside the first building. It is a large double-height, purpose-built warehouse that looks like a giant chemical experiment. Stainless steel pipes, hand beaten copper stills and wash backs sit in line taking the pure water from Wolf Burn and slowly converting it into award-winning whisky.
The business has only been bottling since 2013, so the current malts are some of the youngest available on the market: three years being the minimum length of time for whisky to be barrelled before it can be called malt. However, as Shane explains, “If everything is done right then there is no reason why you can’t get a great tasting young malt. Personally, I haven’t had whisky this young that tastes as good.” Blind taste tests seem to agree with Shane as Wolfburn Whisky continues to grab various taste awards. The Northland Whisky alone has won three gold medals and is currently being distributed worldwide.
Shane started as a whisky guide when he was 17, taking tourists around Lochnagar distillery before getting a full-time job and learning the ropes of whisky production. He spent a few years in Oban and then became manager at the family-run Glenfarclas distillery. He now looks after a team of four who run the new distillery. His entire working life has been in the whisky industry so when the opportunity arose to produce his own whisky from scratch he jumped at the chance, declaring it to be his ‘dream job’. The great tasting malt he mentioned took just a week to perfect, “It is years of whisky-producing experience, but also a good bit of luck which allowed us to produce this great tasting whisky so fast.”
“We take our time to produce a fantastic new taste, so we make sure we only use top quality casks to enhance that taste. I really love making whisky for other people to enjoy.”
We walk to the next building which has the same modern industrial design but inside the contents are far from modern… hundreds of oak casks are stacked three high, the floor is hardcore and the dividers are wooden slats. As Shane walks over to a white-fronted barrel he turns to us and says, “This is number one. It still has a few years’ maturation to go but I’m really looking forward to bottling this batch.” Wolfburn mature their spirits in a combination of ‘second fill’ American oak quarter casks, ‘first fill’ American oak ex-bourbon casks and ‘first and second’ fill Spanish oak ex-sherry casks. Shane says, “We take our time to produce a fantastic new taste, so we make sure we only use top quality casks to enhance that taste. I really love making whisky for other people to enjoy.”
Steeped in history, this modern resurrection of a forgotten distillery is nudging its way back into the whisky market, producing award winning tastes from its natural beginnings, the ever-flowing Wolf Burn. And with Shane and his team poring over every detail the new Wolfburn single malt is in experienced hands from inception to cask… or… ‘from burn to bottle’.