A Wolf Out For New Blood

There was a time—circa 2011—when the neo-Scotch renaissance was in full swing and it was super cool to trace old forgotten distilleries back to their original grounds. David OG and I spent at least a few days back then driving around various parts of Scotland with a list of ancient distillery names, playing detective, hoping to catch a glimpse of something foundational. All that marketing fluff you see today about tradition, heritage, and hand-crafted quality, this heady era of whisky enthusiasm is where it originally came from: a once genuine passion on behalf of real whisky fans to understand the past and create a more authentic future based on that history. Back then you could still find independent bottlings of long-dormant distilleries on a regular basis. Now it's almost impossible to conceive of the fact that, at one point, K&L was purchasing entire casks of Port Ellen, Brora, Banff, Glenlochy, and Ladyburn, and sharing what we had learned about these closed and collectable bottlings in the hope of inspiring that same passion in others. It was a chance to taste Scotland's past, connect and commune with it in some way, and somehow reach deeper into the intoxicating world of single malt whisky. We weren't alone, however, and there were a few other folks out there who were far more ambitious than us.

I've yet to meet Shane Fraser and the rest of the gang behind Wolfburn Distillery, but already I completely understand their mission and their motivations. They clearly felt that same fire, that thirst for fresh blood. It was around that same time—circa 2011—that a group of investors went looking for the former site of Wolfburn, an old distillery established in 1821 that likely stopped operating at some point around 1872. It was built near the town of Thurso, a remote sea port along Scotland's northern coast that's known for quite a nice wave amongst surfers, and the name Wolfburn (like many Scottish distilleries) came from the water source nearby; a small stream with cold, clear water (the Wolf Burn) that flows all the way to the sea. When the group finally located the verdant grounds they found little more than a pile of stones, but the stream was still there; and where life still flows, whisky will follow. By 2012, a small parcel of land along the Wolf Burn was purchased and plans to rebuild the distillery began. Many of us had been monitoring the moves of Kilchoman to see if the idea of a small, independently-owned single malt distillery was actually sustainable. After the tiny Islay producer was met with a huge fanfare, it seemed this whole Scotch renaissance had legs. By January of 2013, Wolfburn distillery was open and the stills were running once again.

As many of you already know, a minimum of three years maturation is what's required before single malt Scotch whisky can be called such, and this past January the newly-founded Wolfburn distillery hit its third birthday. A press release was subsequently sent out in March announcing that the facility's first single malt would be released: a soft, fruity, and ever-so-slightly peaty expression that would give whisky fanboys like myself our first look at Wolfburn's work. It would be another few months before the American release hit the states, but I had heard good things from friends across the pond. I was excited to get my hands on a bottle. The logo and the packaging were absolutely top notch. The depiction of the wolf looks like a cross between the Stark family crest and an old, hand-illustrated edition of Little Red Riding Hood—somewhat cartoonish, yet simultaneously sinister. They've done a great job with their website as well. It's easy to navigate, informative, and compelling on all levels. This week the first shipment of Wolfburn finally made it to California and we got our first look at the rebirth.

So how's the whisky? I have to say I'm quite smitten, both because I'm a born romantic when it comes to booze and the fact that the whisky itself is utterly delicious. The nose is just delightful: fruity and malty in equal parts with a surprising level of vanilla considering the young age. What the whisky lacks in complexity on the palate, it makes up for completely in charm and balance. There's a wave of fresh wash—the exact flavor of the fruity, malty wort before it goes into the still—but then you taste subtle notes of peat, earth, and brine on the finish. Despite the youthful flavors, the whisky itself doesn't feel young in its mouthfeel. It's never hot, or untempered. After a few minutes, I was surprised that the whisky wasn't more phenolic considering the heavy traces of peat left on my palate. I've got a bottle sitting on my table at home right just begging to be drunk. Considering the light and easy style of the whisky, it's the perfect dram for the warm summer months ahead. I'm excited to drink Wolfburn; both by the opportunity to try something new and the story behind the whisky itself. As I said earlier, I know first hand what it's like to get wrapped up in Scotland's rich whisky heritage and how intoxicating that journey can be. Thank goodness for those of us who like to drink there are people out there willing to go all the way with that passion, and not be satisfied to simply write about it.

Wolfburn's first American release is in stock now at K&L.

Wolfburn Highland Single Malt Whisky $55.99

 -David Driscoll

David Driscoll