My poor blog has been somewhat abandoned over the summer months (what little summer we had anyway) so this week’s news of the release of Wolfburn Aurora gave me the impetus I needed to get back to the keyboard and write my long overdue Wolfburn distillery focus.
I’m really looking forward to hearing what these guys have been up to as I used to work with Shane (Shane Fraser, Production Manager) when we were both at Glenfarclas. I know, I know, another Glenfarclas connection but you know that saying about there being only 6 degrees of separation between anyone on the planet? Well, I think when you’re talking about the Scotch Whisky industry you can probably reduce that to about 2 degrees! Let’s see what Shane has to say for himself anyway;
Q. Can you talk us through the process of setting up your distillery?
The journey started in 2011 – that’s when we put together the outline business plan. Finessing the numbers took a long time because every little input has a knock-on effect. For example, the size of the mash has a direct bearing on the size of the washbacks and the size of the stills – not to mention the amount of malt used per week, which then has an effect on the size of the malt bins, and the weekly running cost. By the end of 2011 we had workable numbers, so we set about buying the land and getting planning consent – both of which happened in June 2012. The civil engineering started shortly afterwards, and we simultaneously finalised our contract with Forsyths – they started installing the plant equipment in November 2012. The build was completed in the new year and we went on spirit on 25 January 2013 – Burns Night! Since then it has been non stop – we mash and distill six times per week, and lay down roughly 1,000 casks per year. Bottling commenced in February 2016 and we have already sold a huge amount more whisky than originally forecast. It’s been quite a ride!
Q. Do you have a specific style of whisky in mind and how are you going to achieve that?
Wolfburn’s whisky is light and smooth – a nicely rounded whisky, which we hope is easy and pleasant to drink. Personally I prefer softer spirits and I’ve crafted Wolfburn so it’s a sweet and fragrant dram. It already has quite a following, which is lovely to see.
Q. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far in setting up a new distillery? What do you envisage as the biggest challenges going forward?
There are so many challenges, it’s difficult to know when to start! Maybe the biggest is to ensure that quality is maintained as high as possible at all times, even when we are doing something for the first time. Sometimes I wish there were more hours in the day!
Maturation is all on site in our purpose-built warehouses. We hand-select all our casks, which mostly come from Spain or America. And we also bottle on site – Wolfburn is one of only a tiny handful of distilleries where everything happens in one place.
Q. Who do you see as your target market?
Anyone who enjoys fine quality single malt scotch, globally. We have distribution in 21 countries globally.
Q. When do you plan to release your first whisky? Will you be producing any other products in the meantime?
We launched in Feb 2016, and have been selling ever since. We’ll never produce anything other than whisky – it’s our expertise and it’s what defines us as a brand and as a business.
Q. What’s your long term goal? Where do you see yourself and your distillery in 20 years time?
To be honest I am enjoying everything so much on a day-to-day or month-to-month basis that I don’t give much thought to long term plans at the moment! If Wolfburn continues to grow, and we continue to produce such lovely whisky, I shall be very happy.
Sounds like Shane is having a ball up there! Let’s see what the end product tastes like then shall we? The lovely chaps from Wolfburn sent me a 3yo cask sample, matured in a quarter cask (like their Northland single malt). It’s sitting at 60.02% vol, so quite a bit higher than their bottling strength of 46%. I’ve drafted in Mark (my husband) to help with the tasting, which is a terrible chore for him I’m sure. Also, I don’t really go in for very detailed tasting notes - I’m very much a broad brush strokes kinda girl - but Mark’s much better at all the bullsh*t (oops, I mean tasting notes) so he’s written more detailed ones too.
My impressions first; it’s a really well-balanced, drinkable dram. It’s got a lovely mouthfeel that really coats the palate and leaves a wonderful soft smokiness. It doesn’t seem overly young, and certainly tastes older than it’s tender 3 years. I wondered whether the slight peatiness on the palate adds a certain maturity? Overall, I’m really impressed and very much looking forward to trying more expressions from this great Northern distillery.
All in all an excellent dram, although you might not get that impression from some of his tasting notes! He is a bit odd and insists that stale custard creams, sileage, pebbles and pumice stones are all meant in a good way!
Incidentally Mark visited Wolfburn in 2013, shortly after they started production, as part of his stag do celebrations. He even managed to take 2 photos while he was there (pretty impressive for a stag do I feel) which I have included in this article.
Whisky Impressions is run by Kate Watt. Previously at Springbank and then Glenfarclas, I now design some whisky related stuff and write about it, and anything else that takes my fancy, on this blog.