The Wolfburn that we know today was established in 2012 by Aurora Brewing on the outskirts of Thurso in Caithness and production commenced on 25th January 2013. Taking its inspiration from a previously lost distillery of the same name that dated back to 1821, the remnants of are just a short walk from its new incarnation. Today, all that remains of this ancient Wolfburn are its foundations whilst this new distillery is now producing whisky and reviving the name.
The name Wolfburn originates from the original water source that was utilised by the distillery to produce whisky during the 19th century, although history shows us that tales of a sea-wolf were also in existence. A sizeable producer, it was no doubt fuelled by local demand for its produce until hard times brought the distillery to an end. Very little is known or remains of this previous distillery, which has been lost to time, but the water source remains. Situated within an industrial park near Thurso, the Wolfburn of today is a modern affair with a handful of stark commercial buildings that are typical of many industrial units. There is little suggestion that this is a distillery in the traditional Scottish sense. Instead each of the buildings serves a purpose whether its distillation, maturation or the end stage of bottling.
As its common with many of these newer distilleries there is less emphasis on capacity with an annual output of just 135,000 litres. Proved by a single pair of Forsyth copper pot stills, the production side of the distillery is housed within a single building. The fermentation times at Wolfburn can range from 70-92 hours and this degree of flexibility is reflected in the overall approach at the distillery. It’s worth highlighting that the fermenters themselves were salvaged from the now lost Caperdonich distillery.
Initially a non-peated spirit was produced at Wolfburn, but in recent times a lightly peated variant has also been accommodated. Early in 2016, its debut whisky was released and this was a debatable hybrid thanks to the use of quarter casks from Islay (Laphroaig) that gave the whisky a smoky Islay slant rather than the true nature of Wolfburn itself. Arguably adopted as a type of finish it was met with mixed reviews. The spirit is well made but many enthusiasts wish to experience the distillery character rather than an influence from somewhere else in Scotland.
Things have improved as releases become more commonplace from Wolfburn and its range has certainly grown tremendously within the last 18 months. The Northland release features more of those ex-Islay quarter casks, whilst the Aurora features additional use of ex-bourbon barrels and 1st fill sherry hogsheads. Batch no.128 is a limited edition of 6000 bottles comprised of 100 litre 1st fill ex-bourbon that previously resided in Wolfburn’s number 1 warehouse and stow 28; hence the name. The Morven is a 2017 addition to the core range and features the aforementioned lightly peated spirit in a very approachable form. The Kylver series is the more premium variant when a single cask is deemed too good to go into one of the vatted core ranges. The name itself comes from an ancient Caithness burial stone featuring the runic alphabet, which is displayed on the packaging.
There have also been several single cask releases to showcase the distillery internationally with exclusives from certain countries and editions marking whisky festivals. Wolfburn is very much a young distillery on the rise and is worth exploring.