Wolfburn Distillery in Thurlo is the true definition of a reopened distillery: First established in 1821, it became the largest distillery in Caithness in northern Scotland and then fell into ruin sometime in the 1860s. The original distillery is now no more than a vague pile of stones. The modern Wolfburn distillery was rebuilt near the site of the original distillery and ran its first spirit run in January of 2013 using the same process water from the Wolf Burn. The whisky is double distlled and aged in a combination of casks. Wolfburn produces both peated and unpeated malt. You’ll see claims from Wolfburn about being the northernmost distillery in Scotland. Of course, they mean mainland Scotland, as both Scapa and Highland Park of the Orkneys are further north.
Wolfburn Aurora was released in 2016 from 3 year-old Wolfburn malt aged in a variety of casks. Reportedly, this means 40% of the whisky was aged in second-fill quarter casks, 40% in first-fill ex-bourbon barrels, and the remaining 20% in first-fill Oloroso sherry hogsheads. I believe those quarter casks originally held Islay malt (the first Wolfburn whisky was aged in ex-Islay quarter casks), although I don’t detect any peat, so maybe these are different quarter casks. The whisky is not chill-filtered, and has no added color. It is bottled at 46% ABV. The Internet calls this craft presentation, and dogma aside it’s a good idea all around.
For what it’s worth, the label contains the phrase “Matured in ex-bourbon oak casks for 3 years”, but it’s in tiny print at the bottom of the back label. I guess we can still call that an age statement.
Nose: Resinous, slightly rancid sherry with some tannic red wine. Beneath that, red berries and caramel malt. A rest in the glass disperses the rancidity and somewhat brightens the fruits.
Palate: Thin bodied. Robust tongue burn up front, which resolves into cinnamon extract, powdered ginger, and berry jam over a thin layer of malt. Eclectic. Feels incomplete.
Finish: On the short side. Cane sugar (molasses), and mild oak tannins. Fades vaguely, without resolution.
With Water: A few drops of water wake up the sherry a bit – adding fruit – and also round out the vanilla sweetness in the aroma. The palate also seems fuller and more dynamic. Water highly recommended with this one.
Overall: This feels like a young malt that shows older on the stage, but which has been contaminated by an inferior cask of sherry that left most of the fruit in the wine and presents largely off-putting rancio and resin notes. It is possible to drink this and ignore these elements, but the experience seems incomplete. Perhaps older malt left in ex-bourbon for longer would have stood up to, or better incorporated, the sherry. I was thoroughly lucky to obtain a closeout bottle of this for $30, which is really the exact price point where this belongs. If market forces and industry overhead didn’t force new and craft distillers to overcharge, the market would consist of much more good, fairly-priced whisky. Alas, that’s not the world we live in. I am looking forward to seeing what 6 or 8 year-old Wolfburn is like, but I won’t be dropping $50 on any 3 year-old from the distillery.