The most northerly distillery on mainland Scotland was a title once held by Old Pulteney for some time. That’s until the team at Wolfburn set up shop in Thurso, and took that title for themselves with their first production in 2013 and inaugural release in 2016.
The Morven release is named after the highest peak within Caithness, the county within which Thurso and the Wolfburn distillery sits, and it is the notably peated variant to their initial core range, sitting amongst the the original Northland and Aurora releases [ed: which has been added to more recently by the chunky 58% ABV Langskip].
Morven is made with lightly peated barley and housed in a combination of ex-bourbon casks and quarter casks, originally featuring spirit aged 3-4 years old, when first released in 2017. The single malt is non-chill-filtered and presented at 46% ABV at its natural colour (hence its very pale complexion).
Soft peat smells arrive at first: earth and smoke. Dry grass / hay soon follow. After a little bit of time with it, the smoke reminds me more of a woodsmoke rather than peat smoke. Amongst the peat there is some vanilla fudge, barley sugar and malty sweetness.
That barley sugar sweetness is the first flavour to hit and then there’s an apple crumble and custard 1-2 combo that swiftly follows. The woodsmoke flavour then joins the party shortly afterwards and some peppery spice provides balance to the light and sweet flavours. There’s a little salted caramel and almond nuttiness to it too amongst the fumed finale. A drop of water brings out a buttery body that complements the underlying vanilla flavour.
Ooooh, it’s got quite a rasp to it. The fire of the young malt and the spice of the oak seem to continue to intensify in a battle on the way down, leaving a feisty peppery and gingery warmth.
A really fresh, clean and pure tasting malt. It is branded as lightly peated, but it tasted much more peated than anticipated – it’s not an Islay by any stretch, but it plays its peated hand well. There’s enough sweetness and light to be countered by the intensity of the spirit and peat, with a little apple and a bit of salted caramel to add to the natural hay/earthy flavours.
Having a quick whiff of the glass after it’s gone, you can basically smell the peat chimney and the grist from the distillery. They are so fresh that it’s evocative of a distillery visit. We (WhiskyUnplugged) have actually been to the Wolfburn distillery but were unfortunate enough to arrived just 10 minutes after it had closed. It wasn’t a planned trip, as it was a last minute drive via Thurso so it wasn’t a huge loss at the time but it did feel like a missed opportunity in hindsight. Our nearby AirBnB was next door to a pub however and we made up for the missed visit by trying their core range anyway. I remember the Aurora being the favourite on the night, but that wasn’t a night for tasting notes, just pure enjoyment, so I’ve been waiting to get back to their malts eventually for a proper taste.
If I was to try and name a similar / comparator whisky it would be like a Kilchoman Machir Bay without quite so much of the heft. Enjoyable but also one that I’d like to see develop with time as the Machir Bay has. At £50 a bottle, it seems quite pricey to me, but the right price is whatever you’re willing to pay for it, right? I’d certainly pick up another mini or have a dram if I saw it on a bar when the world gets back on its feet.
Sample disclosure: This sample was received as part of the paid Summerton Whisky Festival package for 2020. All notes are intended as an honest, fair and independent review of the whisky, and not a promotion. Please drink responsibly and wisely.