Though this relative newcomer started its spirit production in the 2010s, its roots hark back to the 1820s when the name Wolfburn was first used by a distillery on a site nearby. The name itself comes from a small freshwater stream from which the original distillery would make its whisky. ‘Burn’ being the Scots name for a small river or stream, and ‘Wolf’ being a reference to the wolves that used to freely roam on the lands in times gone by.
Flash forward some 150 years since its last reported production of whisky, and the name Wolfburn has been revived in Thurso, and in 2013 the town was again home to copper stills which flowed with the water of life.
Whilst producing still relatively young malts and a little away from the traditionally revered age statements, the distillers have created a core range of 4 single malts, each with a distinct blueprint and profile. Northland, Aurora, Morven and Langskip.
Northland is the flagship release launched by the Wolfburn distillery in 2016. As such, it is the first regularly available single malt whisky to be made by the Caithness team and has continued to be a mainstay of their core range. The name also represents their heritage and status as the northernmost whisky distillery in mainland Scotland.
As the first release, the Northland malt has benefitted from maturation in quarter cask barrels of American oak, which allows a greater ratio of liquid to wood than your regular sized casks (being quarter of the size and all) and so producing faster results on their spirit’s cask interaction. Without an age statement the team are also able to focus on ensuring that they can maintain the malt’s profile whilst also helping it develop over time.
Northland has been bottled at 46% ABV at the whisky’s natural colour and without chill-filtration.
The first smell out of the glass is a gentle peat smoke. Warming and quite dry. A lot like more like woodsmoke actually, rather than cloying peat. Once used to that though there’s a nice wave of sweet flavours: cinder toffee, Danish pastries, apple, lemons, white grapes. I could also get a little milk chocolatey flavour at the end too, leaving a lasting impression (to me at least) of what I’d imagine a smoky Cadbury’s Crunchie would smell like.
It’s all sweetness and loveliness upfront with a very soft body delivering the tastes of honey, toffee, lemonade, white wine (courtesy of that grape note again). As they set in though a gently rising white peppery spice and vanilla come from the fresh American oak, along with a final resurgence of the peat smoke. It’s a very clean smoke too (if that makes sense?). It’s not earthy, not tarry, not medicinal, just smoky.
A little spicy but overall a soft and buttery texture leaves behind a toffee apple flavour and barley sugar sweetness which actually linger for a while after the peppery tingle fades.
That is one very good opening gambit. They’ve certainly earned their various accolades on this one. For something so young it’s not overly spirit-y or punchy. Sure it’s got some fight to it, but it’s been managed well, which is presumably down to the quarter cask maturation.
At £45 a bottle, critics may think that it’s a bit much for a young malt, but the right price is ultimately what you are willing to pay for a whisky and I can certainly think of whiskies that aren’t quite as good for that price. It is also setting some really good foundations for the distillery to build on. Ultimately this young malt remains very well crafted and makes for rather swift drinking. To me, it’s charm comes from its a deliciously soft texture and plenty of sweet flavours. I mentioned in the review of the Morven release that I would hope that it’s profile continues to develop over the years and I can see me dipping in and out of the Wolfburn releases to take part in that journey.
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. Please drink wisely.