Editor’s Note: This whisky was provided to us as a review sample by the party behind it. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link in this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
Scottish distilleries have had their ups and downs. Over the years, many distilleries have gone under due to economic pressures and changing demand. Wolfburn Distillery, one of those, took its name from the river where it drew its water at its founding in 1821. It would become the largest whisky distillery in Caithness before closing its doors in 1837. The site went to ruin over the course of the next century, leaving only scattered stone-work.
It wouldn’t be until 2013 that a consortium of investors rebuilt Wolfburn Distillery. As with other iconic distilleries, they set out to revive a classic name. In this particular case, however, there is only a tenuous connection to the original distillery.
Wolfburn Distillery mentions the older distillery as part of their history, but has few connections to the original. The current owners have no connection to the staff of the original Wolfburn Distillery. The current distillery was built near, but not on, the previous location. No stock from the previous Wolfburn distillery has made its way into these offerings. The only clear connection between the current Wolfburn and the original is that both are built on the same river in northern Scotland.
That single connection, though, is a powerful link. The pH and mineral profile of water has considerable impact on the eventual taste of a whisky. In the case of Wolfburn, its namesake river is situated in the far north of Scotland. By just drawing the same water for fermentation, these new distillers will be capturing an essential element of what would have made the older Wolfburn what it was.
Tradition is important to Scotch, both in its production and its marketing. Utilizing the name and history of an older distillery may be the trick that helps a new distillery find its place in a field dominated by historic names and high age statements. Regardless of whether you see this as a true revival of the elder Wolfburn, however, the awards and acclaim earned by the younger Wolfburn attract my attention in their own right.
Wolfburn uses a light peating for their No. 318 Small Batch Release, as well as aging in both ex-bourbon casks and oloroso sherry butts. The combination of peat and sherry brings together the most traditional flavor of Scotch with one of the more popular recent styles. It’s a fitting pairing for a distillery with an identity that’s both old and new.
We review Wolfburn Small Batch No. 318, made with a light peating as well as being aged in both ex-bourbon casks and oloroso sherry butts. (image via Impex)
Nose: The mix of peat and sherry is clear on the nose. There’s an interplay of light smoke and vinous sherry that gives upfront complexity to the scent. Below that level, there are blooming floral scents and the sweetness of fresh red fruit.
Palate: There’s a sharp mouth feel to the sip. While there’s no smokiness, the interplay of peat and sherry give an initial bite to the whisky. Past the vinous sherry, notes of crisp red fruits and honey stand out against the mossy feel of the peat. As it mellows into the finish, the red fruit fades and I’m left with tastes of sea salt and white wine.
Whisky Review: Wolfburn Small Batch No. 318
The use of sherry to compliment the peat allows this whisky to have a strong character without needing to rely on heavy smoke. For drinkers who don’t enjoy smoke, this expression provides a peated whisky that is lighter on smoke while still showing a nuanced character. It brings an enjoyable depth to the familiar taste profile of a single malt scotch, while being approachable in its smoothness.
Taylor is a writer, researcher, and whiskey enthusiast. He came to Portland in pursuit of higher education, and found himself staying to pursue the Pacific Northwest's wide range of olfactory offerings. He's a fan of craft beer, farm to table food, indie perfume, and, most of all, whiskey. While he...