Another wonderful release from the Wolfburn stillmen. Langskip is a rich and spicy, full-strength, unpeated whisky that was matured entirely in first-fill bourbon casks.
It's named after the Norse longships that once dominated the Caithness coastline near the distillery.
Although bottled at an impressive 58% ABV, technically it can't be called cask strength, as the distillers had to add a tiny dash of water to ensure consistency across bottlings. But it's as near as dammit.
Drawn from bourbon casks laid down in 2013 and 2014, it's Wolfburn's oldest release to date, and since those casks were hand-selected for the purpose five years ago, the results were always going to be special.
Aromas of fruit blossom meld with dried apples and light oak. In the background you’ll find traces of raisins and dates mixed with rich fruit cake. Flavours burst onto the palate, rich and sweet, including maple syrup, dark chocolate, almonds and raisins. The finish lingers nicely – hints of vanilla gently fade away with a warming trace of caramel at the end.
“I continue to be blown away by this newcomer.” Dave Broom, Scotchwhisky.com
“The building of a new distillery, no matter how romantic its location or story, does not guarantee good whisky. So I am delighted for those involved in such an exhausting project as this that a very good whisky is exactly what they have on their hands.” Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2017
“For all its youth, the excellence of quality glimmers from the glass: a malt as beautifully flighted as a cricket ball delivered by the most crafted of spinners. It offers delightful turn on the palate, too.” Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2017
In January 2013, the residents of Thurso, on Scotland’s rugged north coast, might have noticed an unfamiliar perfume in the air—a sour, yeasty aroma that would have been well known to their ancestors. Of course it was the smell of grain being ‘mashed’ in preparation for distillation and aging on the way to becoming single malt whisky. The last time whisky was made in Thurso there was a price on Ned Kelly’s head—dead or alive. Yet today the malt stills of Wolfburn – the mainland's northernmost distillery – are firing again.
“Freedom and Whisky gang thegither!” Robert Burns
No bottles, nor barely any records, of the original Wolfburn whisky survive from the 19th century. From what little the archives show, Wolfburn distillery was at the time one of the largest producers in Scotland. All would have been consumed within the borders of Caithness, such was the demand for ‘uisge beatha’ (the water of life) by the locals. Few, if any, bottles made it down the rutted road or over the seas to Edinburgh’s Georgian drinking houses. And if any did, they’ve long since been drained.
In early 2013, thanks to the passion and investment of small band of malt fanatics, the new Wolfburn distillery went back on spirit, barrelling their first ‘new make’ on Friday, 25th January 2013 (Burns Night). Fed with natural spring water from the still flowing Wolf burn (Wolf stream), the bespoke distillery lies just 350 meters downstream of its historical location on Thurso Bay, overlooking the turbulent waters of the Pentland Firth and the imposing cliffs of the Orcadian Island of Hoy. Today, Wolfburn remains the most northerly distillery on the Scottish mainland, usurping Old Pulteny in Wick by around 10 kilometres as the crow files.
‘It’s the whisky I’ve always wanted to make’.
Wolburn’s primary distiller was Shane Fraser, whose impressive CV starts off at Royal Lochnagar Distillery, as a rosy cheeked 16 year old. Since that time he had gained over 25 years experience in the pursuit of fine single malt Scotch whisky. After three years at Oban he became distillery manager with J&G Grant (one of Scotland’s larger independent distillers) where he was responsible for ensuring the continued quality of the prominent Glenfarclas range. Fraser has since moved on to a distillery in the US, with ex-Glenlivet man Iain Kerr filling his shoes. In fact, Kerr, who joined Wolfburn back in 2013, has been production manager at the distillery for many years—so it’s a case of business as usual.
Having carte blanche from the early stages of the project allowed Fraser and Kerr to tailor the distillery and its state of the art equipment to craft their dream single malt. As you might imagine from a stand alone, independent, start-up distiller, Wolfburn’s craft-like distillery has little to do with the world of Big Whisky (which controls roughly 80% of Scotland’s distilleries)—and even at this early juncture the small scale and attention to detail shine through in the in the spirit. ‘As a rule of thumb, if you put good spirit into good casks you won’t go far wrong – and that’s been our philosophy from Day 1’, says Fraser. I like how he puts it. The malt whisky industry is often shrouded in romanticism but Fraser plays it with a straight bat. Great whisky has everything to do with the skill and knowledge of the distiller, the quality of malting, and many other details. As Andrew Jefford describes it, it’s ‘…the architecture of a washback, the shape of a still, the interstices of a condenser. The place which matter is the place where it all happens: the equipment’. Perhaps we’re romantics, perhaps it’s our wine background, but we do like to think that there’s also something in the air that makes a difference too. Either, way, geographic place, equipment and skill: Wolfburn score highly on all counts.
Whisky crafted the old way; no automation, no rush and a lot of care.
Using un-peated malt, the Wolfurn stillmen use a 1.1 ton mash, and draws off clear wort, which is then given a long fermentation - around 75 hours, 50% longer than average. Fraser explains, ‘…at 50 hours there’s no more alcohol to be made, but the’ yeast is still active. Allowing it to work for longer releases some lovely sweet and floral flavours.’ The wash is then slowly double distilled in traditional copper pot stills, specifically designed and handcrafted by coppersmith Forsyths of Rothes. The liquid first passes through the wash still (5,500 litres) and then through the spirit still (3,800 litres). Wolfburn’s distillation time is a lengthy four plus hours, during which the harsher, more sulphurous compounds are stripped out; resulting in a lovely light sweet spirit, with almost zero impurities. Kerr aims to protect the delicate volatiles he generates via the extended ferment throughout the distillation and maturation, and into the finished whisky. Once the distillation is complete the whisky is left to mature on site in hand selected casks that are stored using traditional dunnage methods; on their side, bung up, on stows, never higher than three. Wolfburn’s whiskies are never chill filtered nor coloured.
Barely six years have passed since Wolfburn Distillery laid down their first cask on Burns Night 2013. And yet the more we taste from this fiercely independent producer, the more excited we get. If we ever have any doubts as to why we moved into spirits, or, more precisely, why we chased so hard to get the agency for an (at the time) unknown producer, the whiskies below are a definitive reminder!
DAVE BROOM - SCOTCHWHISKY.COM
Nose: There's some discernible lemon puff in there and a sweetness, even a hint of ozone freshness, while behind there's some charred rootiness. That said, as it's slightly hard to get into it, it makes sense to add water rather than struggle. It opens the citric elements up, along with nemesia, some creaminess, fresh-cut grass and the sweetness of cow's breath. The florals continue to lift, moving into wild rose and cherry blossom. Palate: Gorgeous, sweet and fragrant start, although the heat kicks in quickly obscuring what seems like a (hot) sugar-coated doughnut. Once again water helps allowing the sweetness to come through now, with some nuttiness making things generally softer and more approachable with just sufficient of the lemony acidity to add some bite. Finish: Hot when neat, then pineapple and lemon. Conclusion: It's another winner from Wolfburn.