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Wolfburn 2014 Dornoch Castle Whisky Club

Our Wolfburn report card so far, would simply read: can do better. The immortal words written by teachers worldwide, regarding unfulfilled potential. In reality, there’s nothing wrong with Wolfburn whatsoever. Instead it suffers from the worst of fates. A distillery with a single malt presence, but one that lacks any subsistence.

Single malts have led the recent explosion in whisky. There’s been a desire from all distilleries to tap into this market. Former bulk blend producers have suddenly broken cover with their new core ranges and brand launches seemingly happen on a monthly basis. For whisky consultants and influencers, business is very good while this lasts. We’ve seen the new distilleries step into this marketplace as well, charging debatable prices for young whiskies. Adam and Mark go weak at the knees for all things Bimber and there’s nothing wrong with such schoolgirl BTS antics, or what’s coming out of England, or further afield. Distilleries new and old need to up their game. Standing still isn’t merely enough, as effectively you are being overtaken and propelled downwards towards Fettercairn, Jura, Mannochmore and Tobermory.

There is the hard fact that we should question more if XYZ is actually worth a single malt release? What is a distillery bringing to the market that is attractive, new and possibly unique? This is where the marketing will step in and try to win you over. And while this might be enough to prick interest and prompt you into buying once. If the end result (if you’re into opening bottles) isn’t satisfactory or deemed of sufficient value, then you won’t return.

My continuing conflict with Wolfburn is that the environment and setting, fails to come through in the glass itself. It could be a whisky from any number of new distilleries that we’re now seeing in Scotland. A whisky sculpted by panels and consultants. Something that is created not to offend or upset anyone (unlike Jura), but in reality doesn’t win the hearts of anyone either. That’s the essence of the issue in my warped eyes. I’m not expecting Wolfburn to be a Highland equivalent of an Islay beast, but I would like it to have some bite and tenacity. Something to remind me it’s from the north, built to last and in doing so, prompt a reaction.

A key factor in all of this is time. Distilleries have form and maturing stocks are always evolving. This is why I’ll always seek out whiskies from the aforementioned and in doing so keep tabs and hopefully uncover a surprise. All of which brings us to this exclusive single cask release to the members of the Dornoch Castle Whisky Club, of which, I’m a member. A bottle is included in the membership with the option to purchase a 2nd for £65, which I did with the possibility of a future tasting.

Distilled in December 2014 and bottled in February 2018, this is a youthful example that has resided in bourbon cask #807. Bottled at 57.1%, the outturn was 284 to the club. It is non-chill filtered and natural colour, with the added interest coming from the fact that it is lightly peated at 10ppm. This should at such a young age inject some vibrancy and character into the experience.

Wolfburn 2014 Dornoch Castle Whisky Club – review

Color: apple peel.

On the nose: more apples and a gentle seasoning of peat. There’s jelly sweeties, icing sugar – in a way jelly babies. Pastry dough, delicate meadow fruits, lemon drops and a sense of this is a rather reserved Wolfburn. Far from a rugged Highlander. Spent candle wax, fresh limes and vanilla pod.

In the mouth: now more of that peat steps forward and surprisingly so given the nosing experience. Cigarette ends, ashy, oily and buttery mixed up with juicy apples. Tar-like with a splash of water. I’d never pick it out as Wolfburn. Very clean and precise with a lingering smoky finish.

Conclusions

Surprisingly good for something of this age and noting the distillery, even more remarkable. Peat can hide a multitude of sins and shortcomings. Here, it’s the foundation for building without swamping the whole plan. It’s also very clean and modern; the traditionalist within, might want a little more grubbiness and dank. However, I’m happy and this is a whisky, others will enjoy as well.

Score: 7/10

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. Avatar
    Matt Bishop says:

    ‘Surprising good for something of this age’ is a great compliment I think. I am a strong ‘believer’ in the Wolfburn way since visiting a couple of years ago. Meeting Andrew, one of the founders who grew up in Thurso, I was encouraged by the passion and dedication to making good whisky. The distillery itself is very agricultural (there’s no pagoda-effect chimney here) and sits on an industrial estate on the outskirts of town. It is positioned a stones through from the Wolf Burn and the remains of the original 19th century site of the distillery, but to get any sense of terroir from the surroundings into the whisky would be difficult as Thurso sits on an open expanse of bleak, windswept, Highland farmland. Shane Fraser the Distillery Manager (coming from Glenfarclas) has his own house style that he wants to show to the whisky world. I have a number of bottles of Wolfburn, and whilst appreciating the young nature of the spirit (they only started laying down new make in 2013) I enjoy the style and taste of the current range. If you get a chance try the Small Batch Releases numbered 128, 270, and 375 as I think these are showing the promise of what the future may bring. As Dave Broom is quoted “I continue to be blown away by this newcomer”, I think there may be something to look forward to with Wolfburn.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Matt

      Thanks for the outline on what’s promising at Wolfburn. I value this take more than words from Dave, or other professionals.

      Time is a major factor alongside learning from mistakes of the past, which we’re all entitled to make. Hopefully, we can cover more releases although, I feel I’ve done my bit exclusively for the team to date.

      Cheers, Jason.

      1. Avatar
        Scotty S says:

        I agree with you Jason. Distilleries do have to come up with something to hook consumers but how easily can they now do that?

        Do you not think with the massive boom in the whisky industry, that we are just swamped with new whiskies and expressions? It seems we are at a point of ever diminishing returns, as unless you get to sample a wide range of whiskies, the uneducated palate is less likely to distinguish the finer points?

        I personally feel we are now mostly riding a crest of marketing, and if the boom falters, we’ll be sitting on another whisky Loch.

        Same goes for gin….

        1. Jason
          Jason says:

          Hi Scotty

          The winning formula is flavour, attractively priced and traceability. Availability is a difficult one to pull off if you’re a smaller distillery. I’d also add less packaging and flannel. With all the climate change focus, you do wonder how necessary some packaging is and if distilleries should do more.

          There is already another whisky loch: not in warehouses, but in homes and auctioneers. Eventually, things will stumble and fall.

          Cheers, Jason.

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