Festival season is/was amongst us, for a special 2020 virtual edition. We’ve seen some distilleries shut up shop completely and do the Rees-Mogg, while others embrace the digital age and its possibilities as outlined by Roy recently, or my own Glenallachie review.
I haven’t managed to reach Wolfburn as of yet. I tend to make it as far as Wick and Pulteney and become distracted, or told to turn around by my better half. Traditionally, visitors who make the long trek north are rewarded with the option to purchase an exclusive bottle. Given no distilleries are taking visitors for the foreseeable future, the 2020 offering from the From The Stills range was made available online for £55. An intriguing combination on paper, with 2 casks featuring a 2013 sherry hogshead and a wee octave. This exclusive distillery release is bottled at 46%.
Credit to Wolfburn for continuing with their Highland Festival offering; the festival and festival season that never was. Even poking fun at the situation by slapping a bold cancelled stamp on the label. But what makes this festival bottling? Well, the whisky here is 7 years of age, meaning it comes from the first year of production at the distillery. Bottled at 46%, it has resided for the whole maturation in quarter casks, so in theory, there should be more at work here than some of the traditional sized casks we’ve seen from previous Wolfburn releases.
And that was the introduction written during May 2020. Now, almost 5 months on, we’re still in the midst of situation, with the faint glimmer of hope over the summer snatched away from us as we regress into the autumnal months.
We’ve seen the arrival of Zoom and other online mediums to enable a variety of tastings in the UK and beyond. Festivals have also been forced to go virtual with the Belfast Whiskey Week providing the benchmark for others to follow. As I write this, on the eve of the Whisky Exchange’s extravaganza, I’ve purchased the virtual ticket but not any packs. The packs have a universal catch-all perspective. There’s less to stimulate my interest, although I’ll gladly watch many of the shows over the coming week and the repeat broadcasts mean you have the ability to catch up if life gets in the way.
Perhaps of more interest online, even though it is out of reach for anyone not living in Canada, is the Spirit of Toronto schedule¹. Where the emphasis is on warehouse samples and offering attendees more than just the de facto staple releases and the usual promotional soundbites.
In hindsight, you can get away with doing the basic fundamentals for your first online festival, but to encourage more repeat custom and interaction, it won’t be as beneficial in subsequent years. That’s what makes the Toronto aspect encouraging, even from across the Atlantic they’ve pulled off a unique set of events. Attendees have the option of packs containing cask samples from a variety of distilleries including America, Canada, Netherlands, and of course, Scotland. Even without the packs, it’s something I’d love to watch as a bystander. Warehouse samples are the gems and hidden treasures that we all lust after given the opportunity.
For all the online developments and final acceptance of bringing distant enthusiasts together, is this the future? For now, it is the current, but when we can look ahead, I’d hope to have a mixture of both ingredients. Festivals and events that cater to those who make the trek, but also look to embrace the possibilities of involving others, less able to make the voyage.
Wolfburn From the Stills 2020 – review
On the nose: jelly, apples, a little vanilla and a puff of smoke. Peaches, tangerines and tinned syrup. Caramel, grapes and oaty. Adding water brings out damp wood, straw and honey.
In the mouth: very meh, shallow, short and inoffensive. More apples, almonds, black pepper, tea leaves and toffee. Water doesn’t change things massively, only bringing out cask char.
Wolfburn Highland Whisky Festival 2020 – review
Colour: lemon peel.
On the nose: fairly inoffensive with mostly a woody, firewood specifically feature. By that I mean, gently toasted almost with a smoke residue. Beneath this exterior, there are remnants of white apples, lemon, grapes, vanilla marshmallows and a Caramac bar. Water brought out a touch of mint and more of the wood smoke.
In the mouth: more woody notes, some dampness with elements of earthy bark. A scattering of black pepper and water isn’t beneficial. This really lacks any character and development. It’s lost to the wind in essence, vapid and so forgettable.
The frustration of Wolfburn continues. The From the Stills has the edge but it is a close thing overall. Neither of these bottles was expensive compared to other festival releases or distillery exclusives we’ve seen nowadays. For that, we should be thankful, even if the contents fail to deliver.
The Festival bottling I could have taken for a white label supermarket release and thought very little else of it. Even going back after several months, didn’t improve matters at all.
It just goes to show you that not every festival release is essential or worth your time. As a celebration, even if cancelled, I had higher expectations. But then, this goes to underline that there’s something just not clicking into gear at the distillery. For all their efforts, I’ve yet to have something that truly sings and underlines what they are all about. And by now it should have happened, as even young things like Bimber, Cotswolds and Annandale have delivered.
Photographs 2 and 3, kindly provided by Wolfburn distillery.
¹ I’m actually co-hosting the Daftmill event as part of their lineup but even so, an impressive field has been assembled that offers more.