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Wolfburn Northland

The title of northernmost distillery on the Scottish mainland used to belong to Old Pulteney, something you might still see stated on the labels of bottles bought a number of years ago. In 2012, however, the title was claimed by Wolfburn when the distillery was rebuilt. Wolfburn is located near the tiny town of Thurso, just northwest of Wick (the small coastal town where Old Pulteney resides). Strictly speaking, the new Wolfburn distillery was rebuilt a short distance from the site of the original distillery. You’ll find them alongside the stream, “Wolf Burn,” so named for the wolves that used to roam the area.

After having its doors closed for more than 150 years, Wolfburn officially began distilling again on the 25th of January in 2013; an auspicious date for anything whisky-related, as the 25th of January is Burns Night. Traditionally, Burns Night is a celebration of the life and works of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet, and it has become a globally celebrated event which serves as an excellent excuse (if you needed one!) to drink some whisky.

Given Wolfburn Distillery’s relatively recent revival, most of the whiskies they have produced so far have been no-age-statement releases. Last year, however, Wolfburn released their first permanent addition to their core range that bears an age statement: Wolfburn 10-year-old (certainly something I’ll be on the lookout for in the future).

Wolfburn’s Northland was the first single malt whisky they ever produced; it was released in 2016. Northland has no age statement, but it is clearly on the young side given that the distillery had only been up and operational for three years by the time they released it… just the right amount of time to correspond with the legal minimum age for a Scottish whisky.

Yet, now that the distillery has been open a little longer, the whisky that goes into a bottle of Northland is a little bit older too (estimated at around 7 years, although this could change going forward). While they’ve kept to the same flavour profile when producing Northland, the fact that the distillery is now in a position to draw on older whiskies that they have stacked away means that the whisky in a bottle of Northland which was bottled in 2016 versus the whisky in a bottle of Northland which was bottled in 2023 won’t taste exactly the same. When I asked the distillery about this, I was told that “a Northland bottled now will taste a little different to an early bottle; the profile will be the same but it will be a little more rounded and with a little more depth of flavour.” If anyone has an earlier bottling of Wolfburn’s Northland, this could make for a very interesting comparison!

The thing that intrigued me most about Northland was learning that it is aged exclusively in ex-Islay casks. Strangely enough, however, they do not clearly state the use of ex-Islay casks for maturation on the label, or even on their website, so I had to reach out to the distillery in order to confirm that I hadn’t just dreamed this fact up. They confirmed that this is indeed the case, but specified that – for trademark reasons – Wolfburn is not allowed to say which distillery on Islay they are sourcing their casks from. However, they do clearly state that Northland is aged in American oak quarter casks, so I think we can be fairly confident in our guesses regarding the identity of the mystery Islay distillery.

It’s worth noting that the use of quarter casks also allows for greater interaction between the spirit and the cask during the aging process. This is because quarter casks (which contain significantly less liquid than the more widely used hogsheads and ex-sherry butts) provide a higher wood surface to liquid ratio. Consequently, even though the whisky that makes up Northland is fairly young, Wolfburn is doing its best to encourage quicker maturation where it can.

Wolfburn are also not the only distillery to have embarked on the practice of using ex-Islay casks to age or finish a whisky, yet Northland was the first example of such a whisky that I’ve tasted. It strikes me as an interesting way of producing whiskies that have some degree of peatiness to them, especially given some recent concerns surrounding the long-term sustainability of using peat in whisky-making. This practice could be one way of stretching this precious resource a little bit further.

If being aged in ex-Islay casks doesn’t do quite enough to tantalise your tastebuds, Northland also has a number of other attributes in its favour: it’s bottled at 46% ABV, it’s natural colour, and it’s non-chill filtered. Given that it’s on the younger side, however, at roughly $40 a bottle it’s probably a little on the pricey side to be honest (comparatively: for around $37, I can treat myself to an Old Pulteney 12-year-old).

Wolfburn Northland – Review

Colour: Pale straw.

On the nose: Initially quite delicate. Floral and lemony, with fresh apricots. There’s a note that reminds me of white wine, or perhaps the fermenting, yeasty aroma of pizza dough. Settles into ripe pineapple. There’s a little bit of a dry, dusty note and very gentle woodsmoke lurking in the background.

In the mouth: Initial hints of honey, and some fruity sweetness at the fore. Honeydew melons. There’s a very drying, aromatic wood note that becomes quite dominant fairly quickly, followed by a dark chocolate bitterness. Soft and fairly smooth in texture.

The sense of really having just eaten a square of very dark chocolate lingers in the mouth for quite some time, along with the slightest hint of smoke, and perhaps the faintest hint of coffee.

Interestingly, the aromas that linger in the empty glass lean toward rich caramel, toffee and sweet spiciness, and are unlike the aromas initially detected.


Overall, Northland is a whisky I really enjoyed. While not necessarily one for the hardened peat heads (any smoky flavours in this whisky are very much a gentle afterthought), it presents a broad range of flavours that it felt worth taking the time to savour.

Score: 6/10

I’ll be sad to finish off my bottle, and I’ll likely seek out a replacement before too long. I liked the delicate complexity this whisky presented me with, as well as the subtlety in flavours afforded by the use of ex-Islay casks. It is, perhaps, ever so slightly on the expensive side given that it lacks an age-statement, but I think it is nevertheless an interesting and complex enough whisky that it can just about get away with its asking price.

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