No bottles or even memories of the original Wolfburn whisky remain from when the distillery last operated. From what little the records show, Wolfburn distillery was at the time one of the largest producers in the county, yet 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 by sea to the capital’s Georgian drinking houses and if any did, none remain.
Using un-peated malt the stillmen of Wolfburn distillery today are crafting the latest incarnation of Wolfburn whisky from a blank canvas by pot still distillation the old way; no automation, no rush and a lot of care. A variety of casks continue to be filled with new Wolfburn spirit and are laid down in the warehouses to mature. Some will remain there for many years to come and it will be a while yet before the first bung is extracted to see what the cold air of the north shore has delivered for the next generation of Wolfburn drinkers. We wonder if the residents of Thurso will allow any of it out of the county this time?
|In May 2011 one of our team went to locate the site of the old Wolfburn distillery in Thurso, Caithness. After 150 years of neglect what we found was a barely discernible pile of stones but one thing remained from the yesteryears of Wolfburn distillery; the water. The cold clear waters that fed the mash tun and stills all those years ago were still flowing just as they always had, and if the Wolf Burn was still there then we reckoned the whisky could be too.
A short walk downstream from the old site we found a small flat piece of land carpeted with thistles. We could take just a little of the water each day and once again turn it into whisky. The purchase of the land was finalized in May 2012 and the first ground was broken a few months later in early August. Things were on the move, plans were being drawn up, equipment was being sourced from far and wide and by the end of September the structures of the new buildings were beginning to take shape.
Forsyths of Rothes meticulously designed and redesigned every valve, pump, elevator and screw that would link up the vessels and make it all work. Every single stage in the process would be as efficient as possible employing energy saving devices alongside traditional mechanically operated systems. They worked side by side with the civil engineering construction team to ensure we were always ahead of the weather as winter approached.
The old fermenters from the now closed Caperdonich distillery were the first and biggest vessels to arrive, now used as water and spent lees storage. These two old tanks have a few decades of life left in them yet, supplying the new Wolfburn stills.
In November that same year, sparks started to fly as Forsyths arrived and began to breathe life into the buildings. Stills beaten out by hand in whisky’s heartland Speyside were transported to the far northern extremes of the Highlands. Temperatures dropped, winter darkness fell and work carried on into the long nights as Christmas and Hogmany came and went.
The new Wolfburn distillery was proudly commissioned in the New Year, and on the 25th January 2013 new spirit started to flow.