With our bar hosting over one hundred whiskies, you could say at Mackays, there is always a reason to celebrate the occasional dram. This month, we will be introducing the supplier of one of Mackays Bar’s favourite collection – Wolfburn Distillery. Situated as the most northerly distillery in mainland Scotland, Wolfburn creates a palatable adventure, unveiling the mysteries of the Highlands. Here to embellish the journey and tradition behind the award-winning whisky is Wolfburn Distillery Manager, Shane Fraser.
1.Could you tell us the story behind Wolfburn? Where did it all begin for you?
‘Prior to Wolfburn I had been the manager at Glenfarclas distillery in Speyside and prior to that at Oban and Royal Lochnagar distillery. These historic distilleries developed a huge amount of knowledge on a personal level. I had made other people’s whisky for over twenty years, from this, I wanted to put that knowledge to further use and create a whisky from scratch. The opportunity to bring Woflburn back to life and create it’s whisky – as no records or samples of the original Woflburn whisky survive – was the main attraction for me and motivation for joining the team in 2012.’
2. How did you come up with the name for your company?
‘The original Wolfburn Distillery closed down over a hundred years ago and, until we brought it back to life, sat alongside a raft of other closed and forgotten distilleries that once operated in Caithness. So, the name Wolfburn was the original name. Back in the day, Wolfburn was one of the biggest producers in Caithness. Now we are just one of two Whisky distilleries in Caithness, but hopefully in years to come other long closed distilleries from the county may be brought back to life.’
3. What would you say makes Wolfburn special?
‘Each distillery has its own special magic. The magic at Wolfburn for me is that nothing is automated, everything is done in the old way. We have embraced technology in terms of materials and building layout. However, from mashing to distilling, everything in fact up until the final product, bottled on site, leaving for the four corners of the globe, is done by the hands and noses of my team and I. ‘
4. From the whiskies you offer which one is your favourite and why?
‘I don’t have a specific favourite as each expression has an attraction. Morven, which was my first peated Whisky has sold really well as an accessible, not to heavily peated whisky bit with plenty of depth and character for the experienced whisky followers. Northland, the first whisky we released has been a great success and as it slowly ages gives me a growing sense of pride. To see all of our whiskies all over the globe is truly fantastic and makes you realise what a following Scotch Whisky has around the world.’
5. What do you like most about having a business in Caithness?
‘In whisky terms we are blessed with excellent weather for our craft with clear cool water most of the year round and a damp climate that allows an ideal environment for maturation. Over the last few years the NC 500 route has been brilliant for us and it is wonderful seeing what was perhaps once seen as a wilderness too far north to visit opening up to new faces who we are already seeing return after their first visit.’
6. Which other activities or places to visit would you recommend to our guests around your distillery?
‘To me, Caithness means wide open spaces and a sense of freedom, which can be hard to find in other parts of the UK these days. Come rain or shine, I walk to work with the cliffs of Orkney in the distance across the water. I find the pace of life here is more natural. Less hustle and bustle and more time to yourself, out of the rat race. The beaches here for example are pretty much always deserted and you can have them to yourselves most days.’
So whether you’re fond of a wee dram among friends at Mackays Bar of if you’d like to visit the distillers themselves, be sure not to miss out on Thurso’s greatest secret.