Wolfburn Distillery Reborn Distilling Starts This Month – Wolfburn Sunday on Whisky Intelligence

Wolfburn Distillery Reborn Distilling starts this month 

Ernie – Ernst J. Scheiner, The Gateway to Distilleries at www.whisky-distilleries.net

“A consortium of private investors has submitted a planning application with Highland Council to re-open a distillery on the outskirts of Thurso,”  was the good news of  the John O‘ Groat Journal for Caithness.  The prospects of employment and a further tourist attraction certainly pleased not only the local authorities.

Wolfburn Distillery is now the most northern distillery on the Scottish mainland.

The purpose built whisky distillery is situated in a new facility at Thurso Henderson Business Park which is about 350m from the original site of the 19th century distillery.

Thurso on the beautiful north coast is the most northern town on the Scottish mainland with a population of  9,000.


“Wolfburn, Wolf Burn or Wolf Barn” is one of the lost distilleries of the northern Highlands and Caithness (see also Gerston near Halkirk). It was licenced in 1821 to William Smith & Co and in 1852 to David Smith, who „…invested heavily in Wolfburn…it quickly became a significant producer of malt whisky – tax records from the early 19th Century show it being the largest distillery in Caithness. In 1826, for example, its annual production was 28,056 “Total Gallons of Proof Spirit” – roughly 125,000 litres.”

Wolfburn’s production seemed to have ceased in the late 19th century. „The distillery appears on the first Ordnance Survey map of the area, dated 1872, marked as a ruin.“ See www.wikipedia.org.

“A single unroofed building, annotated as Wolfburn Distillery, is depicted on the 1st edition of the OS 6-inch map (Caithness 1876, sheet v). It is not shown on the current edition of the OS 1:10000 map (1985).”  See http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk 

Wolfburn was closed around 1877 when production of whisky ceased.  Traces of the former distillery which was built west of Thurso in local dark Caithness flagstone can still be seen today.

Production Site

Development Manager Stephen Light of Aurora Brewing Ltd. reports: “After some investigation we discovered that the burn (Wolf Burn) runs alongside Thurso Business Park where there was vacant land available – therefore it was ideal for our plan. We’ve purchased the land from Highlands and Islands Enterprise and we’ve spoken to civil engineers and fabricators in researching how to physically put a distillery on site.”

See http://thursotown.co.uk

The building and the means of production were built by the distillery specialists Forsyths of Rothes. The new distillation unit will produce about 115,000 litres of pure alcohol per year and thereby nearly matches the production figures of 1826. The water source is the same as that of the 19th century distillery which came from the Wolf Burn.

The highly experienced whisky distiller Shane Fraser – a former production manager of Glenfarclas Distillery-  will supervise the production. It is planned that the new Wolfburn Distillery will produce non-peated as well as peated whisky which will be first on the market in 2016.

“We will be in full production by the end of January 2013,” Daniel Smith of Wolfburn Business Development says: “It is not going to be another Balvenie or Glenfiddich. We think it will appeal to a niche customer.”

Production Data

The following technical details were kindly given by Daniel Smith on January 15th, 2013:

Production water is soft and neutral in pH, it is drawn from nearby Wolf Burn;

Cooling water: closed circuit system with a cooling tower;

Size of the stainless steel mash tun: maximum grist load is 1.25 metric tonnes, the semi-lauter tun with a copper top was manufactured by Forsyths of Rothes, Speyside;

Malt supplier: several sources, e.g. Muntons Malt delivered the first malt, www.muntonsmalt.com; “Pot still malt is unpeated”;

Malt bins capacity is 32 tonne malt storage in total;

Milling: 1 to 1.25 tonnes per mash;

Mashing time and temperatures  “…are not set and will vary depending on yield and flavours”;

Worts‘ quality will be unfiltered, “…its quality is still unknown as production has not started yet”;

There are three stainless steel washbacks with a capacity of 9,000 litres each, “this is the vessel size; some airspace is needed because of switching the foam, maximum charge capacity is therefore c. 7,500 litres of wort.”

Anchor Dry, active dried distillers’ yeast is used;

Fermentation times will vary from 55 to 72 hours and occasionally longer;

Alcohol strength of the wash is still unknown because no fermentation has yet been conducted;

Wash still charge capacity: 5,500 litres, onion shape, short neck, inside shell and tube condenser,  spirit still charge capacity: 3,600 litres, onion shape with reflux ball, short neck, heating is by steam coils, onion shape, inside shell and tube condenser, manufacturer of the stills and condensers is Forsyths of Rothes, Speyside;

Low wines and spirit strength: “unknown as production has not started yet”;

Distilling capacity is 125,000 LPA, planned annual production will be around 115,000 LPA;

A mix of Bourbon and Spanish sherry casks will be used for maturing, which will be stored in a dunnage type of warehouse on site;

Waste treatment: there is no biomass plant; the draff will be used as cattle feed to cattle breeders in Caithness.

The vision to revive distilling in Caithness came true. Pulteney Distillery in Wick has got a new partner.

The Gateway to Distilleries presents photos by courtesy of Wolfburn Distillery (2013).  



www.whisky-distilleries.net (more photos)

About the Author: Ernie – Ernst J. Scheiner M.A. was a director in an adult education centre. Ernie offers courses on whisky distilling, writes for newspapers and magazines in Germany.

He is the editor of The Gateway to Distilleries at www.whisky-distilleries.net which gives an excellent photographic and educational insight into the whisky industry of Scotland, Ireland, Europe and Asia.

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