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In Conversation With: Mark Westmorland, Wolfburn

In Conversation With..

01.04.2021

Wolfburn's Global Brand Ambassador, Mark Westmorland, joins us to chat about the most northerly distillery on the mainland...

Mark Westmorland Wolfburn Interview

Wolfburn's Global Brand Ambassador, Mark Westmorland, joins us to chat about the most northerly distillery on the mainland...

Wolfburn's Global Brand Ambassador, Mark Westmorland, joins us to chat about the most northerly distillery on the mainland...

In celebration of the incredible collection of Wolfburn from Pat's Whisk(e)y Collection that features in our March Auction, we sat down with their Global Brand Ambassador, Mark, to find out a little more about the distillery.

 

Could you please introduce yourself and share your story of how you fell in love with whisky and got involved in the industry?

Proud and privileged to be the Global Brand Ambassador for Wolfburn Whisky.  I was born and bred in Thurso and promoting Wolfburn on a world stage is an absolute dream job. Friendly with our Tour Manager - Charlie Ross, I was asked in 2016 to help out with some shows and festivals and the rest is history. 

 

Could you please explain your role at Wolfburn and what a typical day might involve (if you can say there is a typical day that is!)?

Growing awareness of our brand and getting our liquid to the lips is what I am about. Supporting  distributors and retailers, who do the hard yards getting our spirit into the hands of the consumer is key. Usually travelling is a huge part of my job. We are in 36 countries across the world and I have been lucky to visit many of them but I still have some to go! Conducting tastings and interviews is commonplace and I love the interaction with the whisky community, what’s better than sharing a dram with soon to be called friends.

 

The name Wolfburn comes from the old distillery which was founded in 1821. Does the old distillery influence how and what you produce today?

Our history and heritage is very important to us. It has been 200 years since the first Wolfburn Distillery. Named after the water source - The Wolf Burn we are using that same natural spring water in the reawakened distillery today. . Although we are a modern and efficient distillery we are trying to recreate the traditional way of making whisky, without haste, storing our spirit in traditional dunnage warehouses on site and hand bottling all our products. It is very labour intensive but it means we have supreme control over our process, keeping our standards extremely high.

 

Ever since Wolfburn’s first whisky release, you have been changing people’s minds about just how good a young single malt can be. What would you say to people who are still not convinced by NAS releases?

Be adventurous! We have a saying in our distillery - Fortune Favours The Brave. Putting in the effort produces results and that's what we want to do with our spirit. What’s better than trying some new and challenging stereotypes. Producing a young vibrant spirit that is full of taste, flavour and character is our mantra.

 

Can you tell us more about the Wolfburn set-up and distillation process?

Milling on site with 4 washbacks and a pair of stills we are producing about 115,000 l of spirit a year. Our entire distillery was built by Forsyths of Rothes late in 2012 and we laid down our first casks on 25th January 2013 , Burns night, a piece of marketing genius. Although I am told that it just happened that way, as if the planets aligned! We have a long fermentation time and a gentle distillation.

 

How would you describe Wolfburn’s distillery character? And what cask types could we find your delicious spirit aging in in your warehouse?

Fruity, floral, light and vibrant is a good description of our spirit. Our clearic has a tropical fruit flavour to it in my opinion like a banana fritter or the juice from a tin of pineapples, it’s exquisite but hey I am totally biased. What that means is that our essence, our DNA is flavoursome already and our wood management program can only add flavour to it. Walking through our warehouses you will see numerous sizes and types of cask including bourbon, sherry, rum, port with butts, hoggies, octaves, ASBs and quarter casks. There may be some as yet undisclosed casks as well, we have to keep something up our sleeve.

 

A huge part of Wolfburn’s marketing is that you are the northernmost distillery on the mainland. How much of an effect would you say that your location has on Wolfburn’s maturation and ultimate character?

Thurso being the most northerly town on the UK mainland has an instant geographical marker when people want to visualise  where we are. We want to use our environment to help mature our spirit uniquely. Caithness, the county we are in and the Flow Country is Europe's largest peat bog. The County is flat and the wind howls across the area. Situated right on the coast we look out over to Orkney across the Pentland Firth. The sea air, flows across the fields towards the distillery and we are surrounded by gorse, heather and farmland. As the Angel Share leaves, the outside environment has an opportunity to come in and that helps make our maturation process true to our location.

 

Wolfburn’s standard core range consists of four whiskies: Northland, Aurora, Morvern and Langskip. Can you share the distinct characters of each expression with us?

Using a different combination of casks and spirit we have a varied core range of expressions.  This range offers an unpeated spirit matured in ex Islay casks, a sherry oaked, a lightly peated and a near cask strength. A lovely journey that we will visit during our Instagram tasting.

 

You have released a huge amount of limited editions, small batch bottlings, distillery exclusives and festival bottlings. What qualities are you looking for when you earmark a cask for special releases such as these?

Being a fiercely independent distillery we have the opportunity to do what we want without the interference of a board of directors or shareholders, we make our own rules. Having everything on site allows us to wander up into one of our warehouses and choose casks for such bottlings. Rather than give discounts to distributors we reward them by offering them a bespoke bottling for their area, its best for both of us. We are lucky with our maturations that we have a wide variety to choose from and we wouldn't bottle something that was substandard, we have our name and reputation to consider. There is nothing better than popping a bung and tasting the spirit directly from the cask.

 

Could you tell us about the Kylver series? How are casks chosen for the Kylver series?

Thurso was a Norse settlement and we wanted something to connect with that part of our history. The stone was found in Sweden near Kylver, Gotland and on the underneath was a runic inscription, the 24 letters of the alphabet. A stunning find dating back to 400AD. We wanted to create a series of whiskies from our best casks of the years and hence the Kylver Series was born. Each expression has a different Rune and so far we have created 7 expressions with the 8th due out next month. Last year, selling direct from our webshop Kylver 7 - GEBO sold out in under 4hrs. Truly amazing

 

You’ve said before that Wolfburn is fiercely independent, and that this gives you lots of flexibility with experimentation. What would be your favourite experimentation you’ve tried at Wolfburn and why?

That ability to try things with quality ingredients and excellent cask opportunities is a dream job for our distillery team. Only last year we experimented with our first ever finished whiskies or second maturation bottlings. One was a port finish and the second was a madeira cask finish. Personally, the port - our small batch 155 was the favourite for me as it reminded me of great times with my father who loved a glass or two of port. It’s amazing and the memories flowed as did the whisky.

 

What are you most excited about in the whisky world right now? What challenges do you see for the future of the whisky industry, and how can it overcome them?

At Wolfburn it is all about being able to adapt and overcome and this past year has presented some serious challenges for the industry. It has been great for me to move into a virtual role and to be able to reach out to probably those that weren't on our radar before, to do some collaborations and tastings, that is also very exciting too. I can see a marry of traditional festivals and  online events..  With the temporary lifting of the 25% tax restrictions in the USA  as well things are looking that wee bit better. 

 

When do you think we can expect to see the first age statement release from Wolfburn?

That will be another milestone in our journey. Maybe a limited 10 year old, then possibly a core 12 year old, decisions well above my pay grade. It is amazing to think that we are 8 years already into production so 2023 is not that far away. Exciting times.

 

Other than Wolfburn, what else would we find in your drinks cabinet?

Nothing else, I am not allowed to drink anything else under contract! Joking aside, I have some Glengoyne, Bruichladdich, Arran, Paul John, Highland Park, Port Charlotte, Glenfarclas to name but a few- all open!

 

Can you give us any insight into future releases from Wolfburn?

I can assure you that all will be up to our high exceptional standards. Kylver 8 out next month, watch this space, we have had our servers upgraded as when we released our Valentines edition they crashed. A victim of our own success. A good place to be in. Thanks for the invitation to share the love of Wolfburn Whisky and if you haven't tried it yet, please do. I hope you will be pleasantly surprised and we can welcome you to the Wolfpack.

 

Eilidh Jack

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