Wolfburn. Talk with Shane Fraser
Updated: Feb 1
Wolfburn Distillery in Caithness
A Talk with former Production Manager Shane Fraser
Wolfburn’s Production Manager Shane Fraser started work at Royal Lochnagar Distillery as a day-shift operator when he was just 17 years old. Since then he has gained over 23 years experience in the production of single malt Scotch whisky and is very passionate about his craft. After three years at Oban Distillery he became Production Manager with John & George Grant in 2007. He was responsible for the production staff, health and safety and spirit quality and cask selection process at Glenfarclas Distillery. He was also active at Royal Lochnagar and Oban Distilleries.
In 2012 he moved to the newly built Wolfburn Distillery in Thurso, Caithness.
Shane Fraser left Wolfburn for the U.S. in January 2019. He is now Master Distiller at Tenmile Distillery in New York.
Why did you move from Glenfarclas to Wolfburn?
I moved to Wolfburn because the new role gave me the challenge of essentially an open book when it came to all aspects of the whisky production process. The main challenge was to create the best spirit possible so that it would smell, taste and mature perfectly for the Wolfburn brand. With Wolfburn we have a fantastically high quality set up – the equipment and ingredients are all the best possible – and with this it is possible for us to make truly exceptional whisky. This has always been my ambition.
Do you like the remote life in Caithness, what is so special there?
I love it up here – great open spaces and a different pace of life, which suits all my family.
What is the water like? Minerals?
The water source of the Wolf Burn is very pure – there are almost zero minerals in it.
What is the Wolfburn wash like? Flavours?
The smell has hints of juicy fruit chewing gum and has a surprisingly clean fresh taste on the palate.
What impact does the Anchor dry yeast have?
It gives us a very vigorous fermentation due to our clear wort from the mash tun and gives a lovely fruity effect on our new make.
What is the alcohol level of the wash?
Around 8% abv
What is so special with the first distillation?
There are very sweet smelling low wines like nothing I have ever smelt before.
What is the capacity of the of the wash still?
Charge capacity is 5500 litres, we only charge about 5100 litres.
What about your distilling regime, is it slow or fast, how long is the first distillation?
Slow gentle distillation four plus hours running on low wines
What is the alcohol level of the low wines?
What about your second distillation? How long are the foreshots and how strong are they?
We have no set time for foreshots but it averages around ten minutes at 76% abv.
What are your cut points of the middle cut?
The first cut point is averaging 73% abv, the lowest cut point to feints is 61% abv at 20C. The average strength is 69% abv in SRWV.
What is the flavour profile of your new make?
My first nosing comments were ’Sweet and malty, like Weetabix with warm milk added.’ These thoughts are still with me when I nose each subsequent spirit run. I have since expanded my tasting notes and now smell dried apricot but with a slight spice behind it. With a splash of water added it softens the aroma and I get more of a banana smell with a slightly perfumed background.
What is the taste on the palate like?
Sweet and very subtle with no nasty hotness when it pass over your tongue.
What makes Wolfburn’s spirit so special?
Slow wort extraction from the mashtun giving us clear wort, dried yeast, long fermentations averaging 80 hours. Gentle distillations. Very well made stills.
How does your distillate react in Bourbon or Oloroso casks?
It is very early to pass comment, but we are achieving some wonderfully soft aromatic finishes from the spirit matured in sherry wood. Most of the sherry wood is Miguel rather than Oloroso or PX and the wood is exceptionally high quality. The ex-bourbon wood gives a smokier flavour but is still wonderful on the palate, even after a relatively short period of time. Full maturation will of course take years longer, but the early results are very encouraging.
Do you fill also wine casks?
Not at the moment.
What role does the maritime climate play during maturation?
Too early to say whether it gives anything to the flavour, but the cool climate -most of the year – helps keep evaporation down nicely.
Are the new warehouses wet and damp, or rather dry?
Damp but not wet.
What about your Angels' Share?
It’s around 1 – 1.5%, at the maximum
How many casks were filled in 2013?
What was your production capacity in litres in 2013?
How much alcohol per tonne of malt did you get?
A little over 400 litres.
Will you inrease your production in 2014?
No, the target remains 115,000 LPA, we beat this target by about 5,000 litres in 2013.
What is your overall production capacity?
We realistically could make perhaps 125,000LPA if we did not stop all year. Our rated annual capacity is 115,000 LPA at 48 weeks, 6 tonnes per week.
Thank you very much.
The interview was held in January 2014.
Fermentation time is 70 to 92 hrs
80% of the annual production is unspeated Spirits
annual capacity ins 135 000 litres of pure alcohol
Distillery Manager is Iain Kerr. He started with Shane Fraser and came from Glenlivet Distillery
Wolfburn writes about Iain Kerr on its website: "Iain joined the whisky trade at a young age after a brief period in engineering. Although relatively young in whisky terms, he has already spent 17 years learning and refining his craft and is a capable hand in all areas of the process at Wolfburn. Achieving a Distinction in the General Certificate of Distilling along the way he has worked with Balmenach Distillery, Allt a Bhainne Distillery and Glenlivet. He is an integral member of the Wolfburn team and an enthusiastic, practical addition to a dynamic working partnership."
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About the author
Ernie - Ernst J. Scheiner is the editor of the portal The Gateway to Distilleries www.whisky-distilleries.net
He documents over 150 distilleries photographically from the inside and describes the production of the whiskies in detail. Since his studies at the University of
Edinburgh, he has been involved with the subject of whisky and has published in specialist magazines such as The Ireland Journal, Kleinbrennerei, Whisky Passion and The Highland Herold. Features and stories have appeared in blogs like whiskyexperts, whiskyfanbl, SHMKR (closed) and whiskyintelligence. As head of the VHS Ingelheim, and now as a whisk(e)y ambassador, he teaches distilling, organizes study tours and tours to the sources of whisky.