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On the road again

Chris Roberts

(4 min read)
It must be around 2am, the blizzard has set in, the road is white and driving conditions are pretty dodgy, but we know we have to be in Thurso for 10am to meet Shane from Wolfburn Distillery so we venture on. 

A mere eight hours North from our Manchester base, Wolfburn Whiskey sits on the rugged Scottish coast in Thurso, Caithness. It is situated in the most northerly town on the British mainland. We arrive early and catch Shane off guard, he is finishing off some emails and clearly isn’t ready for us. We leave and pop back 20 minutes later, Shane is now styling a new Wolfburn polo shirt, wearing a big smile and is ready to give us the tour. 

Wolfburn Distillery is a very young distillery that only starting trading in 2013 and selling their first bottles in 2016. It's based 350 yards from the original Wolfburn distillery that closed back in the late 1800’s. The opportunity to produce a new whiskey from scratch is very unique and Shane says, “It’s my dream job to produce a whiskey that I’ve created. Even better that I’m doing it at a forgotten distillery that has been brought back to life.” The taste he mentions only took around a week to perfect, “It is years of whiskey producing experience, but also a good bit of luck which allowed us to produce this great tasting whiskey so fast.” Steeped in history, this modern resurrection of a forgotten distillery is nudging its way back into a whiskey market, producing award winning taste from it’s natural beginnings. 

Wolfburn is one of three visits this trip. Next on our travels is Golspie Mill run by Michael and Becky Shaw, one of very few traditional water-powered mills remaining in production in Scotland. Built in 1863 as an estate meal mill, it was fully restored in 1992 and has been producing specialist meals and flours using traditional methods and renewable energy ever since.

Each morning Michael heads up to the millpond about 300 meters from his house to turn the sluice gate to release the water. It runs down a purpose built narrow stream and speeds past hens and cockerels either side before hitting the paddles at the top of the wooden wheel. The momentum kicks the old wheel into life and its motion powers the mill for the day. We spend time with Michael finding out the process involved and the understanding the unique way the mill is powered. 

Later we are lucky enough to stay with Michael and his family and enjoy a home cooked meal, a lovely bottle of wine and nicely finished off with Golspie Mill award wining shortbreads. As we settle in for the night we can hear Michaels wife Becky singing their children to sleep, Scottish lullabies float in the air and we drift off to sleep after an amazing second visit. 

The morning rise is early, we need to get to Arbroath where we will be met by Iain Spinks, a fifth generation Smokie producer. It’s a good few hours drive and we take in the ever impressive Scottish landscape on route. We jump out of the car and head down a steep, single track road towards the beach. As we round the corner we have an elevated view and can see Iain setting up. The hole is already dug, the fire pit set and fish ready to be smoked. He looks up, sees us and gives us a wave. We quicken our pace eager to find out more about the history and techniques associated with Arbroath Smokies.

After a smokey 40 minutes the Haddock is ready, Iain removes one of the hessian sacks, the smoke escapes and we catch our first glance of the smoked fish. He looks up smiles and says, “They’re ready, would you like two try one?” We bolt forward at the offer, ready to try our first Arbroath Smokie. We stand around the barrel, the oak and beech still smouldering, the noise of the sea gently lapping against the shore and the smoke dancing in the wind as the warm flakey fish just crumbles in our hands and we taste magical bite after magical bite.   

This trip feels special, back on the road again, meeting inspirational people, tasting culinary delights. We are three visits in and already hooked, this collection, this celebration of home grown talent is going to be a real treat.