I love whisky. I read about it all the time, and drink it frequently regularly. It’s, by far, my favourite pastime. Some people like knitting, I like whisky. I guess I could’ve used a more comparable hobby. It’s not like you can drink yarn, at least not neat. They’re also different in another major way. Knitting doesn’t have the ability to destroy a person’s life. A little over a century ago, thousands of Americans wanted alcohol erased from existence. They could no longer tolerate saloons filled with husbands squandering their paycheques, while their wives sat at home helpless and hopeless. Parliamentarian David Lloyd George felt the same way, and was determined to do something about it.
1915 was a turbulent time in the United Kingdom. The First World War was in its second year, and things weren’t going well. George was Minister of Munitions at the time, a position created that very year. It was his job was to make sure weapons flowed smoothly from the factories to the front lines. He formed a tight bond with the trade unions, but, for whatever reason, weapons weren’t coming off the factory floor in a timely fashion. After some digging, he found out why. Absenteeism. Too many workers were either too drunk or too hungover to show up for work. George, a teetotaler who hated alcohol, pushed for Prohibition. Once he realized that wasn’t an option, he settled for the Immature Spirits Act of 1915.
Most drinkers probably think the 3 year maturation rule was put in place in the interest of quality. After all, scotch and time do go well together. Prior to 1915, it was perfectly legal for whisky to be sold straight off the still. It also made sense from a business perspective. Why hold on to something when you can sell it right away? By forcing distillers to sit on their merchandise for at least 3 years, George hoped many (perhaps all) would leave the industry for a more reliable and respectable line of work. He was right, kinda. Most of the “straight off the still” guys moved on to something else, but the ones who didn’t had no choice but to make their whisky better.
Time may help scotch, but waiting 3 years for money to start rolling in can be a real challenge, especially for new distilleries. Not only that, there’s no guarantee your stuff will be any good after just 3 years in the cask. Distillers are well aware of this, and do what they can to try and make their toddlers taste older. New oak, smaller barrels, first-fill sherry, etc. Wolfburn started making spirit in 2013. Their first release was a (you guessed it) 3 year old simply named Wolfburn. It was soon replaced by what’s now their flagship expression, Wolfburn Northland. Northland is 6-7 years old and full of character. Their use of smaller, quarter casks that once held peated spirit does a nice job of masking its youth. Fruity. Coastal. Definitely a distillery to keep your eye on.