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The Old Pulteney distillery was founded in the Pulteneytown area of Wick in 1826. Wick was known as the Herring Capital of Europe at the time and was home to a vast fishing industry. Indeed, many of the first distillery workers were fishermen who accessed the site by the sea. Even today, Pulteney is known as the ‘Maritime Malt’, enriched with a coastal brine-y note, apparently absorbed from the salty air of mainland Scotland’s most northerly coast.
The story of Old Pulteney is interlinked with that of the land and the people of Wick. In the early 19th century, a great temperance movement was on the rise and would eventually come to be felt in the far north. The Wick and Pulteneytown Total Abstinence Society was formed in 1840 and held the goal of ending alcoholism in the community at heart. Many felt that only an outright ban would resolve the blight on society that alcohol misuse had become and the opinion was shared in towns and villages across the land. By the 1900s the UK government was under serious pressure to act and as a result, The Temperance Act was passed in 1913, authorising local communities to hold a vote on the banning of alcohol.
The outbreak of war in 1914 slowed the cause somewhat but on the 28th of May 1922, the people of Wick voted with a majority of 62% to ban the sale of alcohol. Pub landlords closed their doors and alcohol was removed from grocers’ shelves. Old Pulteney distillery managed to remain in production until 1930 before it too was forced to close. For 25 long years, the town was dry, twice as long as prohibition in the United States. The vote was eventually overturned in 1947 and Pulteney resumed production 4 years later.
For much of its life, the whisky of Old Pulteney supplied the great blending houses of the central belt and appeared very occasionally as a single malt bottled by Gordon & MacPhail. This all changed however when Inver House Distillers took over in 1995 and today there are multiple expressions on the market including the Navigator and 12, 17, 21 and 35-year-old variations.
The 12-year-old version is widely available, is bottled at 40% and retails for around £35 a bottle.
Smell: Seaweed and Brine, Vanilla, Fudge and a little Chocolate.
Taste: Vanilla, Sea Salt, Fudge, Brown Sugar and just a hint of Lemon and Lime.
Value: Comes in around £25. A decent every day dram at a good price.
A strange one this, I often enjoy Old Pulteney but when this bottle was opened I was a little disappointed, to begin with. Indeed I expected to be writing a rather negative review. The famous Pulteney maritime character seemed muted and the whole experience fell a little flat. However, the bottle went back in the cabinet and when I revisited it a few weeks later, I found a very different dram.
It’s possible the spirit in the bottle was improved through contact with a little oxygen or perhaps it was simply down to my own perceptions at the time. Whisky tasting isn’t an exact science after all, and we can often experience the same dram differently on separate occasions. I suppose the moral of the story here is… Don’t judge a bottle by the first dram!
*If the whisky reviewed in this article has caught your eye, you can buy it from Master of Malt here. Please be aware that as an affiliate I can be paid a small commission on any purchases you make after following links from my page. The whisky is also available from several other excellent retailers.