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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.
Thoughts: I had a strange experience with this one. Prior to buying this bottle, I would have told you that I was a fan of Old Pulteney but upon cracking this one open I found that it fell a little bit flat. To be fair, I tasted it on Hogmanay, along with another couple of drams. Of the three bottles opened, all of which are widely available in supermarkets, the Pulteney was the least impressive. The maritime character it claims was strangely muted and it seemed rather bland and inoffensive. The bottle went into my cabinet and put to the back of the shelf. When I finally got around to revisiting it, several weeks later, I found a different dram. Maybe the liquid responded to the extra oxygen in the bottle and opened up a bit, or maybe my palate wasn’t firing on all cylinders when the bottle was first opened. Whatever the case, it was a timely reminder not to judge a whisky on the first dram out of the bottle. If you find a whisky isn’t hitting the spot, put it away for a month or two and come back to it. You might find that it delivers much better. I must admit, I still found the Pulteney a wee bit lacking in intensity – there are far more maritime malts out there for my palate – but it was a pleasant enough single malt, especially when it cost £25 at the local supermarket.
*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.