This week I’m continuing my look into some of the fascinating history surrounding Scotland’s distilleries – and reviewing a whisky of course. As always this will be an available, affordable single malt. For the subject of this weeks review we must travel north… way north.
The Old Pulteney distillery was founded in 1826 in the Pulteneytown area of Wick. In the early days the distillery could only be accessed from the sea and many of it’s workers were also fishermen. Wick after all was known as the Herring Capital of Europe. Although this industry has long gone, the connection to the sea remains today – Pulteney calls itself the Maritime Malt and some of it’s character comes from the sea air surrounding the distillery.
As with many distilleries, Old Pulteney’s story is intertwined with historical events. In the late 19th and early 20th century there was a huge temperance movement in Scotland and in Wick this can be traced back to 1840 when the ‘Wick and Pulteneytown Total Abstinence Society’ was formed. Led by the local Minister they sought to deal with the growing problem of alcoholism in the community and took the view that only an outright ban would solve the issue. This was echoed in towns and villages across the country and by the 1900’s there was growing pressure on government to act. Despite strong opposition from Brewers and Publicans the Temperance Act (Scotland) was passed in 1913, allowing local communities to vote on banning alcohol.
The arrival of the First World War in 1914 only delayed the inevitable and on the 28th of May 1922 Wick voted by 62% to go ‘dry’. Pub doors were closed and alcohol was removed from shop shelves. 25 long years the town remained thus – twice as long as prohibtion in the USA – until the vote was eventually overturned in 1947. Old Pulteney distillery managed to remain in production until 1930 when it too was forced to close. It reopened in 1951 – four years after the vote was overturned.
For most of it’s life Old Pulteney whisky has been destined for blended scotch and only rarely appeared as a single malt from independent bottlers like Gordon & MacPhail. This all changed however when Inver House Distillers took over in 1995 and today there are multiple expresions available from the non age statement ‘Navigator’ to 12, 17, 21 and 35 year old varieties.
The 12 year old is widely available in the UK and is often discounted at big supermarket chains and specialist stores alike. On the nose there’s seaweed and brine, vanilla, fudge and a little chocolate. On the palate meanwhile there’s vanilla, sea salt, fudge and tablet, brown sugar and just a hint of lemon and lime cutting through it all.
Now, I have a confession to make here… While I usually enjoy Old Pulteney, I’ve tried it a couple of times recently and found it a little flat so I was expecting this to be a reasonably negative review. I was given this bottle at new year, a few were poured that evening and frankly, I was disappointed by the results. The maritime qualities were dimmed and I felt it had lost a little of what made Pulteney unique. I even considered making ‘variations from batch to batch’ the subject of this review but when I sat down to review it and poured a dram I was damned if I didn’t enjoy it. The seaside character was evident and I felt like it had some personality again.
I suppose there may be a chance that some oxidation could have taken place here and the whisky has improved as a result of greater contact with air in the bottle but I think more likely that it was down to me. Tasting whisky, or anything else for that matter, is completely subjective. We each taste something different from the next person and sometimes, we even experience the same whisky differently on separate occasions. I suppose the moral of the story here is not to judge a bottle on the first couple of drams!
The Scores: About the Scoring System…
Smell: 15.5 / 20. The combination of Vanilla Fudge and Sea Breeze is a winner.
Taste: 15.5 / 20. An enjoyable dram with some subtle complexity.
Value: 8.5 / 10. As I mentioned before this is often available on discount in the UK. It often comes in at around the £25 mark. As a well-priced every day dram it’s a decent purchase.
Overall: 39.5 / 50