Old Pulteney opened in 1826 in the Pulteneytown area of Wick. In those early days the distillery could only be accessed by the sea and many of the staff were also fishermen. At that time, Wick itself was known as the Herring Capital of Europe. The bulk of that fishing industry has long gone but the connection with the sea remains – Pulteney is known as the ‘Maritime Malt’ and some of the spirits character is said to come from the salty sea air of the north east coast.
The story of Old Pulteney is intertwined with the history of the land and people around it. The late 19th and early 20th century saw the rise of the temperance movement in Scotland and Pulteney would not to be spared its wrath. The Wick and Pulteneytown Total Abstinence Society was formed in 1840 with the goal of ending alcoholism in the local community, with many taking the view that only an outright ban would resolve the issue. It was an opinion echoed in towns and villages across the land and by the 1900’s the government was under pressure to act. The Temperance Act was passed in 1913, giving local communities the right to vote for the banning of alcohol.
The outbreak of war in 1914 temporarily slowed the cause but on the 28th of May 1922 the population of Wick voted by 62% to ban the sale of alcohol. Pubs 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 remained dry – twice as long as prohibtion in the USA. The vote was eventually overturned in 1947, with Pulteney back in production some 4 years later.
For most of it’s history Old Pulteney whisky was destined for blending houses and rarely appeared as a single malt except occasionally from independent bottlers like Gordon & MacPhail. This changed when Inver House Distillers took over in 1995 though and today there are multiple expresions available including the Navigator and 12, 17, 21 and 35 year old variations.
The 12 year old is widely available in the UK and can often be found discounted in supermarket chains. On the nose there’s Seaweed and Brine, Vanilla, Fudge and a little Chocolate. On the palate meanwhile there’s Vanilla, Sea Salt, Fudge, Brown Sugar and just a hint of Lemon and Lime.
Now, I have a confession to make… I usually enjoy Old Pulteney but when I opened this bottle and had a couple of drams I was a little disappointed at first and expected to be writing a rather negative review. The famous maritime character was muted and the whole experience felt a little flat. The bottle went back in the cabinet and when I revisited it a few weeks later, I found a very different dram…
There is a chance that the spirit in the open bottle was improved through contact with oxygen, or perhaps it was simply down my own perceptions at the time. Whisky tasting is completely subjective and we each experience these things differently. You can even experience the same dram differently on different 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. Lovely combination of Vanilla Fudge and Salty Sea Air.
Taste: 15.5 / 20. An enjoyable dram with some subtle complexities.
Value: 8.5 / 10. Comes in around £25. A decent every day dram at a good price.
Overall: 39.5 / 50