Reviews of affordable whiskies with some entertaining tales along the way…
The Pulteney Story
In order to reach the town of Wick one must first travel about as far north as it’s possible to go without getting wet. The town lies in Caithness, around 16 miles from John O’ Groats at the northern tip of Scotland.
People have inhabited the area since before the Vikings landed but the name comes from the Norse ‘vik‘ meaning bay. Wick as we know it today, however, was largely developed in the early 19th by the British Fishery Society as over-fishing of herring on the west coast drove the industry northward. Governor of the Society, Sir William Pulteney, employed the services of Thomas Telford, famed architect and civil engineer, to design and build a harbour and new town that would develop Wick into the nation’s fishing capital.
Pulteney was a Scottish Advocate, Landowner and Politician and reputedly the wealthiest man in Great Britain. Born William Johnstone, he changed his name when he married Frances Pulteney and became heir to a vast family estate. Sir William passed away in 1805, before the expansion of Wick could be completed. When the project was finished in 1808, the area was named Pulteneytown, in honour of the man who spearheaded its creation.
By 1826, Wick was at the centre of a vast fishing industry and an enterprising chap by the name of James Henderson decided it would make the perfect place for a distillery. Moving from Stemster where he had already been distilling previously (not altogether legally), Henderson founded the Pulteney distillery. It remained in his family for the best part of the next century.
In the early days, the distillery could only be reached by sea. Barley arrived by boat and whisky was shipped off the same way. Whilst Wick’s fishing industry may have long since faded, however, the distillery continues to produce its malt whisky in the same way it has for almost 200 years.
Since 2008, Pulteney has operated under the ownership of Inver House Distillers, who refocused production towards establishing Old Pulteney as a single malt brand, rather than simply a filler for various blends. Today, as much as 60% of the distillery’s output is bottled as single malt.
Earlier this year, it was announced that the Pulteney brand was to be shaken up with an update to its packaging and an exciting new range. The classic 12 year old remains the entry point but the rest of the range has been completely overhauled and now includes both 15 and 18 year olds and a no age statement Huddart, all of which are bottled at 46%.
The Old Pulteney 15 year old is matured in second fill American Oak and ex-Bourbon Casks before finishing in Spanish Oak ex-Oloroso Sherry Butts. It’s bottled at 46% and retails for around £70 a bottle.
Smell: Heather honey and vanilla fudge with Scottish tablet, brown sugar and some wee sherried raisiny notes. Wee bit of sea breeze in there.
Taste: Juicy arrival with raisins and sultanas, berries and chewy toffee. Wee bit of sea salt, dry oak and a touch of brine at the end.
Thoughts: Whisky is increasing in price, of that there can be no doubt and perhaps I haven’t quite caught up yet, but £70 feels a bit steep for a 15 year old to me. Having said that, it’s a satisfying enough dram. There’s a nice balance between spirit character and cask influence and you can pick up on both bourbon and sherry with neither too dominant. I have a feeling this could come to be seen, in years ahead, as the real star of the Old Pulteney range.
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.
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