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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 very tip of Scotland.
People have inhabited this site since the Vikings landed, indeed the name itself comes from the Norse ‘vik’ meaning bay. Wick as we know it today however was largely developed in the early 19th century when the British Fishery Society followed the herring shoals north after they had abandoned the seas around the western coast. Governor of the Fishery Society at the time was Sir William Pulteney, who employed the services of famed architect and civil engineer Thomas Telford to design and build a harbour and new town area which would develop Wick into the nation’s fishing capital.
Pulteney was a Scottish Advocate, Landowner and Politician who was reputedly the wealthiest man in Great Britain at the time. Born William Johnstone, he changed his name when he married Frances Pulteney, third daughter of MP Daniel Pulteney and became heir to the vast family estate. Sir William passed away in 1805. When the expansion of Wick was completed 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 been distilling previously (no doubt illegally), Henderson founded the Pulteney distillery and it would remain in his family for the best part of the next century.
In those early days Pulteney could only be accessed from the sea, with barley arriving by boat and whisky shipped off the same way. While the fishing industry may have long since faded, however, the distillery continues to produce malt whisky in the same way it has for almost 200 years.
Since 2008, Pulteney has been owned by Inver House Distillers, who refocused the production towards establishing the Old Pulteney single malt brand, as opposed to supplying primarily for blenders. Today, as much as 60% of the distillery’s output is bottled as single malt.
Earlier this year, it was announced that the brand was to be shaken up with an update to packaging and a fresh new range. Though the classic 12 year old remains as an entry point, 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 before bottling at 46% and retailing for around £70 a bottle.
Smell: Heather Honey and Vanilla Fudge, Scottish Tablet, Brown Sugar and a light touch of Sherried Raisins before the familiar Pulteney Sea Breeze blows in…
Taste: Juicy arrival with Raisins, Sultanas and Berries, then chewy Toffee with Peppery heat, Sea Salt, Dry Oak and Brine.
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 little steep for a 15 year old to me. Having said that, it is a very satisfying dram that very nearly makes the price acceptable.
It’s probably not too far off the norm for a 15 year old these days, especially one bottled at 46% and it’s a thoroughly enjoyable dram. It’s got a lovely balance between cask and spirit character and both sherry and bourbon make their presence felt without dominating. I have a feeling this could come to be seen, in years ahead, as the real star of the Pulteney range.
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