We’re heading north today, to one of Scotland’s most reliable and distinctive distilleries in Old Pulteney. Situated in the coastal town of Wick, the environment has helped define the town, its whisky and people for generations.
Pulteney is one of the originals as I like to think about it. A distillery survivor. While others were being shut down, bulldozed or changed to a degree that obliterated their visual and internal character, Pulteney remained out of sight and seemingly out of reach. The distillery was renovated in the 1950s, but still manages to retain a sense of charm and ultimately space that defines any visit to the site.
The distillery is situated within a housing estate that harks back to the Georgian era. Engulfed by deeply blackened stone exteriors due to the relentless pounding from the godforsaken weather. There is a sense of isolation, fortitude and defiance. A maze of identical streets persists and disorientates. The disbelief of stepping back in time is only punctuated by the modern-day image of the motor vehicle. In-between these houses, it is easy to blink and miss, or even drive-by, a working distillery that maintains a memorable location.
Inside the distillery, it feels like the Tardis: bigger than the outside suggests. A constant struggle against time and space. Utilising almost every inch – especially true within the mash tun room – and still retaining the Pulteney character. Important features still remain. The distinctively shaped stills and the overlooked worm tubs. Each of these contributes to the distinctive Pulteney whisky that so many have come to appreciate with its coastal characteristics and stylish mannerisms.
That style and swagger have been somewhat diminished with the recent rebranding of the core range. Prices have risen and the quality has declined. These are sadly the ways of the whisky industry nowadays. I acknowledge we’re very much seen as whisky extremists when openly stating what we believe is the truth *insert comment here about how the truth will set you free. We have full editorial control and in saying that we actually do. There’s no point stating you have editorial control when you don’t actually implement it, as that’s complicity.
So, those Old Pulteney’s aren’t as good as we hoped for and that’s unfortunate. Because the character of the distillery is so likeable. A gentle mix of those coastal influences and shipments of the tropics and juicy fruits. The Pulteney distillate has character and this can sparkle when not overly tinkered with. The best place currently, other than the distillery bottle-your-own options, are the independents. Thankfully, Pulteney is bottled on a regular basis by Cadenhead’s, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and their ilk. Meaning there is plenty of solid, enjoyable Pulteney out there, if you’re slightly non-plussed by the official core range.
The Cadenhead Pulteney was distilled in 2006, before being botted in during the winter of 2020 (note a classic Cadenhead’s typo), at 12 years old. 294 bottles were extracted from the bourbon hogshead at a pleasing strength of 55.4%. Expect to pay in the region of £59 for this release.
As a bonus, I’m including a distillery only hand fill given to me by Ralf, which has been sitting around for far too long. This official Pulteney was distilled on 8th September 1997, before being bottled in May 2018 from cask #1080 at 53.3% strength. If it is as good as the last hand fill I reviewed from Pulteney back in 2018, then we’re in for a treat.
Cadenhead’s Pulteney 2006 – review
Colour: a slight amber haze.
On the nose: salty apples, lemon peel, grapefruit and pine wood. Boiled sweets, sunflower oil, white chocolate and a touch of brine. A little ashy towards the finish. A chalky dryness, creamy and white pepper. Water brings out the fruits more with shortbread.
In the mouth: an enjoyable texture, very drinkable at cask strength. Salty coastal erosion, green apples, a light orange into the salty finish. Time brings out more juicy fruit characteristics, wood bitterness, grapefruit and mint leaf. Water showcases apples, more salt and a touch of smoke.
Old Pulteney 1997 hand fill – review
Colour: a light honey.
On the nose: clean and crisp vanilla pod, which is soon supplemented by coconut. Caramel, nougat, icing sugar and a sense of a New York cheesecake. Time reveals avocado, wine gums and Custard Creams. The sharpness of white wine vinegar and marshmallows.
In the mouth: a gentle poise that kicks off with more vanilla, cream soda and white chocolate that turns to a gentle milk chocolate on the finish. Subtle flavours of walnut, coffee beans, toffee, Crème brûlée, buttery popcorn and the coastal salt arises towards that finish.
The hand fill is gentler than the aforementioned review from 2018. Less coastal, but as tropical and sun-kissed. It is a lovely thing and very, very drinkable. Another indicator that the drive to Pulteney is worth the effort for a bottle – but always call ahead as prices are increasing and some of the casks recently have been more youthful and sherried.
The Cadenhead’s release cannot hope to compete with the much older expression, but in its own right is an enjoyable dram with an affordable price tag. Reminding us that a good, solid, whisky is to be cherished and enjoyed. Another Pulteney winner from the Campbeltown bottler and a bottle I suspect you’ll devour without realising.
The 15yo sample kindly provided by Cadenhead’s Edinburgh for this article.