September Scotch: The Maritime Malt Old Pulteney

Wick, Scotland's award-winning Highland single malts, found in a rather distinct bottle

Anyone who’s taken a sip of Old Pulteney Single Malt Scotch can attest to the fact that it’s a memorable one. This includes everything from the gentle hints of salt in the liquid to grasping the peculiar bottle. The Old Pulteney distillery dates back to 1826 but there’s been plenty of tumult and advancement between then and now. This distillation and aging hub rests in the Pulteneytown area of Wick in the very north of the Highland area of Scotland. The spirits’ maritime positioning comes from the fact that the brand shipped their barrels by boat, further maturing the liquid in barrels struck by, or even breathing in, ocean spray. With such a distinct result, one of the brand’s most refined expressions, the Old Pulteney 21 Years Old, took home the industry’s most prestigious award in 2012: “World Whisky of the Year” in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible. For our latest September Scotch profile, Old Pulteney’s range became a point of fixation—for its quality and frequent significant releases.

It was a local brewer, in fact, that established what would become the Pulteney Distillery back in 1826—making it one of Scotland’s oldest distilleries. The facility took on the name of Sir William Johnson Pulteney who didn’t have anything to do with brewing or distilling. Pulteney was the Governor of the British Fisheries Commission. In the midst of a herring boom, the city of Wick prospered to the point where it was acknowledged as the largest and wealthiest fishing port in Europe. That point forward, the distillery changed hands multiple times, from its original owners to James Watson & Co and then John Dewar’s & Sons. There were various closures along the way, some for decades-long periods. That is, until 1995, when it was acquired by Inver House Distillers and production started once again. Old Pulteney and its home do have an illustrious history but the expressions released today are a product of modern times and they don’t claim to be anything else. This is certainly a strength.

Much attention to detail is placed on the production process and materials. From the water source, a stream spiraling forth from Loch Hempriggs, to what the brand refers to as “virtually unpeated malt… now sourced from a selection of the UK’s foremost suppliers.” The distillery once held three copper stills but now there is one less, as a more recent addition replaced two older ones. It’s the unique shape of one still, the wash still, that actually inspires the eccentric, lovable shape of the brand’s proprietary bottle.

The brand’s core range is three whiskies deep: a 12, 17 and 21. The 12, bottled at 43% ABV, recieves maturating in ex-bourbon casks. Notes of honey and cream meet with salty spice together concluding with a dry sweetness. Noticeably, the 17 contains more complexity thanks to the blending in single malt aged in ex-Oloroso sherry casks from Spain. Fruity and floral notes enter the palate and wood defines the aftertaste. As for the 21, there’s a higher proportion of ex-Oloroso sherry cast mixed with the ex-bourbon aged spirit. The tipple draws the best of both, guiding sweet fruitiness to a warm, oaky finish. To complement the range, Old Pulteney also offers various duty free options and many limited edition spirits (some with astonishing age statements). These are Highland whiskies for sure, and while that makes clear reference to the position of their distillery it also hints at what one can expect with each sip.

The Pulteney Distillery, one of the few of its kind to have been built inside a Scottish city rather than in a rural area, is open to visitors—though booking tickets in advance is encouraged.

Images courtesy of Old Pulteney