Among single malt aficionados, particularly those who have a preference for the types of malts from the Northern Highlands distilleries, Old Pulteney holds an almost cult status.
Inver House Distillers (International Beverage Holdings Limited – part of Thai Beverage)
Old Pulteney Distillery?, Huddart Street, ?Wick, ?Caithness, ?KW1 5BA
+ 44 (0) 1955 602 371
(Litres of Pure Alcohol-LPA) 1,800,000 litres
Yes, tours are available all year round
Situated on the outskirts of the small, north Highland town of Wick (pop. c 7 000 inhabitants) just 18 miles (30km) south of John O’Groats, Old Pulteney is the most northerly distillery on the UK mainland. Furthermore, it is famed for being the only distillery to be named after a person: Sir William Johnstone Pulteney.
Sir William was the biggest name in the British fishing industry in the early years of the nineteenth century and rose to attain the tile of ‘Director of The British Fishing Society’.
In the early years of the 19th century he commissioned Britain’s leading civil engineer, Thomas Telford, to design and supervise the creation of a major new herring fishing town and harbour at the estuary of the River Wick. Indeed, the main town of Wick used to reference Sir William’s name (for many decades it was called ‘Pulteneytown’, until in 1902, it merged with Wick Harbour on the opposite side of the river estuary and the merged town was officially renamed Wick.)
Old Pulteney’s history
Thanks to the fishing industry in the early 1800s, the town of Wick grew from literally from a handful of habitations. By 1840, Wick was the busiest herring port of Europe and over 1000 boats sailed in and out of its newly constructed harbour. Workers came to work there in the herring trade from all over Scotland and because of their thirsty work copious amounts of whisky were needed to quench the workers’ thirst. The number of small illegal stills located in the town struggled to cope with the demand and as a result, in 1826, one of the locals, James Henderson, decided to build a legal still. He named the distillery Pulteney, after Sir William Pulteney.
The Pulteney Distillery supplied the town with sufficient quantities of a salty whisky until the First World War, during which the Scottish herring industry collapsed. By the end of the 1920s, unemployment in Wick was high but the incidence of drunkenness in public was even higher. In a bid to curb this behaviour, the town council decided to ban the sale of alcohol (as did over 50 other councils in similar circumstances throughout Scotland). The ban in Wick remained in place until 1947 and consequently the distillery was forced to close in 1930.
Some twenty years later, Robert James ‘Bertie’ Cumming who owned the Balblair Distillery (located further south down the north eastern Highland coast near Tain) restarted distilling at Pulteney.
During the late 1950s the distillery was sold to Hiram Walker of Ballantine’s whisky who rebuilt the it and expanded whisky production. The whisky produced at Pulteney at this time contributed significantly to major blends such as Ballantine’s.
During the difficult whisky crash of the 1980s, in Scotland, Pulteney struggled on, while other remote distilleries were closed down. In 1997, the distillery was purchased by Inver House Distillers, who changed the name to Old Pulteney and saw potential for its whisky in the growing single malt market and chose to promote this, rather than fulfilling old blending contracts, launching a 12, 17 and 21 year old single malt as a core range. These decisions breathed new life into the ailing distillery and put it back on the whisky map.
By 2006, Old Pulteney had broken into the world top 20 for single malt sales and planned to grow sales even further. It is, together with Speyburn, the best-selling of Inver House’s single malts.
The ownership of Inver House Distillers has changed following its acquisition by a succession of worldwide companies over the past ten years, its current owners being International Beverage Holdings Limited (International Beverage) which was established in 2005, to be the international arm of Thai Beverage Public Company Limited (ThaiBev), to facilitate the continued expansion of the drinks business outside of Thailand.
21 year old Old Pulteney
In October 2011, the 21 year old Old Pulteney was crowned ‘World Whisky of the Year’ in ‘Jim Murray’s 2012 Whisky Bible’.
The 21 year old single malt scored a record-equalling 97.5 points out of 100 in test tastings. Quoted on the BBC Scotland News web-site, Murray stated: ‘The 21 year old Old Pulteney absolutely exploded from the glass with vitality, charisma and class.” He further hoped that “this award helps one of Scotland’s great unsung distilleries to become discovered around the world.’
Writing in his on-line blog, Old Pulteney distillery manager, Malcolm Waring wrote, ‘We received the news that we’d won on a Monday morning which, as you can imagine, made for a fantastic start to the week. Pulteney is just the second Scottish distillery to land the award and an amazing feat like this is testimony to the dedication and hard work that went into creating what we always knew was a very special product.
I can never speak highly enough of my team, and they fully deserve this recognition. The award has already given Old Pulteney a huge boost on the international market and closer to home we’ve been inundated with calls and visitors since the news broke. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to say that the best whisky In the world is made in Wick!’
On the distillery web-site they describe their 21 year old malt (46% ABV, non chill-filtered) as a marriage of ‘Old Pulteney matured in ex-bourbon wood with spirit from ex-sherry wood casks (mostly Fino sherries) made from American Oak. This adds yet another layer of complexity, depth and character to this truly superb malt whisky.’ The liquid is ‘golden amber with straw highlights.’ Its nose is described as ‘full bodied with traces of fruits (apples and pears); slightly fragrant with spicy overtones,’ and the taste ‘sweet to start with a light fruitiness; hints of honey and vanilla followed by a dry finish.’
The 12 year old malt
The 12 year old malt (40% ABV) is described on the distillery web-site as ‘the definitive expression in the Old Pulteney family.’ It is ‘traditionally crafted using techniques that other distillers have long abandoned’ and ‘matured wholly in air-dried, hand-selected ex-bourbon casks’ It has the colour of ‘deep amber with a slight pink hue.’ its nose is of ‘medium to high intensity, dry with a hint of sea air’ and its taste on the palate is described as ‘dry, medium bodied and smooth with a clean finish: faintly salty with a slight spicy note.’
Old Pulteney 12-years-old has won numerous gold medals at the most prestigious international competitions.
The Old Puleney 17 year old malt
The Old Pulteney 17 year old malt (46% ABV, non chill-filtered) according to their web-site ‘predominantly features ex-bourbon maturation, with the addition of spirit that has been wholly matured in Spanish wood ex-sherry casks, predominantly Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso.’ They further state that the subtle depth and complexity that is added to the maturing whisky makes their 17 year old ‘an outstanding after-dinner drink.’
Its taste is described as ‘full bodied, with hints of vanilla and floral notes in the background; a long-lasting memorable finish.’ and the colour is referred to as ‘red amber with a rich autumnal hue,’ with a nose that is ‘sweet with traces of apples and pears: slightly woody with a hint of butterscotch.’
The 30 year old malt
Old Pulteney also produce a 30 year old expression of its single malt (44% ABV), described as ‘matured in ex-bourbon (American oak) wood. It is neither coloured nor chill-filtered.’ Its colour is described as ‘a bright gold with a copper glow.’
As for its nose, ‘full and sweet with floral overtones, a complex mix of gooseberry, citrus and lemons. Woody with a hint of chocolate, ‘ and its taste, ‘full-bodied single malt with elements of honey and lemons. Oaky and aromatic with a warm spiciness and a sweet long-lasting finish.’
Finally, it is worth noting that Old Pulteney also produce a tasty liqueur whisky (28% ABV)
Old Pulteney 12 year old Single Malt Scotch Whisky is the basis for the liqueur, which has been carefully blended with a selection of natural Highland ingredients to create, according to the distillers ‘a truly memorable Scotch Whisky Liqueur with a beguiling aroma and a rich, fruity flavour.’
Old Pulteney is an environmental innovator
It is a little known fact that Old Pulteney is an environmental innovator. In conjunction with the North Highland Council, they use the excess thermal heat from the distillery as fuel to heat over 1500 local homes in Wick.
Old Pulteney Single Malt whisky has a long standing association with the sea and is also known as the “Maritime Malt”. It came as no surprise then to learn that Old Pulteney was the official partner of Jock Wishart’s Old Pulteney Row to the Pole Expedition, the goal of which he and his team achieved on the 26th August, 2011.
The Old Pulteney Row to the Pole Expedition saw Jock and five crew mates brave some of the harshest conditions on the planet as they rowed their specially-designed boat (named Old Pulteney) through Arctic waters to reach the 1996 Magnetic North Pole.??The expedition tested all the members to the limits of their endurance, and their incredible feat ranks alongside the first row across the Atlantic.??The challenge took place in July/August 2011 and was of global significance as both a pioneering maritime adventure and an environmental expedition.??The planned 450-mile route across the Arctic Sea started in Resolute Bay in Canada. Timing was of the essence as the final section of the journey was only navigable for a few weeks of the year before the waters refroze.
The final stages included an ice crossing that took almost 10 hours as the crew dragged the 1.3 ton boat, to ultimately arrive at the 1996 Magnetic North Pole at six thirty in the evening local time (0130 BST) on the 26th August 2011.
(More information can be found at the expedition web-site http://www.rowtothepole.com or in Rod Macrae’s book ‘FURTHEST NORTH.’
Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2012, Murray, J, 2011,Dram good books Limited, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, UK.
Malt Whisky Yearbook 2012, Ronde I, 2011, MagDig Media Limited, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England, UK.
101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die, Buxton, I, 2010, Hachette Scotland, London, UK