In 1826, James Henderson founded Old Pulteney Distillery in Wick, a fishing village situated at the northern end of the Scottish Highlands. At the time, Wick was largely isolated from the remainder of the Scottish mainland, and the distillery was dependent on the sea for its supply of barley. The isolation also led to lawlessness — legend has it that the 8,000 fishermen who inhabited the town drank approximately 500 gallons of whisky each day at one of Wick's 81 bars.
In an effort to quell the fisherman, local teetotalers voted to impose a ban on the sale of alcohol in Wick. As a result, Old Pulteney Distillery was forced to close its doors in 1930. For exactly 25 years, the town of Wick remained dry. Following the end of World War II, however, Wick residents turned out in force and successfully repealed the ban on alcohol, allowing Old Pulteney Distillery to reopen its doors in 1951. Today, the distillery continues to make whisky in the same time-honored tradition that James Henderson began nearly 200 years ago.
After barley is milled by a 90 year-old Porteus mill, the grist is mashed and then fermented in one of the distillery's six fermentation tanks. Old Pulteney Distillery is just one of four distilleries in Scotland that continues to use dried yeast rather than liquid yeast cultures during fermentation. The dried yeast, sourced from South Africa, is incredibly delicate and requires careful monitoring, leading to a longer fermentation process as compared to distilleries that use liquid yeast.
Following fermentation, the wash is distilled, first through Old Pulteney's wash still and then again through its spirit still. Both stills have an usually large bulb shape below their necks (the unique design of the stills is reflected in the shape of the Old Pulteney Whisky bottle), which gives Old Pulteney Whisky its distinctive, oily character. The wash still, which was designed after the original wash still installed by Henderson, is missing its traditional swan neck. Rumor has it that the still was being installed, it was too large for the room it was housed in so the distillery manager at the time simply cut the neck off and repositioned the still's arm.
After distillation, Old Pulteney Single Malt Whisky is aged for 21 years in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. The sherry casks, which are made of American oak, were generally used to age Fino sherries and give the whisky notes of dried fruits, (particularly apples and pears) and honey. In addition, since the whisky ages on the banks of the North Sea, it has a hint of tangy saltiness. Together, these flavors earned the whisky a Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2011 and the title "World Whisky of the Year"in 2012 from the Whisky Bible.
Only a limited supply of Old Pulteney 21 Year Old Single Malt Whisky is available. "We knew Old Pulteney 21-Year-Old was a standout product, but we never dreamed it would literally run out," says Malcolm Waring, master distiller at Pulteney Distillery. "No matter how many hours we work into the night, we simply cannot make the whisky age any faster until it's fully matured to perfection."
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92 (46% ABV)
Old Pulteney Distillery
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Full and spicy nose with hints of fruit, particularly apples and pears. Initial flavors are sweet, with a light fruitiness. Hints of honey, caramel and vanilla follow and are followed a by dry finish with lingering hints of butterscotch.