Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Five from Old Pulteney

Whisky Reviews
I was invited to a Twitter Tasting of the recently launched 1990 Vintage. The 1990 Vintage was the finale dram of the evening, and a sample of their Navigator and 12 Year Old started the tasting. Whilst I downloaded all the tweets at the time, I never got around to posting anything on the blog. 

Then while I was polishing off the last of the Old Pulteney 17 and 21 Year Old, two earlier whisky discoveries, I thought I would pull them all together in one post, running through the three core expressions and finishing with the newer releases

Old Pulteney
Founded in 1826 by James Henderson at the height of Wick's celebrated herring boom, the Pulteney Distillery is one of the most northerly on the British mainland.

At a time when road links to the town were yet to be established, the distillery was dependent on the sea for its supply of barley and for the shipping out of its malt whisky. Wick became known for the barrels of silver (herring) and gold (whisky) which left the port in vast numbers.

The distillery itself has an absorbing history, with its unique stills defying convention to this day. The wash still, in particular, is a source of fascination to visitors due to the absence of a 'swan neck'. Legend has it that when the still was delivered it was too tall for the still house and the manager simply decided to cut the top off! The Old Pulteney bottle now incorporates a bulbous neck to reflect the shape of the stills.

Over time, the distillery has passed through the hands of various owners, and even closed during times of trouble for the industry in 1930. Luckily, the repeal of an often forgotten period of prohibition in 1947 saw the welcome resumption of whisky production, with the distillery changing ownership a number of times, before its purchase by Inver House Distillers in 1995. Throughout this history what has endured is the quality of the whisky. Traditional craftsmanship and the distillery's windswept location continue to contribute to the award-winning whisky that is Old Pulteney Single Malt Scotch Whisky.

Whisky Discovery #25

Old Pulteney 12 Year Old (40% abv)
Highland Single Malt

circa £30.00 70 cl
Whisky Reviews
The Old Pulteney 12 Year Old was one of my early purchases, bought in the first year of my whisky journey (in fact it was my official November 2011 purchase) I had been recommended to try it and the 21 Year Old had just been named as Jim Murray's whisky of the year in his 2012 bible.

Matured wholly in air-dried, hand-selected ex-bourbon casks, and is said to be a classic Northern Highland coastal single malt, and is one of the best sellers in the United Kingdom. I have recommended this to a number of non-whisky drinking friends over the past couple of years and it has always been well received.

Part of Old Pulteney's complexity comes from traditional worm tub condensation which leaves the spirit heavy and flavoursome, but the unusual shape of the stills has a tremendous impact on the style too. In this tweet tasting the 12 Year Old was the second dram of the evening, following the Navigator, so notes reflect thoughts after tasting that.

So What Did I Think?
After the Navigator this immediately felt richer and more mature. Apples were the dominant fruit note, but softer, browning chopped apples as opposed to fresh, along with some green banana. and grassy notes. Soft sweetness of brown sugar and a hint of the sea with some brine.

On the palate opens with a citrus note initially which this quickly turns malty with those rich soft apples with a honeyed sweetness, a hint of aniseed and a zesty peppery tang towards the end. An easy-drinking malt that offers a complex array of flavours, and features in many whisky enthusiasts top 'bang-for-your-buck lists.

What did the others think?
@chrismiles303: The 12 is such a dependable dram. It is a very easy sipper and it mixes well with soda water! Very versatile.
@TheWhiskyKiwi: Definitely honey on the nose. Manuka honey from NZ in fact. Slight grassy notes in the background as well
@Jamie_Rowley: This has a lovely, dare I say it, winter warming nose. Rich fruits and a hint of dark chocolate.
@BarryMBradford: Nose, toffee, salted caramel, honey, faint apples and fresh oranges little yeasty dough mmmm....
@ZacHFX : Wow that's a lot of honey. Powerful on the nose, even for 40% ABV. Only barely kept in check by seagrass.
@rodbodtoo: An easy, sweet, honey and apple whisky (specifically, apples which were cut an hour ago - a little brown)
@SCOTTDOGG11: Like the first whiff of coastal air in spring, get your face in the fruit bowl and enjoy
@bumpythechemist: Sweet pear drops, pepper spice and salt on the palate

@JohnnieStumbler: This needs no water at all. Big, bold flavours but not overpowering. Honey, brine and a hint of apple strudel.

@mynameisgone: The palate is nice and full, fruits apple (pie filling), creamy toffee, light gingery spiciness and creamy
@Jamie_Rowley: Starting to get a slight peppery and smokey finish to this, lovely taste
@HMcnee: Fruity sweet, maybe some dried fruit in there as well and that bit of salt
@ben_cops: Body - rich malt and toffee arrival, replaced sharply with wood bitterness and a bit more orchard fruit

Whisky Discovery #57

Old Pulteney 17 Year Old (46% abv)
Highland Single Malt
circa £60.00 70 cl

Whisky Reviews
The 17-year-old 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. This adds a subtle depth and complexity to the whisky, making for an outstanding after-dinner drink.

I first tasted this at Whisky Live London 2012 but have returned to it many times since. This was not part of the Tweet Tasting this time but checking back through the blog realised that whilst it had been clearly registered on the liquid log, no notes had ever been posted, so just my notes for this expression

So What Did I Think?
This has a rich rounded and very inviting nose; Fruity, spicy and with a hint of sea salt. There's beach dried seaweed and just a whiff of a fragrant smoke in the background. After a little while the glass is filled with the aroma of vanilla with malty citrus notes and toffee apples.

In the mouth it's deliciously smooth and oily. While sweet initially a peppery spice builds before caramelised apples and a grapefruit pith dryness follows. There is just a touch of that fragrant smoke coming through too. The finish is quite spicy with ginger and a chilli heat.

The empty glass the following morning (I cover the glasses up before heading to bed, usually with a business card weighted down with a pebble, to retain the aromas for a pre-breakfast treat) smells malty and woody, young green wood.

Whisky Discovery #58

Old Pulteney 21 Year Old (46% abv)
Highland Single Malt
circa £80.00 70 cl
Whisky Reviews
As with the 17-year-old, with this expression is a marriage of spirit matured in ex-bourbon wood with spirit from ex-sherry wood casks. The crucial difference, however, is that the ex-sherry wood in this case is made from American Oak (mostly Fino sherries). This adds yet another layer of complexity, depth and character to this truly superb malt whisky.

Again, first tasted this at Whisky Live London 2012 and have returned to it many times since.This was the Old Pulteney I so wanted to taste after reading about it in Jim Murray's 2012 bible. This was not part of the Tweet Tasting this time but checking back through the blog realised that whilst it had been clearly registered on the liquid log, no notes had ever been posted, so just my notes for this expression

So What Did I Think?
A fabulous nose and much richer and more rounded than the 17 Year Old, the sherry casks adding depth and sophistication. The extra maturing years show to giving that 'old wood' smell with linseed and a slight floral fragrance too. Again lots of fruity notes here

Another beautifully smooth mouth feel, richer well seasoned wood, waxy honeycomb, caramelised pineapple, with a touch of liquorice at the very end.

The following morning the empty glass is again malty and woody as the 17 but the wood is now well seasoned and there is a nice touch of rich dark chocolate.

Whisky Discovery #637

Old Pulteney Navigator NAS (46% abv)
Highland Single Malt
circa £47.00 70 cl
Whisky Reviews
The Navigator is a maritime malt aged in a mix of ex-sherry and bourbon casks in celebration of the distillery's history with the ocean and the old sea dogs that sail it. Bottled at a respectable 46% abv. it's quite young spirit matured in American oak. There is also a small number of sherry casks that have been used to mature Navigator but the influence shouldn't be too strong.

So What Did I Think?
The nose opens with sweet malted grains. It's a little chalky/slate-like, dry. Fruit notes come in the form of of green apples and white grapes. Spice follows with black pepper and after a little while in the glass, sweetening with vanilla creams while remaining fresh and a little zesty. Returning to it after nosing and tasting the 12 Year Old it came across much younger with 'new make' notes picked out.

The palate is quite rich and creamy and feels full bodied, but you can taste some younger spirit in here. There's sweet herbal green woody notes with spicy pepper towards the end leaving some citrus pith dryness, a touch of salt and a little more zest at the end.

What did the others think?
@alembic_tweets: Nose: sweet cereal, fresh vanilla, cotton candy, lemon zest.
@steveprentice: Nose: Malt, slight coastalness, and a kind of burnt slightly mucky rich fruit note, sweet, toffee, kinda yummy!
@BarryMBradford: Nose, Sweet vanilla, toffee apples, a little sandalwood & cereal malt
@Stu_Mackenzie: Lovely sweet toffee and vanilla coming through on the nose
@Jamie_Rowley: Light and fresh to start with but becoming warmer with a lot of toffee flavours coming through on the nose.
@TheWhiskyKiwi: Dare I say the nose is a bit spirity and malty due to it'd youth. Slight citrus notes in the background too
@chrismiles303: Very florally to me as well - like a garden in bloom - that perfumey element someone mentioned there.
@mynameisgone: Palate, a cream toffee sweetness but edged with a lovely warming spiciness, some lovely citrus notes as well.
@JohnnieStumbler: On the palate it's young and a little hot. It doesn't quite live up to the nose. Tasted blind, I'd never guess Old Pulteney
@dvdbloke: Watered - Nose Some sweet shop floral coming through, Icing Sugar, Liquorice, More fruit, apple going on citrus.
@bumpythechemist: Shortish finish, the spice fades but is still salty and lemony
@Saunders_AFC: Short finish, spice disappears quickly and the citrus stick around for a few more seconds

Whisky Discovery #638

Old Pulteney 1990 Vintage (46% abv)
Highland Single Malt
circa £120.00 70 cl

Whisky Review

The whisky used for this limited edition 1990 Vintage Old Pulteney was matured in American ex-bourbon casks and Spanish ex-sherry casks which previously held heavily peated whisky. This maturation has given the single malt Scotch whisky an extra dimension to its flavour profile, with a buoyant smokiness that is seen in lightly peated whiskies. The phenolic influence isn't too strong but there is just enough of it to make it a little bit different

The 1990 Vintage is bottled at 46%, non chill-filtered and at its natural colour Just 900 cases (that's 5,400 bottles) are being made available in key markets around the world.

So What Did I Think?

A fabulous nose and the first thing that grabbed me was some fragrant pipe smoke in the background, it's not overpowering or even in forefront of the nose, but it was the note that lured me in. It's rich and very interesting, giving rich over-ripe fruits, spiced apple, soft plums and a 'figgy' rich fruit cake mix, raisins, a malty bread dough and vanilla essence. There's those 'well aged' whisky notes too with some linseed putty, and then there's that fragrant smoke and a little earthiness

Palate; Leathery over-ripe fruits and a gentle fragrant tobacco note Lovely sipping whisky and a great long leathery smoky finish, the peated cask making it's presence known with the earthy peat notes right at the every end.

What did the others think?

@steveprentice: Nose is great, old notes that do it well, some nuttiness, pinch of salt & dollop of malt with some red toffee apple
@WindsorBeerFest: On the nose: A waft of smoke, cinder toffee
@dvdbloke: Nose - big nose - smoke, leafy bonfires, honey, orange, vanilla, raisin, chocolate, nice perfumed elements, some fruitcake mix going on, a little eucalyptus maybe?
@BarryMBradford: Nose; Orange, peach, toffee, salt, smoke, sour dough - like Herman cake
@chrismiles303: Getting some rose notes - mix that up with the chocolate to get fry's turkish delight.
@mynameisgone: Nose smoke, chocolate, something earthy/herbal i can't quite identify, again the sweetness and fruit notes
@TheWhiskyKiwi: Needing to let it breathe some more. Nose is developing. getting a slight hint of smoke now. Very subtle
@ZacHFX A: A light nuttiness, too. Freshly cracked walnuts in an old wooden bowl. 

@dvdbloke: Palate - very sweet peat influences, citrus tartness, soft fruits, vanilla, earthiness coming through late development
@rodbodtoo: This is super sweet and a little smoky. Reminds me of lentil soup with a ham hough (the savoury note, y'see)
@Macdeffe: A real sipper. Slow drink. Drop by drop. Juicy. Honey. Sweet fruits. Good mix of sherry and bourbon. Sweet red fruits, Sugared raspberry and vanilla
@bumpythechemist: This has a thick palate - sweet subtle peat and sherry flavours 
@HMcnee: Palate is very salty, peat smoke but not peaty as in the Islay sense very smooth and no water needed
@BarryMBradford: Oooh! a drop of water and smoke comes rolling out, very mellow and toffee & honey too, yum!
@Saunders_AFC: Very nice smokey finish. Very nice. This is not like me, liking smokey whisky
@SCOTTDOGG11: This stuff is dancing on my tongue, sweet smoke warm relax.

And Finally..
There was unanimous appreciation for the 1990 Vintage, it is a cracking dram. However I wasn't the only one who thought perhaps the price was a little higher than it should have been. Is is worth £40.00 more than the excellent 21 Year Old? I'm sorely tempted but always struggle justifying spending over £100 for a bottle of whisky. if it had been a little closer to the £100 mark I might have gone for it, 

I wasn't overly impressed with the Navigator, there's nothing wrong with it but preferred the richer, fuller 12 Year Old on the day. The 12 Year Old is a great value for money dram, especially as it's available at most supermarkets and has been seen down to just £22.00 a bottle, I cannot walk past it at that! Out of the two older expressions the 21 Year Old wins it for me, and at around £80.00 a bottle is much easier for me to fit in my whisky budget.

Thanks to the team at Old Pulteney for sending me the samples of the Navigator, 1990 Vintage and for reminding me how good the 12 Year Old is. And it's a farewell to my older vintages as the 17 and 21 are no longer with me, but I'll be sure to keep looking our for them at Whisky Shows, and I'm fairly certain I'll be looking for a good deal on a replacement 21 Year Old soon.

Slàinte! Dave

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