Why Old Pulteney whisky is a symbol of Scotland's fishing tradition
Old Pulteney's strong ties with the fishing heritage of the North Highlands of Scotland
Character, taste and rarity are all factors in defining a whisky from an enthusiast’s point of view, but one other feature might appeal to the smokehead of a romantic persuasion (and aren’t they all?). If a whisky has a story behind it – a bit of history about its location or method of production – then that makes it all the more alluring. In which case, Wick’s Old Pulteney is surely one of the more exciting names on the market.
Sadly it recently gave up its long-held title as the UK mainland’s northern-most whisky distillery when Thurso’s Wolfburn opened earlier in 2013, but Old Pulteney’s heritage stands it in good stead. When it was built in 1826 by the Henderson family it was actually in the village of Pulteney on the south side of the River Wick, opposite Wick itself on the north, although both areas are now part of the same town. With only old drovers’ roads heading away from the villages, the whisky was carried off to market by boat, contributing to part of a heritage which now sees Old Pulteney describe itself as a ‘maritime malt’.
‘It grew up with the fishing industry,’ says distillery manager Malcolm Waring of the whisky. ‘Wick at one point was the principal herring port in Europe; there were something like eleven thousand migrant workers who used to come in and fish for the season, and there were around eleven hundred fishing boats. The distillery grew up with that, this explosion as herring fishing took hold, and it was Pulteney whisky that was drunk when these guys returned from the sea.’
But does the location actually have any effect on the character of the whisky? ‘You get that salty brininess in it,’ Malcolm says. ‘The casks breathe where they are and they’re taking that in. We use traditional ways of distilling, everything is done by hand, and our stills are quite small and squat, which produces a big, heavy, powerful spirit. If you put that into good-quality casks it produces a nice creamy, citrusy whisky. You’ve got traces of butterscotch, coconut and vanilla, although the twelve-year-old is slightly briny.’ We’d hope for nothing less.