I’ve already summarised my trip on the Kyle of Lochalsch line, and on the same trip I took a ride on the other branch of the North Highland Lines – to Wick (of which more in a future post).
Other than travelling along a new stretch of track, my reason for visiting the town was to visit Pulteney distillery – producers of the Old Pulteney brand of single malts.
Founded in 1826, production has pretty much been constant, apart from a 20 year closure between 1930 and 1951. Today’s owners, Inver House Distillers, purchased the distillery in 1995 and quality has been on the rise, with Jim Murray naming the 21 Year Old as his Whisky of the Year in 2012.
As with most other distilleries, it had its own maltings – these closed in 1959, with Baird’s of Inverness now supplying the barley the distillery needs. The distillery is home to a five-tonne Porteus mill, six washbacks (four dating from the 1920s and one each from 1975 and 1985) and still uses worm tubs. Water for production enters the distillery via a gravity-fed pipe from a loch three miles away. The distillery is famous for its wash still, which is missing the swan neck. The story is that when it arrived, it was too tall for the stillhouse, so the top was simply cut off.
Production is between 1.3- and 1.5-million-litres per , of which around half is sent away by tanker for blending, with the other half stored on-site and intended for Old Pulteney single malt. Most of the 24,000 casks stored in the four on-site warehouses are ex-bourbon, with a small amount of sherry butts.
The distillery’s core range includes the 12, 17 and 21 year olds, with the current line-up including a 1990 vintage, 30, 35 and 40 year olds, along with three travel retail expressions named after local lighthouses (Duncansby Head, Noss Head and Pentland Skerries), that I tried at the distillery.
Old Pulteney Pentland Skerries, 46% (appx £65 for a litre bottle)
The sherried expression, this is named after a pair of lighthouses between Wick and the Orkney Islands.
Nose: Christmas cake with black cherry and stollen.
Palate: Rich and warming with notes of prune, fig and Christmas pudding.
Finish: Christmas cake and fig continue to the very end.
Old Pulteney Duncansby Head, 46% (appx £55 for a litre bottle)
A combination of bourbon- and sherry-matured whiskies, this lighthouse is situated near John O’Groats.
Nose: Rich orange peel and marmalade.
Palate: Surprisingly warming, with waxy notes and a hint of orange zest
Finish: The waxy notes linger much longer than the orange zest does.
Old Pulteney Noss Head, 46% (appx £50 for a litre bottle)
Aged exclusively in bourbon casks, this lighthouse is the closest to the distillery, located near the town of Wick.
Nose: A closed, subtle nose with green apple predominant.
Palate: Light and grassy with a cinnamon spiciness and a hint of white pepper.
Finish: The spicy cinnamon goes right to the end.
It was worth the seven-hour journey to see the worm tubs and unique stills (note to others: if you’re going to Wick for a day trip, stay closer than Elgin to avoid a 4am start…) – the only downside is that it’s nearly impossible to take a decent photo of the front of the distillery!