We’ve all heard about that one culinary trick - where sprinkling a little salt into dessert (or any food you won’t typically season with salt for the matter) elevates not just the sweetness but unlocks the hidden flavours as well. It seems that many have caught on that there’s more to whisky than strong, sweet and dried fruit flavours - and many whisky makers have sought to introduce a bit of that oceanic spritz into their liquids. Circumstance has is though, that Old Pulteney would make whiskies that have always been characteristically saline - given its unique place in Scotland.
I’ve had the opportunity to attend a tasting of Old Pulteney’s core range - the 12 Y.O, 15 Y.O, 18 Y.O and the Huddart. The tasting session was held in Silver Malt, an easy-going whisky bar that has only recently shifted from its previous location two weeks prior. The bar features a wide selection of whiskies that evolves along with their customers - heavily informed by the crowd’s ever growing palate, niches and tastes.
Lukasz Dynowiak, holding a block of peat.
Helmed by Lukasz Dynowiak, the Brand Education Manager for Old Pulteney since 2018 (and have been working with Old Pulteney since 2015), opened the session with an interesting anecdote.
The airport at Wick. Souce: HIAL
He was rushing for his flight out of Wick - and mind you, there aren't many flights to and fro the north-easternmost corner of Scotland. On his ride to the airport, a colleague of his from Old Pulteney was sharing how he used to be out at sea before being part of the distillery. He was once thrown overboard by the rough North Sea and into 4°C water.
The North Sea. Source: Ecomare
At this point, the "Last Call" sign of the airport was flashing, but Lukasz stayed in the vehicle. "I don't care if I'm staying another day here, I'm listening to this story to its end."
The sailor was ready, bidding au revoir to his shipmates and the mortal realm. The ship he was onboard was huge - and towered over him from water level, and he thought there's no way he'll be able to get back on the ship - not until hypothermia kills him off at least. But through luck and the tenacity of himself and his crew, he was fished out of the freezing waters minutes away from fatal hypothermia.
However, work had to be done out on the unkind sea, even if you just nearly lost your life in it. And a brief rest later, he's back on the deck. When he returned ashore, his wife "kindly" compelled him for a career switch.
One of five cask warehouses at Old Pulteney. Source: Old Pulteney
On the papers the next day, the first job advertisement was from Old Pulteney - hiring someone to roll casks of whisky within their warehouses. The used-to-be sailor signed up, and now he decides when to cut the hearts from the stills.
If that doesn't attest to the grit of the folks at Wick and out at sea, I don't know what does.
Now, starting the tasting proper, Lukasz started with this quote:
“This is not just the Highland Malt, but the Maritime Malt.”
Old Pulteney 12 Year Old, 40%
Nose: Charcuterie and cured meat comes at first. However, the more I dug into the whisky’s aroma, the more I pick up a chocolate malt drink alongside sea salt chocolate. The sweetness in particular reminds me of Milo (I admit, I got some weird stares when I shared this to my tablemates), that smells a bit confectionery-like. There is a bright, lemon zestiness as well.
Taste: The citrus flavour gets a bit darker, akin to orange and dried mandarin peels. The sea salt salinity is present as well, with a bit of a mineral-water like quality in texture. It isn’t as sweet as the nosing suggested, though there is that chocolatey-sweetness to it.
Finish: The woodiness lasts rather long in the finish, where it initially develops a green-apple crispness. There is also a bit of smoke present, and the ending texture felt something like chewing on beeswax.
Unexpectedly fun! The chocolateyness of this whisky was rather surprising - and the beeswax texture on the finish makes you itch for more whisky. This whisky, as Lukasz presented himself, is good for drinking with a crowd of friends, while still offering something different from a simple sherry-forward dram.
Old Pulteney 15 Year Old, 46%
Only the Old Pulteney 12 Y.O is chilled filtered - the rest from this tasting aren’t. For the Old Pulteney 15, the whisky is re-racked into first fill sherry casks for the last 2 years of its maturation.
Nose: Honey and beeswax jumps out at the start. Towards the middle, there is a sea-salt like aroma to it, like when you’re standing next to the ocean. It develops into prunes and dried figs, before the pronounced incense-like woodiness comes through.
Taste: I first taste sourdough bread, followed by the bright, tart yet toothsome sweetness of dried pineapple chunks. There is a dark chocolate flavour - more towards the fruity, 80% dark cacao sort. There is a dried prune sweetness undertone as well.
Finish: Rather short lived, though there is quite a pronounced woodiness and incense-like aroma. Interestingly, there is that slight savouriness and dryness from Manazilla sherry towards the end too.
This whisky reminds me of wooden jetties that have been battered by the ocean for a long time. Salty, woody, and has some broody feeling to it (like the love interests talking about their emotional baggage by the ocean in a romance flick). It’s thoroughly enjoyable for those looking for a bit more salt in their whisky that isn’t so sherry forward.
This was the close second to being the favourite whisky of the crowd for the night.
Old Pulteney 18 Year Old, 46%
This whisky is aged for 3 years in sherry. Now, Lukasz recommends taking your time with this dram. He advise to pour a big dram into a glass and let it sit - as the whisky develops for one to two hours in the glass, more aromas and flavours open up and become more pronounced. The 18 Y.O was most popular with the crowd.
Nose: Orange candy, a bit of bergamot, orchard fruits, and dried fruits. There is the dried pineapple again, but more of the ripened sort compared to those that are more sour. Prunes, dried figs are present as well.
Taste: It starts out leathery, gamey almost, like smoked duck fat. There is quite a pronounced nut brittle flavour as well, alongside slightly sweeter dark chocolate. Interestingly, there is a bit of black tea aromas. It then develops to and is mostly taken over by dried fruits like prunes and figs.
Finish: There is a subtle savouriness, but the big flavours that linger are dried fruits, figs and prunes. It’s quite muted however.
Personally felt that the flavours were a bit muted and subtle. Compared to the two drams earlier on, this feels almost a bit too quiet. Perhaps I am overthinking it a bit too much with this dram, but I did appreciate the gamey, leathery quality and wished there was more of it. It paints a picture of me doing the Thinking Man pose on a leather couch.
Old Pulteney Huddart, 46%
Before I get into the tasting notes for our last dram for the night, let's talk a bit about the whisky’s name, which Lukasz explained to me.
Joseph Huddart, 1741 - 1816. Source: Lindahall
The whisky is named after Joseph Huddart, a British sea captain, hydrographer, and inventor. From an early age, he taught himself mathematics and mechanics, building his own ship at a fairly young age. He found himself particularly attuned to the seas, and joined the East India Company on four long voyages. What made Huddart famous (and his fortune) however was his new automated techniques of rope making - he improved the tensile strength of ropes by ensuring that there was no disproportionate strain on the outer fibres, a common problem then.
Not only is naming the whisky Huddart a throwback to the old, nautical past, Old Pulteney distillery is built right on Huddart street as well - and it’s only fitting they honoured the captain with one of their spirits.
This whisky is special as it is the only one with peat influence. However, the peat influence comes from refilling casks that used to hold peated whisky - giving the final liquid barely a kiss of peat to be noticeable.
Nose: Strong salt candy can be picked up, alongside that slightly sweet, charred aroma of BBQ beef jerky. There is a fleeting phenolic signature of the peat - you got to catch it as it’s quite evasive. There is also a muted vibrancy of lemon as well, akin to when you char lemon on a hot grill
Taste: While very weak, the first taste I picked up was that phenolic, iodine peat. Again, that subtle meatiness from beef jerky came through. The bright lemon flavours weren’t picked up here, but instead I got dried prune flavours. There was a subtle funky, astringent flavour you get from steeped pu’er tea as well.
Finish: A salted toffee flavour remains. It gets a bit drying with a pronounced woody flavour. Interestingly, there is a lemony finish to the whisky.
Now, this really reminds me of the ocean. I feel that the peat drew out more saline, savoury characteristics from the whisky, giving this dram a salty-sweet flavour profile. As a peathead, I appreciate the little bit of complexity that the peat gave to the whisky. It’s oddly refreshing in my opinion as well.
My favourite for the night was definitely the Huddart. Now, I don't think Old Pulteney is the most saline of whiskies out there, but the sea salt influence is definitely present. Old Pulteney could be a good recommendation for whisky drinkers who are starting to be more adventerous with their drams - shifting away from the fruit forward meta to explore other flavours. I highly recommend giving the 15 Y.O and the Huddart a try from Old Pulteney's core range!