The Pulteney (PULT-nay) distillery is the most northerly mainland distillery in Scotland, and they certainly make great use of sea imagery on all their products. Indeed, a general “maritime air” is believe to infuse their whisky, with subtle notes of sea salt/brine.
The 21 yo expression of Old Pulteney is a mix of whisky from Fino sherry and refill bourbon casks. It sits at the top of their core expression range, above the 12 yo and 17 yo expressions (which I have yet to review).
Of note, Jim Murray is a big fan of this whisky – he once rated it whisky of the year in his annual Whisky Bible (2012). But let’s see how it fares among all critics in my Meta-Critic database, relative to other similarly aged expressions.
Aberfeldy 21yo: 8.77 ± 0.22 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Balvenie 21yo Port Wood: 8.75 ± 0.40 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenfiddich 18yo: 8.57 ± 0.41 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenfiddich 21yo Gran Reserva: 8.68 ± 0.33 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenlivet 18yo: 8.58 ± 0.19 on 19 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenlivet 21yo Archive: 8.83 ± 0.31 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenmorangie 18yo Extremely Rare: 8.69 ± 0.23 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Highland Park 18yo: 9.12 ± 0.25 on 22 reviews ($$$$$)
Highland Park 21yo: 8.86 ± 0.39 on 14 reviews ($$$$$+)
Old Pulteney 17yo: 8.85 ± 0.28 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)
Old Pulteney 21yo: 8.77 ± 0.50 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)
The overall average score is in keeping with many in this age class, but there is an unusually high degree of variance for this whisky. This indicates significant discordance among reviewers.
Let’s see what I find in the glass. This was sampled recently at Bar le Grincheux in Strasbourg, for 21€. It is bottled at 46% ABV.
Nose: Sherry influence is unmistakable, with definite chocolate notes. The fruit is secondary, and pretty much all apple, pear and a bit of banana – I am not getting any of the typical dark sherry fruits. Their is a sweet and salty maritime air, like salted caramel. No real alcohol burn or any off notes. This is a nice nose, with a fair amount of complexity under the surface. A pleasure to return to.
Palate: Sweet and lightly smokey is the initial impression. The salted caramel and chocolate notes continue (especially creamy milk chocolate), joined by some oak vanilla. A hint of pralines and nougat. Effect reminds me of some of those higher-end Belgian chocolatiers (but not too sweet). Not very fruity, but the light fruits from the nose persist (especially apple), with again no dark fruits. There is some alcohol burn now, definitely feels like 46% ABV. Mouthfeel is a bit syrupy, and some soft spices enter the picture eventually. A touch of bitterness comes in at the very end.
Finish: Not particularly sweet, more slightly savoury – like the lingering finish of some south asian dishes. Astringent mouthfeel (with that “maritime air” again). Moderate finish, could be longer.
Certainly a very drinkable expression. Overall impression is that that of hidden spice and salt, having been muted by the more extensive barrel aging. While I enjoyed the initial presentation, this one looses some marks from me on the way out – it just sort of fizzles, when you would expect a more substantial exit. As such, I think the overall Meta-Critic score is fair here.
For additional reviews of this whisky, generally positive ones can be found from Thomas of Whisky Saga and most of the members of Quebec Whisky (although André is quite negative). Another relatively negative review comes for John Hansell of Whisky Advocate (although that is an older bottling). For a more middle-of-the-pack review, you could see Ruben of Whisky Notes. And of course, there is Jim Murray for the most positive review of this whisky I’ve ever seen.