The Bracing Brininess of Old Pulteney, a Scotch Whisky Inspired by the Sea

Making whisky is all about using your senses: sight, smell, sound, and taste.
— Malcolm Waring, master distiller, Old Pulteney
Malcolm Waring .  All photos courtesy of Old Pulteney.

Malcolm Waring. All photos courtesy of Old Pulteney.

Last night I sat down with a wee dram of Old Pulteney scotch whisky for a chat with the company’s congenial master distiller, Malcolm Waring. Truth be told, it was a live streaming event on Instagram and, in case you were wondering, a wee dram is a shot of scotch whisky. Yesterday’s participants had been sent samples of Old Pulteney to taste during an online masterclass with Malcolm and USA Brand Education Manager Steph Ridgway.

Since 1826, Old Pulteney’s story has been inseparable from the sea. Located in a remote fishing village on Scotland’s rugged, windswept Caithness coast, the distillery sits directly on a cliff overlooking the North Sea.

“Old Pulteney is all about the sea,” says Malcolm. “It really puts the DNA into our whisky with a brininess that shows up differently in each of the expressions.”

Scotland’s stunning Caithness Coast.

Scotland’s stunning Caithness Coast.

To honor the water that shapes their whisky, Old Pulteney has recently begun a film series, in partnership with #RiseWithTheTide, that tells inspiring stories of people whose lives have been shaped by the sea.

“Here at Old Pulteney, we rise with the tide every day,” says Malcolm. “Everything we do is borne from the sea; it’s our biggest partner. We know that there are countless others who, like us, embrace the sea to do something powerful. Our latest film series is all about sharing these stories so people can take inspiration from them.”

Check out the first two episodes on OldPulteney.com.

During last evening’s virtual tasting and discussion, Malcolm and Steph guided the audience through a tasting of their core collection of single malts, beginning with the 12 year old (40% ABV, $30 SRP), a 100% bourbon barrel-aged whisky. This light-bodied style of scotch is nonetheless loaded with flavors of butterscotch, coconut, and banana. The delicate aromas and flavors of the whisky woke up my palate without overpowering it. I recommend enjoying a glass of the 12 before dinner to stimulate the appetite — and perhaps the conversation as well!

Next up was the Huddart (46% ABV, $52 SRP), a non-age statement whisky, named after the street the distillery resides on. It starts off with a sweetness that is quickly backed up by a hint of smoke along with Old Pulteney’s characteristic salinity. “It’s all about balance,” says Malcolm. While tasting it, I did notice that the sweet fruitiness of the Huddart is well balanced by its subtle smokiness.

The Huddart was followed by the 15 year old (46% ABV, $70 SRP), aged three years in American oak and further matured in Galician Spanish casks. This one has a creamier mouthfeel than the previous two, yet is dry on the palate with flavors of chocolate and stonefruits (peach, cherry, and apricot).

Malcolm, a firm believer of the importance of cask selection during the aging process, told us that the Spanish oak adds another level of depth and balance to this whisky. “The marriage of the two oaks brings an added dimension to the whisky,” he said.

I would pair this flavorful scotch with oysters, a classic combination, in which the salinity of the whisky matches the brininess of the oysters.

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The final dram tasted was the 18 year old (46% ABV, $115 SRP), also aged in American oak and further matured in Spanish oak. Malcolm explained that the barrels rest inside a big warehouse whose walls have been covered with wet moss since 1926. “When you step into it, you immediately notice the pronounced change in the microflora of the air,” says Malcolm. “I wanted to capture the environment of the warehouse and show, through the 18, how it changes the characteristics of the whisky.”

The 18 year old is rummy, raisony, and chocolatey, with a slight hint of tobacco, and a noticeable scent of the sea. There was so much depth, flavor and complexity in this truly special and indulgent whisky. “The 18 feels orchestral,” said Steph, “It reminds me of a symphony in perfect harmony.”

Speaking of harmony, what I discovered about Old Pulteney whisky is that while each expression stands alone in its unique characteristics, they all come together and share a common thread — an homage to the sea that guides and inspires them.

Find Old Pulteney Scotch at your favorite restaurants and retailers.