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Saturday, 12 March 2011

Wick-ed?

Getting around Scotland is one of the fun things about visiting. Planes, trains and automobiles are usually deployed to get from The Big Smoke to where the Big Peat lies. And all because distilleries are hidden away in craggy and remote areas.

This was a deliberate act. The distilleries were awkward to reach, enabling them to hide from the excise man as well as smuggle their goods away to market. Islands were good hiding places for the 18th Century distiller, so it is no surprise that Islay, Orkney and Skye house some of the world’s greatest distilleries. But if you were to stay on the mainland, where better to be than the far North?

And you don’t get much further North than Wick.

Situated near John O’ Groats , the most Northerly point in mainland Britain is just a stones throw away. This is a seriously long way from... well... anywhere, really!

I once had a friend who cycled from John O’ Groats to Land’s End. I honestly have no idea why people do this sort of thing (having recently joined the Boris Bike Scheme in London, I’d be hard pressed to cycle from St John’s Wood to Mile End without “doing myself a wrong ‘un” as the Cockney’s say) but these same people probably have no idea why I’m spending an entire day from my weekend going to Stoke.

To watch football.

And not even Premiership football, either.

League Two, which is really Division Four.

Come to think of it, someone buy me a bike and some lyrca. I’m off for a cycle...

Anyway, up in Wick is a small distillery which produces just 1m litres a year (the same size as Ardbeg) called Old Pulteney. It is the most northern distillery on the mainland and is apparently the only distillery in Scotland to be named after a person!

What treat for you today, fact-fans!

Old Pulteney have a few core releases, with a 12 year old, a 17 and a 21 before hitting some older and more expensive offerings. Today we have a new release by OP, which is only going to be available in Travel Retail, the NAS WK209 "Good Hope"

A bit like the Dalmore Rivers series, Old Pulteney have taken a theme to their recent offerings, using the names and numbers of boats from the harbour at Wick as their chosen subject. This bottle is named after a Herring Drifter from 1948, following on from the previous bottling, WK499 ‘Isabella Fortuna’, and is limited to 9,600 1ltr bottles.

Old Pulteney – WK209 – NAS – Travel Retail Only – 46%

Matured in 100% Oloroso Sherry Casks

Nose: when I first poured this, I wasn’t impressed at all. It was musty and over heavy in caramel. However, given time in the glass this has really settled down. Toffee apple rolled in cardamom seeds, chewing tobacco from the tin, cherry jam and rich oak spice. The tiniest hint of salt and maybe even a touch of smoke- but wood smoke, not peat smoke. A mere whisper...

Palate: First up is the hit of dusty tobacco, or a day old cigar. This develops in to dried apricots, five spice and dry oak. The sherry drives through the longer it stays on the palate, with strawberry liquorice laces developing on the back of the palate, all wrapped up in cigar casing. A hint of water brings out real sweetness. As before, but dusted with sugar.

Finish: big spice hit which falls away very quickly, leaving a dry but lasting warmth of spice and oak. With water the finish develops sweet cherry pie notes.

Overall: At first, I thought I wasn’t going to like this at all, but given time in the glass, this comes to life. Much like the boat it was named after, this needs water to live, to fulfil its purpose, to give it life.


One day maybe I will take that bike ride from John O’ Groats to Lands End. But with Old Pulteney the first stop, and then they whole of Speyside to tackle en route, it certainly won’t be breaking any records. Well, not for the quickest, but maybe for the slowest. But isn’t what whisky is all about? Time spent well. And time well spent, for me, is on any form of transport with more than two wheels.