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Old Pulteney 21 Year Old Single Malt Scotch

Review: Old Pulteney 21 Year Old Single Malt Scotch  90/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted on May 22, 2012

When I first heard that Old Pulteney 21 Year Old Single Malt Scotch had won the accolade of World Whisky of the Year in this years (2012) edition of Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible, I was intrigued at Jim Murray’s selection. Of course I, like many other persons, began to think that perhaps I should find myself a bottle. I have never had an occasion to try any of the Old Pulteney range, and it appears I have been missing out.

Just when I was beginning to get serious about finding that bottle, I was contacted by Woodman Wines and Spirits Inc. who let me know that they were sending me a lab sample of the award-winning whisky to sample at my leisure. I decided to put the lab sample through the paces of my review methodology and share the results with everyone here on my website.

According to the Old Pulteney website, Old Pulteney is produced at the northernmost distillery on the Scottish mainland, in Wick. It was founded in 1826 by James Henderson during the time of Wick’s herring boom. The distillery lies in the heart of ‘Pulteneytown’, which was created for the fishermen in the area, and the distillery is an integral part of the history of this coastal town.

The distillery’s award-winning 21-year-old expression is predominantly matured in bourbon casks. However, if I read the website correctly, some of this spirit was first wholly matured in Spanish sherry casks. The spirits are combined or ‘married’ (and spend the bulk of their maturation time) together in the bourbon cask. Interestingly enough, all of the oak casks used for the entire maturation (the bourbon cask and the sherry cask) are made from American Oak. This exclusive use of American Oak for both the sherry casks and the bourbon casks is unique, in the Old Pulteney line-up, to the 21 Year Old Single Malt Whisky.

In the Bottle 4.5/5

As you can see from the picture to the right, the old Pulteny 21 Year old arrives in an attractive green metal canister. The bottle itself is somewhat squat, with a rather unique bubbled neck. The graphics are very nice and serve the purpose to make me interested in the whisky. Topping off the presentation is a corked closure which is overlain with attractive green foil. The overall presentation is somewhat masculine, and I think it has nice character.

In the Glass 9/10

In the glass, the whisky displays itself with light amber/gold hue. When I tilt and swirl the glass, I see a few stubborn legs form, although most of the oily sheen prefers to stay intact leaving a nice inverted crown inside the glass. The initial nose is quite spicy. Within the spice, I sense butterscotch and heather, and a ripe fruit filled presence (green apples and green grapes; some raisins; and light impressions of dates). Over time oak and willow aromas evolve from the spice, and the darker fruit (the raisins and the dates) gain a little momentum.

My impression is that this is not going to be a relaxing sipper, rather the spiciness of nose implies to me that I must be ready for a whisky that will require my attention to discover the nuances within the spice.

In the Mouth 54/60

Unexpectedly, the entry begins softly. The whisky has an oily texture which coats the palate, and the first flavour I encounter is butterscotch with hints of tart green apple and fresh green grapes. A few expressions of dark fruit (dates and purple plums) follow, and hints of Christmas fruitcake can easily be imagined. A little chocolate custard bubbles up, and then as I hoped, the oak spices kick in. I taste willow bark and heather combined with gooseberries and spice (ginger and orange peel), which all serve to heat up my mouth leaving it slightly puckered. It is interesting to me how the flavour of the whisky builds up in layers, as if the aged malt is slowly revealing its character as you sip and swallow.

The 46 % alcohol by volume bottling strength is higher than most spirits I drink; but I find the resulting intensity of flavour quite delightful.

In the Throat 13.5/15

It is in the finish, that the spiciness promised by the nose reaches its fullest expression. Oak spices, tart green apple, and gooseberries all seem to collide in the finish causing an explosion of spiciness upon the palate as the whisky is swallowed. The spice builds up upon the palate after the exit causing my throat to tighten just a little and my mouth to water.

I found I liked the malt much more with the addition of an ice-cube, as the full strength exit of the whisky is perhaps just a bit too much for me to sip comfortably without water or ice.

The Afterburn 9/10

The Old Pulteney 21-Year-Old Single Malt is an excellent whisky, and I loved how it seemed to reveal different layers of flavour and character throughout the tasting process. The whisky is a bit of a spice bomb in the finish, and as I said earlier, I found I preferred the whisky with a bit of ice rather than neat (a splash of water will suffice just as well). Now that I have had a taste, I plan to return to my original course and seek out an entire bottle.

You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.


As always you may interpret the scores I provide as follows.

0-25 A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49 Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59 You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69 Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74 Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79 You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84 We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89 Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94 Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+ I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be more familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)


4 Responses to “Old Pulteney 21 Year Old Single Malt Scotch”

  1. jfpilon said

    Yes, the 21 is superb, but even the 12 is quite good. it starts gently as well but with a nice roundness. Citrus, pepper, sherry. All of which intensifies gradually to the finish. Water softens it all to a creamy and savory saltiness. There are also echoes of fine malted grain. And the bitter sweet final is very interesting!

    • Thanks for the quick overview of the 12 Jf, It sound as if it has some similar characteristics to the 21. Maybe I have to locate 2 bottles instead of 1.


    • David said

      Ice in a single malt ????

      • Hi David.

        I do not to live in a world in which I feel guilty about mixing a little ice in with my whisky. In the case of the Old Pulteney, I found the ice improved my enjoyment, and that after all is the whole point of the exercise. I refuse to listen to the liquor snobs who think that there is only one way to enjoy themselves, and I am quite happy to be in my world of variety and exploration, and not a rigidly defined world of the boring status quo.

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