I capped off my "birthday week" by serving 3 Scotches in the office (paired with cheeses and chocolate). One was the Bowmore Tempest I already reviewed; another one was this one (which I had already shared with my father the weekend prior). Needless to say, it was a huge hit.
You may know that this took top honors from Jim Murray in this year's Whisky Bible. I can understand why - it is extremely complex and truly beautiful.
Pulteney Distillery is the northernmost distillery on mainland Scotland, and was established in 1826 in the village of Wick. Wick was a major fishing port (focusing on herring) and the whisky is nicknamed "The Maritime Malt", with ships, maps and waves of sea decorating the packaging. Things changed in 1922 when the town voted to go dry (!) and the distillery closed in 1930, only to reopen in 1951.
The 21 Year Old vats together malt matured in ex-bourbon casks with malt from ex-sherry casks - yet those sherry casks are, like the bourbon, made from American oak. It is non-chill filtered.
If you like the briny malts of Campbeltown or Skye, you will love this - though it generally has more fruitiness going on. The dram is a pale golden colour in the glass, and the nose is very malty and sweet - notes of honey, lavender, anise, caramelized pear, baked apples, vanilla, white grape juice. Incredibly complex, with lots of fruit and caramel. Surprisingly, adding water doesn't do all that much here.
The palate is also wonderful: sweet malt peppered with allspice and brine. Very fruity. Lots of vanilla and honey. Fresh and bright for a 21-year-old, but also with a lot of depth. Very creamy, more cooked apples and pears. Some chocolate notes. Water does bring out a little more flavour. Absolutely delicious, very drinkable and approachable. No-one could be intimidated by this refreshing and exiting malt!
The finish is medium length - gets sweeter as time goes on, underlined by strong oak, which to me makes its first real appearance here. Brilliantly balanced between sweetness, fruit, and the depths of caramel and vanilla. I would say this is well deserving of Murray's prize (though not quite at the heights of his winner the year prior, Ballantine's 17 Year Old, which I re-tasted 2 nights ago and was again blown away by). I look forward to more offerings from this distillery!