I’d like to thank Old Pulteney/Balblair/AnCnoc and Woodman Wine and Spirits for inviting me to a special tasting with the Old Pulteney distillery manager Malcolm Waring and the global brand ambassador Gordon Stevenson, for running the tasting. While I was invited by them, the following notes are my own, with my own scores.
To try and tell some of the stories in the same way that Malcolm Waring does, in print, without his dulcet Scottish brogue would be akin to attempting to explain the music of Ozzy Osbourne through growing pea pods. Sure, it may explain some things, however I don’t think it’ll come across correctly.
As part of this tasting, based on the above picture, we were able to sample quite a few of the distilleries that make up InBev’s lineup. I’ve reviewed some of these in the past, oddly enough with Gordon Stevenson recently. Feel free to check out my reviews of Catto’s 12 and anCnoc Rascan here, Old Pulteney 12 here, and anCnoc 12 here.
However I will attempt to grow some pea pods for you for the other whiskies. Each of these were tasted prior to lunch, walked through either by Malcolm or Gordon. My fellow taster from the Toronto Whisky Society will be writing up a full explanation.
So let’s see how the whiskies tastes (according to me), shall we?
After starting out with Catto’s 12 to open up our palate, we moved onto Balblair. Balblair sits in the premium spot of the portfolio. That’s something we have to consider when we’re drinking a whisky. It’s something that goes through the mind of the distiller when they are making a whisky.
Thus this explains why some whisky nerds have trouble explaining Balblair. You see, as a premium malt, all Balblairs are a vintage, and not a regular age statement offering. Thus they release small batches at a time when they are ready. Yes, some of them are younger and less expensive, and those could be see as the “entry” into the brand, however they differ in flavour profile. The still shape, fat and squat (not just my nickname), keeps those fruity and earthy esters and oils.
Take, for instance, Balblair 2005 (1st edition). It replaces the 2003 vintage. We know that the 2003 (1st edition) was aged solely in second fill ex-bourbon casks, however that isn’t specifically called out on this one. So we may have first or third fill ones that were used to balance out the amount of vanilla.
Thus we’ll have different flavour profiles. Other distilleries make larger batches, keeping a consistent flavour profile. Balblair is here for us, to give us something different, for better or worse, based on your flavour profile.
That’s a ballsy move. Let’s see how it pays off.
Price: $105.15 CAD at the LCBO
Distillation Date: 2005
Bottling Date: 2015
Colour: 7.5Y 9/5
Nose: Plum, floral/heather, oak/light vanilla, citrus, mango
Light notes. Almost somewhere between a light port cask and a traditional Lowland. Gets that port plum and that floral. Interesting that it’s an ex-bourbon cask. More citrus with water.
May be a little light here for some.
Taste: Charcoal, chocolate, artificial vanilla, effervescent, violets
Again, younger, lighter malt. This isn’t try to knock down your door and steal your kettle. More so it’s knocking on your door and helping with your garden. More citrus and floral notes. Nice mouthfeel.
Little plug here: If you’re into mouthfeel quite a bit, then Balblair may be the thing for you. It’s typically quite thick in that department.
Finish: Earth, liquorice, chocolate, heather, butter
Long finish. More than I was expecting. Which is interesting, as it’s not super complex yet lasts a long time. Good amount of spice too. Granted I like anise, and that’s the main thing. Until water is added.
The water add to it brings out more of the floral and buttery aspects to it.
Conclusion: Needs water. I can frankly say this is a dram that, even after sitting out for the right amount of time, pays off with water. I’d even go so far as to say you should always splash it with water.
Floral, earthy, and some spice to finish. Nothing that’s going to blow you away, however nothing off (unless you don’t like anise, that is). This is what you can do with ex-bourbon when you’re picking barrels carefully.
If I had to say “this is a good entry malt” for Balblair, then I would. The price isn’t crazy, and it has more alcohol, more character, and just a little bit more than other 10 year old malts. Was it the most complex whisky on the planet? No, not at all. However it hit the spot, and I appreciated it.
Old Pulteney is located in the town of Wick, Scotland. With a total population (at the last time of census) of 6,954 people, things are different in Wick.
Malcolm was out for a walk one day, when he decided to go pick up the paper and connect with the outside world. For those of you who are young, a newspaper is how people used to find out information before the internet. It was printed on paper, marked up your hands, and read outside of the subway.
Now that we’ve caught up the 20 year olds, let me continue growing my pea pods.
So Malcolm walks into the store, and asks for the paper. “Would you like todays or yesterdays?” says the owner. He thinks for a moment, and Malcolm replies “Todays is good, thanks.”
“Oh,” says the owner. “Okay, you’ll have to come by tomorrow, we’ll have it by then.”
Now far be it from me to ascribe anything to the whole town based on that story, however that seems like a calmer way of life then my own, what with push notifications and the 24 news cycle.
Thus in this town, we have a firm foundation of patience built in. And from that, we have Old Pulteney Navigator.
Old Pulteney 12 is made using ex-bourbon casks. So, if Old Pulteney 12 is all ex-bourbon, what is Old Pulteney Navigator? Suffice to say they wanted to make it different, so they added ex-Oloroso casks. And as there’s been fishermen in Wick even before Saint Fergus lived there, it makes sense to give a nod to them.
So let’s see how sherry affects it, shall we?
Price: $94.10 CAD at the LCBO
Colour: 7.5Y 9/6
Nose: Tobacco, yeasty bread, mango, brine
Yes, I have a bias against tobacco notes. So at first, it’s not really my bag. There’s some earthy/spice to it with that note.
However given some time it opens up to more of the brine we have come to expect from Old Pulteney, and a yeasty bread element that takes over more and makes me happier. This gives an overall unique nose.
Taste: Pineapple, cream, orange peel, mineral, cloves
I wonder if the original people who founded Old Pulteney found out that their very northern distillery gave a flavour of tropical fruit, would they laugh? Or call me a witch for being able to transport such a fruit to them? Probably both.
The taste opens up more than the nose. Lots of fruit and cream notes. The fruit comes before the minerality on this one, which is a change. Lots of spice and fruit. Less complex on some notes in comparison to the nose.
Finish: Burnt sugar, mineral, cinnamon, mango
And we finish with some simple notes. This time the mineral comes before the tropical fruit, though similar to the taste. Nice spice growth from the taste.
Conclusion: Simple, nice malt. In what I’m sure is a first in awhile, I feel the addition of sherry matured malt has improved the overall malt. I was not a fan of the Old Pulteney 12 year, as it’s usually missing something. I feel that something was tropical fruit. Looking back, I had similar earthy notes on the 12 that seemed to dominate.
This one plays with the salt more and includes those nice fruity parts better. So in my opinion this is what people should start the lineup on.
Now don’t get me wrong: Sitting with fellow whisky fans, all of whom have had different experiences than myself, is always a good time. And listening to Malcolm and Gordon is a treat that should have people driving to Wick by the busload.
Not to mention the whiskies we had prior to this one were nice. And the location..
Alright, time to stop setting this up. It’s time to review Old Pulteney 25, a whisky that people on this side of the Atlantic haven’t had yet. A whisky that some of you may have showed up to this review to see.
When I heard that Old Pulteney 21 and 17 were going away, I immediately got my back against a wall. I enjoyed each of these, with the 17 being my “go-to” recommendation for a Highland malt. How was I suppose to converse with people now?
However when I was told that they were being replaced with older offerings, I was shocked. In this day and age of age statements going the way of the dodo, or younger malts creeping up, or lower alcohol content being a norm, this was something new. Aged for 22 years in ex-bourbon, and then further matured in ex-Oloroso Sherry oak casks, we’re seeing something different here.
However older doesn’t always mean better. Anyone looking through my reviews can tell you that. Or me. You know, whichever you want to do.
So how is the Old Pulteney 25? Let’s see, shall we?
Price: Not yet at the LCBO
Colour: 2.5Y 7/6
Nose: Daisy, papaya, leather couch, lemon loaf, bee hive
Initial nose is… a daisy? It’s not the sea air blast of the 21. More like a leathery, fruity, floral nose. It grows from there, with leather notes and some of the tropical fruit that Old Pulteney signals in my head.
This keeps growing as time goes on, and water brings out that waxy/honey note along with heat.
Taste: Raspberry syrup, oak, brine, cashew butter
Thick mouthfeel. Quite surprising for the lower abv. It follows the 21 in that way. However the sherry cask may have taken over some of the original notes.
It certainly is different from the 21 year. More complex in some ways, less in others, with cashew butter being the main thing I latch onto after water.
Finish: Almond cake, dry cider, yeast, pear, vegetal, dulce de leche
Long finish. And not as tart as the 21, which I’m preferring. It’s more rounded now. Water gives more caramel/sweet notes.
Conclusion: So for whisky geeks that are looking for something different from the 21, this will deliver. I feel that the 21 had an overly tart finish that didn’t jive well with the dram. This one has more of a balanced, longer finish that improves over it.
That said, the taste seems to have taken a hit with the additional time. It’s gone a bit more simple, though still nice to sip on. Overall I think the nose is where this shines, with the strong leather notes that typically only come from older sherry casks, and those nice floral aspects.
Old Pulteney 1983 Vintage was the final, though not least in any way, whisky of the day. Recently released to the world, this is one of the latest vintages available.
So it’s aged in both ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, and only let out to us, the thirsty masses, once it’s ready. And guess what? It’s up to us to see if we agree if it’s ready.
Yeah. You, the masses have a say in things. Some would say you have the most say.
So being part of the masses, what do I say? Let’s see.
Price: Not yet at the LCBO
Distillation Date: 1983
Colour: 5YR 3/8
Nose: Peanut brittle, raspberry, orange peel, cranberry sauce, strawberry treacle
This takes quite a lot of time to pick apart. It opens up slowly. You’ll note my flavours overlap. Because it grows, which is a treat to have. There’s this wonderful vein of red fruits and perfect sweet citrus.
Taste: Caramelized pear, raspberry honey, fermented peanuts, brine, citrus
Clean, subtle flavours. I actually sat down and drank this twice during the day, as I didn’t feel one time could do it justice. It has this funk, this burnt pear, this tart honey… wow. Also the brine that we associate with Old Pulteney is here. It’s interesting when having a dram this old and seeing it preserve a major part of the flavour profile.
Finish: Honeycomb, heart of palm, being on a sandy beach, toffee cake, lemonade, faint funk
Amazing finish. Long, complex, super complex. Hard to really explain. This comes off as one of those drams where people will comment “Really” and I’ll say “Yes, really.” It’s sea air with that sense of being near sand and being happy.
Complex earth, lots of citrus, and some of that great funk that I love which… seriously, I love funk in my whisky. So remember that.
Conclusion: One of those whiskies that you need to take a long, long time with. Complex. It’s taken the core earth and salt air profile that has grown. Gone is the tropical fruit and replaced with stone fruits that have been elevated.
The sherry influence doesn’t feel forced. It’s adding to it rather than covering things up. It doesn’t feel like a bad finish or some bad add-on. It has a funk to it that is new and interesting. It’s greater than the sum of it’s parts, and was truly the star of the tasting.
Scotch reviews #765-768, Highland reviews #125-128, Whisky Network review #1265-1268