ABV: 51.3% Distillery: Old Pulteney Region: Highlands
Old Pulteney’s 40 year old was released in 2012 – it remains the oldest bottling the distillery has produced – though when I visited a few years back, Distillery Manager Malcolm Waring clearly had his sights firmly on setting aside casks for releasing a 50 year old expression at some point in the future. The OP 40 year old is composed of three ex-sherry hogsheads and a single ex-bourbon barrel – as such, only 493 bottles were produced. Word on the Internet is that whilst the casks would need to have been distilled in 1972 to achieve a 40 year old age statement, some of them were actually older, having been distilled back in 1968.
The bottling is still delivered in Old Pulteney’s distinctive still-shaped glassware, but with some substantial modifications – they’re hand-blown (which results in a longer neck) from semi-opaque blue glass and, rather than featuring the usual fishing ship on water decal, come with a wave pattern that’s been created by blowing melted silver (the real stuff) across the bottle surface. In short, it’s recognisably Old Pulteney, but exceedingly fancy – as one might expect from such a release. Being such a small release, you’re now unlikely to find this at any retailers – but, if you’ve just won the lottery, you will still find it being offered on auction sites – one sold last week for £1700 on Whisky Auctioneer. Far from affordable, and once you’ve added fees, a fair mark-up over the original RRP of £1500. Regardless, either price point puts this firmly into the collector/investor category.
Of all the drams that I’ll be tasting as part of my 40th birthday, this is probably the one with the most personal connection to me. As I’ve written and mused about several times on The Dramble before, Old Pulteney was my gateway whisky – the dram which lead me to begin my exploration (and obsession) with all things malt many years ago. As such, the 40 year old has firmly sat on my dream drams list since the bottle was released 6 years ago. My first whisky love – their oldest expression – a real sense of excitment…
Nose: Immediately delightful. Antique wood leads off - refined and elegant. If you’ve ever wandered around an antique furniture shop you’ll feel right at home – mahogany, wood lacquer, carved hardwood armchairs, parquet flooring and plenty of glossy wood polish, beeswax and linseed oil. These aromas are joined by dazzlingly pronounced fruitiness – orange segments, peels and liqueurs alongside stewed apples and a punnet of dried red and black berries – there’s a real sense of depth and jamminess. Sitting alongside are heady notes of tobacco – both fresh and stubbed out – ripe golden leafs and cigar humidors. Rested, this expresses more sherry cask influence – cola cubes, dark chocolate, coffee beans and a touch of marzipan. In the background there’s a dizzying array of herbs and spices – mint, fennel, sage and coriander with ginger, cinnamon and a touch of clove.
Taste: The arrival is incredibly juicy and fulsome – not weighty – just packed to the rafters with flavour. Orange marmalade (with the bits left in of course), apricot flans and mango cheesecake mix it up with dried fruits (raisins, sultanas and prunes) and wood spices – ginger and ground pepper. The resulting composition of bright and deep spiced fruit flavours is both expressive and unexpectedly profound – maturity with a sense of liveliness, depth but with the lightest of touches – I’ve never tasted a fruitier Old Pulteney. Translating directly from the nose is a furniture depot full of wood – ancient, lacquered and polished to a mirror shine. This brings with it oak tannins – perceptible, but still soft and supple and able to flex themselves neatly around the fruity core of this whisky. As such, whilst there’s plenty of direct cask flavour, it comes across as lip-smacking and distinguished rather than overtly drying. In the mid to back palate, chamois leather, book bindings, toasted tobacco and demi-sweet nuttiness from sherry – walnuts and almonds.
Finish: Very long with a fizz of ginger and pepper sitting alongside herbal tea and a bushel of dried hay.
Old Pulteney 40 year old is the very definition of a luxuriant whisky – it wears its 40 years of maturation proudly on its selves – but brings with it an unexpectedly fruity attitude that I’ve not experienced to the same degree with any other OP bottling to date. Whilst the palate delivers as much oak as you’d expect from this length of maturation, and to my taste it pulls it off almost faultlessly – maintaining an equilibrium where the cask influence and associated tannins feel part of the depth of experience rather than a detraction. Your mileage might very here though – it is undoubtedly woody. The nose however is perfection personified and up there with the very best in the world. Worth waiting for – quite stunning.
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