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Issue 14 - Beauty is in the glass of the beholder (Old Pulteney)

Whisky Magazine Issue 14
February 2001


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Beauty is in the glass of the beholder (Old Pulteney)

Gavin D Smith tells the story of Old Pulteney, a beautiful whisky from a 'ginm, windswpt fishing town.'

Some single malts feature illustrations of the distilleries from which they originate on their bottle labels and sleeve packaging, but Old Pulteney prefers a picture of a herring drifter. Pulteney's owners, Inver House Distillers, have also chosen to use on their 12-year-old single malt bottling a quote by Robert Louis Stevenson describing the beauty of the herring fleet sailing forth from harbour. However, conveniently omitted from their publicity material is his declaration that Wick was "one of the meanest of man's towns, and situate certainly on the baldest of God's bays."

Why he wrote what he did becomes apparent on visiting Pulteney, Scotland's northernmost mainland distillery. Pulteney is characterised by discoloured concrete and pebble dashing, and is situated in an insalubrious backstreet neighbourhood high above Wick harbour, in the county of Caithness. Forget the notion that coastal distilleries all enjoy the locations of Talisker and Lagavulin! Prof RJS McDowall (The Whiskies of
Scotland) writes of Old Pulteney: "It is to me quite surprising that such a good whisky could be made in this grim, windswept fishing town on the North Sea. Caithness is indeed a bare county, and needs a good whisky to warm it up."

If Pulteney distillery can best be described as functional, then the principal culprits were the Canadian distillers Hiram Walker & Sons Ltd who gave the plant a brutal makeover during the late 1950s - the beginning of a lengthy period when many distillers se...

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