The Boys from Wick take on the Big Apple

Malcolm Waring (left) and Bill Dowd chat. (Photos by April Dowd)
NEW YORK -- With the United Nations building looming in the background and busy ships plying the East River, the whisky maker from Wick, Scotland, was soaking in his first visit to the United States.

"It's a bit overwhelming," Malcolm Waring, master distiller at Old Pulteney on Scotland's east coast, told me while we chatted before he unveiled his 17- and 21-year-old whiskies to an invited media preview crowd at The Water Club.

"I expected everything to be big, but it's so much bigger than I imagined. I'd like to visit a lot of places next time around, and I think there will be some 'next times.' "

The 12-year-old version of Old Pulteney, made in a small distillery that is mainland Scotland's northernmost such facility, has been selling in the U.S. for a decade, but the 17- and 21-year-old versions that employ both bourbon and sherry casks to impart different flavors have been available only in Europe. Ware's visit as part of a phalanx of brand managers, PR people and company representatives was timed to coincide with the annual Whiskey Live festivities in New York when more media attention was possible.

The hook is that media attention can be either positive or negative. Thus, distillers take quite a chance when many competitors are in town pushing their products as well. It's a long way from Wick, which is so far north it is on roughly the same latitude as Moscow, to the palates of America.

Waring, jacketless and wearing a short-sleeved white shirt, was in sharp contrast to the New Yorkie media crowd at the event, most clad in black or earth tones that are the informal uniform of such activities. But when he talks about his whisky he's as smooth as anyone in the room.

"We like to refer to it as a maritime whisky," he said. "It's part of the history of Wick as home port to a huge herring fishing industry in what otherwise was a very remote, windswept place. We even have one of the fishing boats on our labels."

Old Pulteney is one of the lesser known Scotch whiskies among aficionadoes in the U.S., but it has always been known as a quality distillation. It's made in closed pot stills, utilizing 100-meter long copper tubes. It begins with water that comes from the local source, the River Wick, then is filtered and used to begin the whiskey making process.

The Old Pulteney 12-year-old is a warm, smooth, very balanced single malt. Sampling it sets up the palate very nicely for its older siblings, both of which are markedly different and not just because of aging.

I noted the 21-year-old was drier and a touch spicier than the 17, and suspected there was a difference between the types of sherry casks used for each in addition to the ratio of whisky-to-wine barrels. Waring confirmed my suspicions, noting that olorosso casks are used for the 17 and fino for the 21. The 17 year old is aged 90% in bourbon barrels and 10% in sherry. The 21 year old is aged in 66% bourbon and 33% sherry. Both are bottled at 92 proof.

The 17 has pronounced notes of caramel and vanilla, as one would expect, but overtones of honey, citrus and apple come through as well. Once cut with a few drops of water, the nose opened quite a lot, releasing floral esters.

The 21 provides what I refer to as "full tongue," a complete experience of all the elements the tongue can detect -- sweet, salty, bitter and sour. Caramel, chocolate, honey and a touch of smoke are evident, as are lower tannins than in the 17. The complexity of the flavor range makes it a perfect after-dinner drink.

All in all, both the 17 and 21 should be well received by Scotch aficionadoes in the U.S. even at its price point: $79.99 for the 17-year-old, $99.99 for the 21-year-old. The 12-year-old has been selling here at a suggested retail price of $39.99.

The Old Pulteney lineup.

To Dowd's Spirits Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Wine Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's Brews Notebook latest entry.
To Dowd's No-Alcohol Drinks Notebook latest entry.
Back to Dowd On Drinks home page.

No comments: