October 24, 2011

Old Pulteney 21

Old Pulteney is Scotland's northernmost distillery, but it's not out of sight. Jim Murray has anointed its 21-year-old expression "World Whisky of the Year" in his influential 2012 Whisky Bible.

Old Pulteney 21, which had a nice European following before being introduced to the U.S. market in 2007, is drier and a touch spicier than the popular 17 year old. I suspected there was a difference between the types of sherry casks used for each in addition to the ratio of whisky-to-wine barrels.

Master Distiller Malcolm 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.

Retail price: Above $100, average $115.

Go to Dowd's Spirits Notebook.

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