Old Pulteney (12 year)

What can I say about Old Pulteney that I didn’t say in my review of the 17 year? I promise not to talk about Jim Murray… oops.

Old Pulteney 12 year is aged only in ex-bourbon casks, and can be found (with a little hunting) for $32 a bottle, although recent fame caused by the attentions of the aforementioned author have driven up prices of the entire OP range (even the NAS Navigator). You may have to pay $42.

Nose: Everyone always says ‘salty’ when talking about OP. To me, it smells more like a heavily vegetal tequila. Seaweed, cooked cactus (nopales), lime peel, and a hint of vanilla. All of the aromas are robust – nothing light about this whisky.

Palate: Salted caramel, roasted chestnuts, a sticky, industrial grime (a little like the ‘dirty’ flavor of Springbank), like grimy pennies.

Finish: Some sweetness arrives, dry taffy, shortbread cookies. The finish gets grassy again, but without any bitterness. Ends on the woody side.

With Water: Water adds a tart note, a more distinct lime peel or even key lime pie, to the nose and makes the finish slightly sweeter. Some water can’t hurt.

Overall: Somewhat of a rollercoaster of unique flavors and aromas, paired with off-putting and off-seeming notes like grimy pennies. It’s a bit like a woodsier, grassier, more tequila-like variant of Springbank. Very little sweetness, this is almost more of an aperitif or digestif than a dessert drink, although missing the bitter herbs. I would seek out a taste of this before committing to a bottle, even if you’re a Springbank fan. It’s just not for everybody.

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

Using water rising from the stone in Caithness, a barren rocky coastline in Scotland’s far Northern Highlands, Old Pulteney was built in 1827 to supply local herring fishermen with a few drams to warm them up after (or during?) their windy work. The distillery uses the town water supply, which is pumped from the Loch of Yarrows to the south. The distillery’s stills are unusual, with large boil-bulbs and lyne arms that twist as they descend sharply into worms. Old Pulteney lies at the center of the debate about salty character in whisky, as its maritime influence is undeniable. Its coastal warehouses, constantly battered by the brine-laden gusty winds of the northern Atlantic, certainly smell of the sea. Those warehouses hold a small percentage of Old Pulteney aging in sherry casks, but the majority rests in ex-bourbon. The spirit is filled into distinctive bottles with a bulb in the neck that evokes the shape of the site’s stills.
Old Pulteney (12 year)
40% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $32 - $42
Acquired: (30ml sample bottle) Master of Malt.

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  • I just bought a bottle of Old Pulteney 12 Y.O. at my local Binny’s in the Chicago area, and it is 43% ABV. Either I got an old one from a previous bottling, or something has changed. Do you have any info on this? Everywhere I go online says this is 40%, but I can confirm mine says 43%. Cost me $37.99 plus tax. Interesting.

    • Indeed, a mystery. The OP website lists it at 40%, but I’ve seen a few references to a 43% ABV version online. I had assumed those were European (700ml) bottlings, but apparently not. Either the 43% is an improvement that’s so new that the website hasn’t been updated yet, or it has been replaced by a new 40% version without any fanfare. Since the OP packaging was redone in the last few years, I’m inclined to think it’s the latter…

      • Comparing the bottle you have pictured to mine, I see a difference. The lettering of “Old Pulteney” is in an arch shape on your bottle and box, while on mine it is straight across, with “Old” on top and “Pulteney” below. There are a few other nuances that are different, but the bottle shape is identical, as is the box shape. It is definitely 750 ml.

        As far as my assessment of it, I like it, but it isn’t a standout. It’s a good whisky for the price, but I just opened a bottle of Ardmore Traditional Cask for $29.99 which is much better. Non-chill filtered, and 46%. A good peated, highland malt. Try it, if you get a chance. Cheers!

        • I went to another local Binny’s in the Chicago area and found more Old Pulteney 12 Year Old bottles at 43%. The 40% variety must be new. I know many Single Malts that are 40% in the UK and Europe are 43% in the United States. I wonder if Old Pulteney has reduced its alcohol content for consistency’s sake? Either way, I thought I’d just post my findings for everyone’s information.

  • I have never been a fan of this malt. The price is attractive but the first sip is a disappointment.

    “. . . off-seeming notes like grimy pennies” pretty much sums it up for me too. One to avoid.

  • Interestingly, where I live in MN you can get the 21 year old for $100. Best age-to-dollar ratio I’ve seen. Unfortunately, it’s only good, and whisky that old and expensive ought to be great.

  • Apparently, I’m the only committed Scotch drinker on the planet who likes this stuff.

    I find the OP 12 a sweet (yes, sweet), slightly salty (yes, salty), nicely balanced, middle of the road sort of dram, rather like the Glenfiddich 12 but with a shade more personality. Is it great? Or memorable? No. But it’s pleasing in a sweet and unmemorable way. And at only $32 (I can still find it at that price, despite Jim M – – – – ‘s influence), it’s a good bargain.

    Perhaps your review and the reactions of my fellow readers will keep the price down. That would be fine.

    • Thanks for the comment, Ben! I find that for every whisky on the planet, there are always people who like it and are ready to defend it. I think that’s great – it shows that we do NOT all taste things the same way, and have different sensitivities to flavor components in whiskies. I often complain about ‘rotten banana’ notes and bitter finishes in whiskies that plenty of readers tell me are fine, and that I’m nuts. That’s just the way it goes. If nothing else, this should teach us all to taste every whisky before passing judgement on it. Cheers!

    • have to agree Ben. this review doesn’t do it justice. what are ye at scotch noob! this drink needs 20 minutes to settle into the glass. don’t rush it.

  • This is a decent scotch, but I’m getting sick of paying these prices for scotch. I use to get this at $30, than all of a sudden it’s $45, you know what – keep it.
    Every time I go back to buy a bottle of scotch the price is up again, and in some cases it jumps by 15 or 20 bucks.
    I went in the liquor store the other day and left without buying anything, screw’m, find some other chump. A bottle of liquor just ain’t worth that much money and the $80 bottle ain’t any better than the $40 bottle, it’s all a scam, a big marketing game.
    And, you know I can afford it, I ain’t hurting for money, but seriously I’ve got a lot better things to do with my money, I can find other great spirits and good wines to buy at a fraction of the price….Hey Scotland….read my lips…… “Keep you’re crap”

    • @YouCanKeepIt – I appreciate the sentiment! I feel the same way, often, and I’ve slowed or stopped buying products from a lot of major Scottish producers (Diageo and Edrington, among others) because of their price increases.

      • I’ve noticed one marketing strategy they use it to drive the price up as high as they can get it, until people stop buying it, then they drop the price down again and change label and start the game over.
        In some cases like Adrbed 10 they just drop the price, now it’s going up again. – keep it

        And have you noticed the price of Dalmore 12 and their Cigar Malt, a couple years ago they couldn’t give it away at $30, because it wasn’t very good, now all of a sudden the price is thru the roof, and I’m suppose to be so stupid as to believe it’s any better now that they’ve more than doubled the price…. you’re a suck if you buy that stuff.

    • Ain’t…. Ain’t a word. 😉

      I hear you man; it’s hard to drop $80 on a bottle unless it’s a 1 to 1.5 liter Glenfiddich from a duty free.

    • I still am buying and sipping scotch single malt but I agree completely with your sentiments – big businesses are taking control of small producers etc and cashing in big time on the sudden rush to spending big bucks on something to prove it is not for the ‘common man’ – my cutoff was around $50 but in just a year or so many lovely malts I could afford jumped to the $80 and up range – I have become adept at finding good prices still but soon I will just say to hell with it as I don’t need a ‘fix’ of alcohol for I drink it neatly and slowly for the wonderful taste but like a lot of things I can drop it tomorrow and settle for a cup of good tea.

  • It’s not a bad malt, but we all know that basic feeling we all have known as “Scotch” which is an expectation every time we sip a new brand. It’s the uniqueness or subtlety that makes us really comment on something. The problem with OP is that it is kinda weird. Initially it’s funky and medicinal. It actually has a very very long arrival and finish and some great value malt notes. It’s just semi-weird.. An acquired taste. Not bad, odd start, nice finish.

  • I agree with Eric. For good inexpensive scotch I buy both Ardmore TC and Glenmorangie Original. Only $29 before tax and both better (to me) than OP 12. Also they are cheaper and better than most decent blends, (However, I do keep JW Dbl Black around).

  • pour a dram (with one drop of water) leave it, 20 mins later it’s a different drink! more malty/sugary. very very interesting drink and always under the radar. i love my smoke but this is one i can’t leave on the shelf. love your reviews but i think you have underestimated this one OP. please re-review

  • OP definetly needs a touch of water,probably to offset the saltiness.Quite smooth and fairly tasty.Paid $33,so its all good.I also paid $33 for Ancnoc 12 y.o. the other day and would say that was well worth the price.Glen Moray also a good investment at $36.I gotta tell ya “Famous Grouse” for a blended never lets me down either.
    Any other suggestions here for the under 40 a bottle [under 35 even better]
    greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Leon. For blended scotch, I like Bank Note 5 year – very good, very cheap. For malts under $40, I like Glenmorangie 10 (or even better, Lasanta or Quinta Ruban), Glenlivet 15 or Glendfiddich 15 if I can find them on sale, Laphroaig 10 used to be under $40, but has increased lately. I also think Speyburn 10 (not Bradan Orach) isn’t too bad for the price.

  • I think OP has a lot to offer, especially in the $32 price range. I believe it has more body and complexity than the $40 Glenmorangie 10 I tried. I loved the grain tast as its going down and the aftertaste of raisins. I guess it all depends on the palate and what you just had to eat.

  • Great everyday dram in my area for $63 CDN. I love the citrus notes along with the salty taste, mouth feel is medium creamy texture with a good finish. It well worth a go.

  • I`m afraid that I`m not into silly reviews of professional tasters. I am not in the least interested in ` Rampant glace cherries flying backwards through multi-coloured mashmallow clouds ending with a salty finish`. No, I`ll use plain English for the down to earth.

    I have spent over 30 years trying most of the whiskies and variations of same, to re-create a taste that originated I believe, on the Isle of Islay. The distillery has closed down in that period and trying to find that unique experience, has been fruitless over the years.

    Fruitless that is, until I tried Old Pulteney. Unlike other distilleries, this one at Wick doesn`t produce a product that burns the back of the throat, rather it slides down the neck, hits the stomach and sets the navel on fire from within.

    This is certainly not for those who drink blended grain whisky. It is a little like being used to tea bags and then going on to loose leaf. This stuff is for those who appreciate crafted quality, rather than mixing any old junk together to make a `blend`. Or to put it in the language of the pretentious, `Like chocolate snowdrops prancing through a field of raspberry flavoured
    pineapples, in a monsoon of honeyed rain, falling from blackberry clouds`.

    • I would put it in between those two, quality-wise. It’s hard to compare anything to Macallan 18, so it will pale there, but I think it’s superior to JW Black. It has some of the same oily/peppery/salty (mild peat) characteristics, but is all malt. It might seem a little less “polished” (more erratic flavors), but is also more flavorful. Cheers!

  • Old Pulteney 12 is my low price goto. I can find it for $29.97 + tax (32.05 out the door).

    I found that it has a bit of a seasalt taste to it. Maybe even a bit of carmel too. Like a cross between a carmel apple and a prezel. They say the casks are near the sea and get pelted regularly. If that’s true, maybe some of it seeps in?

    Q&A on OP 12:

    Is it my favorite? No.

    Is it the best deal out there? Yes.

    Is it better than JW Black? YES! (JW black is the lowest quality I can stand)

    Is it better than Dewer’s White Label? Urine is better than Dewer’s White Label.

    Is it better than Balvenie 17? No, nothing is. Except Balvenie 21.

    • JW Black label is a fine blend! It’s so elegant. Unbeatable in my opinion but It’s not worth the full UK price (over £30 now, OP 12 comes in at around £38) My favourite blend.

  • Good review. At first the savouriness of this malt can take a bit of getting used too but once you’ve got used to it then the sweetness comes through. Its a wonderful malt and one of few that really does shine at 40%. It’s a complex, fresh easy sipper. Not as complex as Springbank but then again, not many are. And all casks are stored on-site in Wick which bags a few more points for me and certainly explains the salty tang.
    8/10 for me everytime. Solid.