Dave Hughes will be over in Blighty lending his spirit expertise to the judging panels at the International Wine & Spirits Competition’s for about the 30th time in July. As a trained distiller, he brings an extremely educated and knowledgeable nose and palate to the assessment of spirits. Whisky magazine is fortunate to have this Stellenbosch resident lend his skills to the tasting panel and to then share his insight of what was tasted with the readers.
“The Old Pulteney and the Bells Special Reserve were my favourites of the day,” he said, “with the Bells being incredibly good value for money. To my mind it goes to show, once again, that a good blend is not inferior to many single malts.” Some interesting information about Old Pulteney – it’s the northernmost distillery on the British “mainland” and is renowned for its intriguing maritime character. Much of that is because of the proximity of the ocean.
The distillery is located in Wick, a coastal town that once was a thriving harbour, packed with herring boats called drifters. In fact, the days of old are recalled on the Old Pulteney label which features a herring drifter. Sadly, the boom times when the little silvery fish were plentiful are long gone. Wick was more accessible by sea than by land which is how much of its produce was brought in and out. Another reason given for the whisky’s unique flavour is the tale or yarn that when the stills were shipped into the distillery, the roof was too low – so the distinctive gooseneck was simply lopped off! Part of the Inver House Distillers stable (along with Blairmhor) the distillery doors closed in 1930 and reopened in 1947. Experts are of the opinion that the 12 year old is a bit of sleeper. It might not make you sit up and go “wow!” but a day or two after drinking it, you’ll still find yourself mulling over the flavours and subtle nuances you enjoyed.
A blend of malt whiskies which have been selected from some 20 different distilleries so therefore cannot be termed “single” malt.
Nose is somewhat quiet to start then slowly notes of grain, dried fruit and malt appear.
Slight hint of smoke hovers in the background while some gentle notes of peat begin to show.
With some time in the glass a mix of raisin, orange peel and some spice add to the mix.
Good attack on the palate with honey being the first flavour to reveal itself.
It’s followed by all the dried fruits and spice that were on the nose.
Fairly full on the tongue with hints of barley and that little smokey note in the background.
This dram has a long smooth finish. Gentle, pleasant and easy drinking.
Novices: “Floral notes on the nose. Top of the pile of entry priced blends,” said Whisky subscriber Andrew Gold who was invited to participate in the tasting.
Old Pulteney 21-year-old
Golden amber with yellow highlights. Proved itself as being non-chill filtered as it went cloudy on dilution.
This brought out a full array of glorious, ripe fruits with apple and pear as the forerun- ners on a long pleasing palate.
More than a few tropical fruit hints as well. This fruit abundance is set against a bright floral backdrop.
All of the above repeat in a sweet-fruited mouth where a rich dollop of spice adds great complexity.
The apple takes on a slight, but attractive, ciderish note. Super smooth across the palate.
Loads of mature characters lead into wonderfully long, smooth finish.
Novices: “Stong rum and raisin nose – also like Christmas cake covered in marzipan,” said Gold. “My favourite of the day – long, wooded finish and beautiful balance.”
Old Pulteney 12-year-old
Deep, golden amber.
Beautifully attractive nose lifts out of the glass filled with great complexity and concentration of youthful and mature character.
Slight seaside quality mingles with barley, toffee and attractive caramel characters.
Deep and full in terms of body yet brisk in the mouth with a long roll-out of tantalising flavours.
Fruit and spice come and go in a lively interplay with more mature notes.
There’s a slight sweetness as it glides effortlessly across the palate.
Finally, a big wave of aromatics in long, sustained finish.
Novices: Business manager Rob Cowan kept it simple, as always: “Soft as a baby…”
Bright gold. Another blend of Scottish malts.
It immediately announces its presence with some heavy smoky notes that are followed by lots of attractive honey and vanilla.
Some floral whiffs can also be detected with some hints of tropical fruit too.
This is well balanced in the mouth with fair depth of flavour where honey and spice feature along with the smokey note in the background.
There’s a definite additional appeal added by some sherry nuances. Good texture and fairly full.
A “neat and tidy” dram.
Novices: “I’m amazed by the smokiness – but also by how smooth it is,” said Clifford Roberts.
Deep gold with slight reddish reflections.
Complex nose with hints of treacle, toffee, and some citrus.
There’s a full sherry character in the background.
Deep and full in the mouth with loads of mature flavours, well balanced with fairly youthful sherry, nuts and chocolate.
Somewhat dense with a heavy satin texture. There’s a long lasting aftertaste which fills the mouth with appealing citrus and dark chocolate flavours.
This is a lovely sipping dram.
Novices: Gold described this as a “fair whisky” with “burnt chocolate nose with a long lingering finish with nutty aftertaste.”
Bell’s Special Reserve
Very attractive nose with more malty nuances than some single or blended malts.
Smoky notes give distinct Islay character with rich spice and candied fruit with whiffs of char and spice.
The mouth is beautifully balanced with superb flow across the palate and wonderful texture.
Flavours simply fill the mouth with malt, rich honey, dried fruit and some peppery spice.
Ultimately this is a multifaceted and very satisfying whisky.
The finish is long and richly complex. A really good whisky and remarkable value for money.
No wonder it sells as well as it does!
Novices: “An awesome dram, this punches way above its weight. It’ll probably fool many aso-called connoisseur! Overlook this one at your peril.” said Shayne Dowling.