Some things in life get better with age. Our understanding of complex scientific theories, our golf handicap, our ability to turn the sound of nagging WAGs into white noise and, of course, Carol Vorderman’s derrière to name but a few. The same is often said of single malt whisky. I tend to agree on the most part but at the same time, can a whisky ever get too old? A few weeks ago I had the great privilege of trying a couple of cask samples from a highly-regarded distillery (which shall remain nameless) which had been laid down in the mid 1960s. The spirit looked like dark treacle and while the nose was pretty good, the palate reminded me of sour grapes, putrid oak, sludgy coffee and mouldy fruit. It was truly awful and one of the most disappointing moments so far of my short romance with whisky. This whisky, and a couple of other hyped up geriatric liquids, have disappointed me massively in the past. Great age definitely does not always, therefore, equal great liquid. Don’t get me wrong, I have tried many old whiskies and some of them have been magnificent. Hoban tried the Bunnahabhain 40yo recently and when I met him for a coffee the other day he was still wearing a pair of rose-tinted specs every time he mentioned it.
There are several distilleries, to me, whereby each expression does seem to get better with age. Old Pulteney is one of them. I love the zingy, grassy, citrus notes of the 12yo, right through to the slightly richer sweetness, salty cleanliness and evolving complexity of the 30yo. In short, I think it’s fabulous stuff so when I heard they were releasing a 40yo, I patiently waited for a small parcel to pop through my door containing what would hopefully be some mind boggling liquid. Given my recent let down with some old whiskies I approached it with caution, fearing that any further misguided optimism would be catastrophic. I shouldn’t have been so wary.
Old Pulteney 40yo
Three Spanish oak ex-sherry hogsheads and one American oak ex-bourbon barrel
493 bottles only
£1,399 from here
Nose: Initially slightly herbal, then orange peel oil, vanilla fudge and ‘greenhouse’; wooden logs and a touch of sweet earthiness. Some polished mahogany wood, chocolate and roast hazelnuts. Very enticing.
Palate: Apples, cinnamon spice, buttered toast and a dash of liquorice. It’s really quite creamy though with vanilla custard, honey and boiled rhubarb sweets. Some dry oak comes through at the end to add great balance. The mouthfeel and evolving flavours are remarkable.
Finish: Really quite long and rich with gingerbread and malt loaf. Fantastic.
Overall: Quite brilliant. I sat with this one for a while with nothing but a bit of Led Zeppelin playing in the background. It changed quite a bit and opened up with time into one of the best whiskies I’ve ever tried. It had a tough act to follow for me, considering I rate the rest of the Old Pulteney range so highly, but it more than lived up to the billing. The packaging is pretty darn sexy too. Inside the lacquered wooden box sits a hand-blown deep blue bottle with a silver-etched herring fisher emblazoned across it and a signed book by Charlie MacLean. I wonder if it’s too late to have a word with Santa…?