December 2023 – Old Pulteney Port Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Summerton Whisky Club’s December 2023 Club Bottle Old Pulteney Port Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Recently launched, Old Pulteney Port is the second expression in The Coastal Series. Matured in both Ruby Port Pipes and Ruby Port Barriques, which once held an iconic sweet, red, fortified wine native to the Douro Valley of northern Portugal.

Pulteney distillery is located in the town of Wick in Caithness – the far north east corner of Scotland, on the rugged coastline, only 16 miles from John O’Groats. (Wick is derived from the Norse word Vik, meaning bay).

Although founded in 1826 by James Henderson, the distillery and the single malt owe a lot to the man after whom they are both named.

William Johnstone was born in Dumfries on October 19th 1729. He studied law and went on to become an eminent advocate. He lived in Edinburgh, where he associated with country’s leading thinkers, writers and philosophers, and his circle of friends included economist Adam Smith and architect Robert Adam. In 1760 he married Francis Pulteney, daughter of MP Daniel Pulteney. Francis soon inherited a substantial fortune and estates in Bath and Somerset on the death of her cousin, the 1st Earl of Bath. It was at this time that William changed his name to William Johnstone Pulteney. He invested in land in the West Indies and the USA, and was soon rumoured to be the wealthiest man in Great Britain. He inherited the title of the 5th Baronet Pulteney on the death of his elder brother and became Sir William Johnstone Pulteney, as well as becoming an MP for seven successive terms.

In 1783 Pulteney began working with Thomas Telford, who would become the most eminent civil engineer of his day. Pulteney became governor of the British Fisheries Society and appointed Telford to design a new harbour and housing for the world’s largest herring fishing port at the time, at Wick. Pulteney oversaw the development of the community and the creation of Pulteneytown to house the fishermen and construction of the new harbour. The work also included the construction of the water delivery system that would be used by the distillery (and still is today), known as The Lade.

The small town of Wick, once only accessible by sea, became a source of wealth and prosperity, symbolised by the ‘silver darlings’ (herring) and ‘gold’ (whisky). At its height in the late 19th Century, the harbour had around 1,000 boats operating out of it at any one time, while fishing and related industries employed around 14,000 local people.

However things took a turn for the unexpected for this small whisky making town when, after the Temperance (Scotland) act of 1913, the local ward of Wick voted in 1922 for Wick to become a ‘dry’ town and it became illegal to sell alcohol in the Royal Burgh. Prohibition in Wick lasted 25 years, twice as long as it did in the United States.

The distillery fell silent between 1930 and 1951, when Robert ‘Bertie’ Cummings, a solicitor from Banff, took over ownership – production restarted and has not stopped since. Today the herring fishing industry has long since gone, but Pulteney Distillery remains steadfast, producing 900,000 litres of single malt scotch whisky every year.