scotch review

Old Pulteney Navigator, 12yo, 17yo, and 21yo Review

 If there’s one distillery that’s synoymous with the sea, it has to be Old Pulteney.  Its whisky bottles are adorned with images of fishing vessels, seagulls, compasses.  It even calls itself “the Maritime Malt.”  The 190-year-old distillery, located in Wick, a town in northeastern Scotland, goes as far as mentioning how the salty sea air imparts extra flavor notes to its whisky.

The bottles are inspired by the shape of the distillery’s stills.  Their shape provide lot of reflux, which make the spirit fragrant.  The distillery’s copper pot still is the only one in Scotland that doesn’t have a swan neck.  Its also one of the few distilleies in Scotland using worm tub condensers instead of the more common shell and tube condensers. Old Pulteney uses mostly ex-bourbon casks for maturation, as well as a small amount of ex-sherry casks.   

We’re looking at their core range, which is comprised of the NAS Navigator, as well as the 12-year, 17-year, and 21-year old expressions.  Except for the 12-year, all are bottled at 46% and un-chill filtered.  The 12-year old is bottled at a slightly lower 43% abv.  Old Pulteney Navigator mentions natural color on its label.  Judging by the differing shades of amber of the other bottles, IF the distillery is adding caramel coloring, it’s not heavy handed.


The only NAS whisky in Old Pulteney’s core range, Navigator is matured in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks.  Bountiful crisp orchard fruits leap out of the glass, brightened further by orange zest.  Hints of nuts, dried fruits, and vanilla round out the nose.  The palate is less sweet than the nose suggests, with vanilla, salted caramel, and dried fruits.  A certain flintiness runs throughout, leading into the slightly dry and citrus-tinged finish.  I like this expression, though I have to admit it’s not as complex as I’d hoped.  8/10. $55


This 12-year-old expression is aged solely in ex-bourbon casks, which means it should provide a clear picture of the character of the spirit.  The nose suggests honey, salty sea air, some minerals, and a slight floral note.  Taste-wise, toffee, vanilla, and sweet malt are dominant. As found in the nose, a flintiness appears here mid-palate.  A touch of Mexican chocolate adds some richness and bitterness.  The long finish leaves behind some semi-sweet honeyed malt notes.  Like Navigator, Old Pulteney 12-year-old isn’t overly complex, but is quite enjoyable.  Those just getting into Scotch would do themselves a great disservice by not trying this expression from Old Pulteney.  7.5/10. $45


Old Pulteney 17-year-old is matured in both ex-bourbon and ex-Spanish sherry casks.  The nose here is quite wonderful with lots of dried fruits, dark honey, vanilla custard, and roasted nuts.  Butterscotch candy and a fragrant floral note appear with a little airtime.  The full-bodied whisky provides a rich tasting experience.  There are the heavier salted caramel and dark fruits, as well as baking spices and vanilla bean.  Edible rose petals add a slight delicate character.  The finish is long, sweet, and spicy.  The additional age and sherry cask maturation really elevate this whisky from its younger siblings.  Rich, elegant and complex, Old Pulteney is highly recommended.  9/10. $119


Whisky writer Jim Murray picked Old Pulteney 21 as his World Whisky of the Year back in 2012.  This expression is matured in a combination of ex-bourbon casks and ex-Fino sherry casks.  Fino sherry is a dry sherry compared to the commonly used Oloroso sherry, which is a bit nuttier.  The nose is fruity and fragrant, with hints of stewed pears, burnt orange peel, spice and vanilla.  The entry features both stewed and candied orchard fruits, orange zest, honey, and oak spice.  Some oak tannins emerge towards the end of the palate and into the dry finish, which leave behind bittersweet malt and citrus-like notes.  Like the sherry casks it uses, Old Pulteney 21-year-old is a drier than its siblings.  I’d also call it more elegant, as its fruit notes come across as a touch more refined than the 17-year.  That said, my palate slightly prefers the 17-year over this one, as that whisky is a richer tasting experience.  8.5/10 $179

Thanks to Old Pulteney for the Navigator, 12-year, and 21-year samples.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Spice Tree Extravaganza Blended Malt Scotch Review

Ten years ago, John Glaser of Compass Box started adding oak staves to barrels of whisky to spice up the maturation process for what would be his Spice Tree blend.  The method is not new, as wine makers use oak staves all the time.  However in the Scotch whisky world, that was a no-no.  The SWA banned Glaser from utilizing this method.  He ended up using a different legal method for his Spice Tree blend involving toasted French oak barrel heads.

A decade later, Compass Box is releasing a limited edition version of the blend simply named Spice Tree Extravaganza.  Working within the spicy flavor profile of the standard Spice Tree, Glaser kicks things up a notch by adding sherry-cask matured and older malt whiskies.  Spice Tree Extravaganza is bottled at 46% abv for a suggest retail price of $140.  Only 12,240 bottles are available worldwide.

The nose captures the rich, spicy character of Spice Tree but adds a sherry kick.  This is thanks to sherry cask-matured Glen Ord and Benrinnes that make up close to 50% of this whisky.  I get lots of clove, sherry, vanilla and toffee-sweet malt.  In the background is a bit of dry oak and cinnamon bark.  The palate offers a blast of baking spices, toasted malt, and mulled wine, with hints of vanilla cream and blood orange zest.  The finish is long, with spiced red fruits and oak notes.

Spice Tree Extravaganza is an interesting twist on the standard bottlings of Spice Tree.  This limited edition blended malt whisky brings that signature spice, while adding nice sherry and older malt elements,which in turn provide more layers of complexity to unlock and enjoy.  8.5/10

Thanks to Compass Box for the sample!  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Three Year Old Deluxe Blended Malt Scotch Review

I picture a person who knows little about Scotch roaming the whisky aisle at their favorite shop.  This person scans the shelf and comes across a whisky called “Three Year Old Deluxe.”  I can’t imagine the expression on the person’s face when he/she looks down and discovers the $300 price tag.  “$300 for a 3-year-old whisky?!?”

Yep, $300 for a 3-year-old whisky.  That’s what Compass Box suggests the price be set at.  Nuts right?  Actually, the price is just where it needs to be.  Obviously, it’s no ordinary 3-year-old whisky.  Only 0.4% of this whisky is three years old.  The remaining 99.6% is made of whisky MUCH older than that.  Compass Box’s Three Year Old Deluxe is turning an old whisky regulation on its head – whisky makers can only disclose the youngest component whisky in their blend.  Compass Box’s head honcho, John Glaser, wants to tell you what’s in his whisky, and even campaigned to get this law changed.  

Glaser consulted his lawyers and received some advice.  In a statement, Glaser said “While we must not actively promote the ages of the components used in our blends, we can provide information when we are asked for it by interested consumers.”

So put simply, ask and you shall receive.  I did just that, but I’ve been asked not to publicly release the information.  According to an interview I had with Glaser recently, my posting the information could be perceived as promoting, which could prompt a complaint by an Scotch Whisky Association member.

Onto the whisky.  Three Year Old Deluxe is made of whiskies from “peaty malt whisky distilled on the Isle of Skye” (read: Talisker) and Clynelish, and bottled at 51.6% abv.  The aromatic nose features spiced tree fruit, clove, sherried malt and some vanilla bean, along with a hint of white pepper.  Taste-wise, the signature waxy fruitiness of Clynelish comes through in a big way.  First, there’s a richness and sweetness from the older components.  The minuscule amount of 3-year-old Clynelish adds a bit of vibrancy.  A bit of clove, vanilla creme brûlée, and spice lead to a whiff of smoke on the back end.  The medium-length finish is a touch spicy, sweet and smoky.

Fantastic stuff here.  The blending of Clynelish and Talisker make for a rich, sweet, fruity and somewhat smoky whisky.  If that flavor combination appeals to you, and you have a $300 to spend on a whisky, call your favorite store now to reserve a bottle.  There’s not a lot of this stuff to go around – only about 3,200 bottles are available worldwide.  Three Year Old Deluxe makes the shortlist as one of my favorite whiskies this year.  9.5/10

Thanks to Compass Box for the sample!  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.