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In 1826, James Henderson founded Old Pulteney Distillery in Wick, a fishing village situated at the northern end of the Scottish Highlands. At the time, Wick was largely isolated from the remainder of the Scottish mainland, and the distillery was dependent on the sea for its supply of barley. The isolation also led to lawlessness - legend has it that the 8,000 fishermen who inhabited the town drank approximately 500 gallons of whisky each day at one of Wick's 81 bars.
In an effort to quell the fisherman, local teetotalers voted to impose a ban on the sale of alcohol in Wick. As a result, Old Pulteney Distillery was forced to close its doors in 1930. For exactly 25 years, the town of Wick remained dry. Following the end of World War II, however, Wick residents turned out in force and successfully repealed the ban on alcohol, allowing Old Pulteney Distillery to reopen its doors in 1951. Today, the distillery continues to make whisky in the same time-honored tradition that James Henderson began nearly 200 years ago.
After barley is milled by a 90 year-old Porteus mill, the grist is mashed and then fermented in one of the distillery's six fermentation tanks. Old Pulteney Distillery is just one of four distilleries in Scotland that continues to use dried yeast rather than liquid yeast cultures during fermentation. The dried yeast, sourced from South Africa, is incredibly delicate and requires careful monitoring, leading to a longer fermentation process as compared to distilleries that use liquid yeast.
Following fermentation, the wash is distilled, first through Old Pulteney's wash still and then again through its spirit still. Both stills have an usually large bulb shape below their necks, which gives Old Pulteney Whisky its distinctive, oily character. The wash still, which was designed after the original wash still installed by Henderson, is missing its traditional swan neck. Rumor has it that the still was being installed, it was too large for the room it was housed in so the distillery manager at the time simply cut the neck off and repositioned the still's arm.
After distillation, Old Pulteney Single Malt Scotch Whisky (G&M Bottling) is aged for 21 years in refill bourbon casks, which contribute hints of vanilla, apricots, peaches and honey to the whisky. In addition, since the whisky ages on the banks of the North Sea, it has a hint of tangy saltiness.
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