Old Pulteney Navigator: 46% abv
Background: Now and again, our smaller distilleries will go out on a limb and release a limited edition bottling. Old Pulteney, despite their size, actually does quite a bit of this. Between their extensive travel range and the new releases (they just announced a 35 Year offering), Old Pulteney is a very active distillery. One of their most recent bottlings is the Navigator, a non-age statement whisky aged in a mixture of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. It totes an impressive 46% abv and non-chill filtering, and I can confidently report that it also does not appear to be artificially colored. So while Pulteney has held onto the “craft” spirit of this limited edition bottling, it does raise some questions. Is this just an excuse to introduce a younger whisky into the market? Does this fight toe to toe with the 12 Year? Let’s pour a dram and dig into it more.
Nose: To start, the nose illustrates a salty, intense flavor to this whisky. The immediate impression is fresh maltiness, young and vibrant. There is some floral, vegetal notes to the whisky, but it is more dominantly a buttery, creamy vanilla smell that comes forward. The briny, sea salt flavor is extremely assertive in the nose, and there is a presence of allspice as well. There is some fruity, candy apple smell that starts to come through after a little bit of time, with a slight sweet sherry note in there. The nose starts to have a slightly sugary smell to it, with light hints of pear and marmalade. Ultimately, the sweet, fruity notes combat with the intensely salty character to the aroma.
Arrival: The arrival doesn’t start off sweet by any means, highlighting the salty, intensely malty character of the whisky up front. There is a vegetal quality to the arrival, with vanilla and oaky notes up front. That same creaminess found in the nose is also fairly dominant in the arrival. With some sour barley grain leading into the body. Refined spice notes of allspice and clove are also a noticeable contribution to the initial flavor.
Body: Once into the body, the introduction of spices and tart flavors becomes more evident. This single malt retains the rich, barley flavor that eludes to how youthful it is. There is also some cinnamon stick and gingerbread in the body, which lasts into the finish.
Finish: The finish is a blast of malt, with salt and vegetal grain notes carrying through. There is some sweetness from the sherry cask that becomes somewhat prevalent. The finish seems to be well dominated by the spirit presence. There is a tinge of sherry in the finish, but it is a weak note which tends to be washed over by the other parts of the whisky. Subtleties of orange and lemon are present as well, which adds some variety to the flavor profile.
Nose: After adding some water, some rich fruit flavors are coming out, with dark berries and red grapes at the forefront. The whisky is also fairly jammy, while presenting some orange marmalade on the nose. A powdery malt flavor is still present, but the floral, fruity flavors are definitely more prominent now. As the Scotch opens up more, the orange is becoming a more prevalent flavor.
Arrival: The salt and seawater is still present here, and in no lesser form than before. There is more of a dry, malty presence now. The whole experience is actually slightly more bitter now, with bitter black pepper notes being relatively dominant.
Body: The body retains the bitter, dry notes from before. There is still some creamy, vanilla notes to the whisky, but the bitterness is much more up front than before.
Finish: The finish has some intense spice to it now, but it lost some level of complexity at this point. There is a grassy, green vegetable note that is coming through in the finish now.
Final Comments: Old Pulteney is definitely a consistently good whisky, whether it be the 12, 17, or 21 Year offerings. This special edition is something of a conflicting story. The quality of this spirit is good, and to some degree, the complexity and uniqueness is also above average. That being said, this Scotch is undoubtedly immature and there is no getting around that. The harshness, bitterness, and unforgiving intensity is not characteristic of Pulteney, although some of the flavors are. That being said, this can easily be forgiven considering the price of the whisky, but it does seem as if Navigator could have used a few more years of well-rounded aging to bring it to that next level. In either case, this is not poor buy, and as long as the 12 Year is protected from NAS bottling fate, this type of release is certainly welcome.
Why you’d buy it: You’d like to try a young, vibrant Old Pulteney at a good price.
Why you wouldn’t: You demand the quality of Pulteney 17 in everything you drink.