Elevated to Royal Burgh status in 1589, Wick remained totally isolated at the extreme north-east corner of mainland Scotland, accessible only by sea. This made the settlement ideal for fishing and smuggling. Sir William Pulteney realised the potential and both Thomas Telford and Thomas Stevenson, father of Robert Louis Stevenson, were brought in to develop the town and harbour. In its heyday, there would have been as many as 1,000 herring boats and 10,000 fish workers at Wick, the ever busy coopers each turning out eight new oak barrels a day. In 1826 some of these casks would have been taken by the new distillery in Pulteneytown, as it was known, the fishing industry was obviously thirsty work.
Having been an illegal distiller for the best part of thirty years, James Henderson built a properly licensed premisses in compliance with the 1823 Excise Act. Pulteneytown finally merged with the rest of the burgh in 1902, the distillery proudly keeping a firm hold on the Pulteney name. Amazingly. Wick was a "Dry" town between 1922 and 1947, although those in the know would have found whisky in the teapots served in certain establishments. Water for the town and processing at the distillery is piped four miles from Loch of Yarrows. Cooling water is still conducted from Loch of Hempriggs, via a system designed by Telford, a supply carrying a great deal of peat. Older whiskies from Pulteney are definitely much peatier.
The malted barley is supplied from Kirkaldy, the drying process using no peat, that aspect relying on the mashing water. Four and a half tonnes of milled grist is soaked in every one of 14 mashes at Pulteney, in a working week from Sunday afternoon, right through to Friday night. The one wash still is quite unique, having had the top cut off so that it would fit in the building, missing the traditional swan-neck and with a large, bulbous boiling bowl. There is nothing else like it. The solitary spirit still has best been described as the shape and style used by illicit workers of old. The purifier on the lyne arm resulting in a lighter spirit to charge into the casks.
The majority of the casks are once filled bourbon, but sherry butts also play an important role in the final whisky. Bonded in seven dunnage style on site warehouses, having beaten earth floors. The close proximity of the North Sea certainly makes its mark on the final product, Pulteney Single Malt often referred to as the Manzanilla of the North, always exhibiting a definite salinity. Bottled as Old Pulteney, the 40%, 12 year old expression has a medium body but plenty of sherry and smoke to go with the tang of the sea. The finish is rather dry. There is also an Old Pulteney Whisky Liqueur. Blends benefiting from the inclusion of Pulteney malt are MacArthur's, Pinwinnie Royal, Hankey Bannister and Inver House, the parent company since 1995.