A visit to Old Pulteney in 2014 afforded me my first sip of Navigator. It was the stand out dram for me from my tasting in the wood lined, cosy distillery shop in Wick, a remarkable contrast to the grey of the town and the black of the distillery warehousing. Light and bright, even on a November day, I immediately found this NAS (non-age statement, the whisky equivalent to non-vintage) accessible and, in a strange sort of way, fun! Not too challenging, complex enough to be interesting and full of beguiling flavour, it quickly became, and remains, a favourite in my collection.
Old Pulteney has styled itself the Maritime Malt and the salt of the sea is suggested in this expression, created in 2013 in celebration of the distillery's sponsorship of the round the world Clipper race. The light but characterful malt is matured first in ex-bourbon American oak barrels and then finished in ex-sherry barrels. The balance is fine: the characteristics from each maturation blending well and giving an overall flavour that is fascinating and leaves you wanting to know more, like a first date certain to lead to a second. At 46% abv it certainly has depth.
There is rich honey in the mouth, and for me it is more apparent than vanilla. Call it sweetness, but it is light and inviting, married with a more sultana-than-raisin dried fruitiness, and then there is a hint of a richer, brighter and crisper fruit too. A little bit of pepper finishes but I am also very aware of the wood, presenting itself as tannins on the edge of the tongue which, along ŵith the salt, gets you sipping time and again.
A drop or two of water balances the whisky and makes it softer and more of a partner for food. Great with fish dishes and salads but also, in this world of ubiquitous salted caramel, Navigator is delicious with good vanilla ice cream, the luxury sort with vanilla seeds in it. As a summer dram I actually prefer it straight as an aperitif, or as a warming reward after a swim in the sea on a not-quite warm enough day.
Navigator represents real value for money and is a great summertime whisky. My Whisky Women love it's light but interesting character. I would sum it up as a racy whisky - perhaps that is why Whisky Women like it so much? It is, however, a perfect way to describe a whisky created for a competitive ocean challenge.