It took plenty of barley, fine oak casks and fresh spring water from Loch Hempriggs to yield this sumptuous whisky. It also took lots of herring. Located in tiny Wick on Scotland’s northern tip, the distillery was founded in 1826 in the middle of a herring boom. The “silver darlings” were everywhere, hauled in by more than 10,000 fishermen (by one estimate) and 1,000 vessels, thanks to a harbour expansion and creation of the Pulteneytown settlement begun by Sir William Johnstone Pulteney, governor of the British Fisheries Society. All that hard work on the North Sea generated a mighty thirst, and soon the heady fragrance of malted barley joined the pungent aroma of herring, like welcome perfume on a fishmonger’s skin after an overtime shift.
This 21-year-old nectar is a study in balance, with rounded sweet malt joined by notes of toffee and caramel from a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, with a lovely nutty note in the middle and a long finish that dries up beautifully with essences of damp earth, smoke and salt. This is whisky you want to chew, and that’s a hallmark of the best. Succulent, layered and balanced. Save the pickled herring for a chilled shot of vodka; serve this on its own or with a small splash of water.