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Fettercairn in focus

by Gavin D Smith, 02/11

Considering that Fettercairn is one of Scotland's oldest and most picturesque distilleries, it is quite ironic that the whisky it produces has so often been seen as the 'ugly duckling' of the Whyte & Mackay empire. Indeed, whisky writers sometimes seem to have vied with each other to criticise it, but with a total revamp of the Fettercairn range, and greatly improved presentation, those same writers may well have to re-evaluate their attitudes.

distillery Fettercairn distillery is located on the outskirts of the pretty village of the same name, close to the foothills of the Grampian Mountains, some 30 miles south-west of Aberdeen. It was established in 1824, being converted from a former corn mill by local landowner Sir Alexander Ramsay, and was first licensed to James Stewart & Co the following year. In 1830, Ramsay sold his Fasque Estate, including the distillery, to Sir John Gladstone, father of the future Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone (picture courtesy Undiscovered Scotland).

The distillery effectively remained in the Gladstone family until its closure in 1926, though between 1890 and 1912 there were also a number of other owners. After falling silent, the distillery came close to being dismantled, before being purchased by Ben Nevis distillery owner Joseph Hobbs' Associated Scottish Distillers Ltd in 1939.

In 1966 the number of stills was increased from two to four, with Hay & McLeod & Co and W&S Strong Ltd taking over control under the auspices of the Tomintoul-Glenlivet Distillery Co Ltd in 1971. Two years later, that company was acquired by Whyte & Mackay Ltd, who have run Fettercairn ever since.

Fettercairn remains a very traditional distillery, and a company spokesperson notes that "The mash tun used is cast iron with a copper dome, the washbacks are made from Oregon pine, and the beautiful copper stills are expertly tended as they have been for centuries.

"The real distinctiveness comes from the unique irrigator ring that surrounds the stills. Using this age-old irrigator (or purifier) ring allows water to drench the copper neck of the still and deliver optimal refinement. Only the purest and most vital of vapours can ascend the still ensuring the finest cut of spirit is collected. This results in a smoother and purer fledgling new spirit."

For some years, the standard Fettercairn bottling was a 12-year-old, supplemented by occasional single cask, cask strength bottlings, available only from the distillery. Now, however, the 12-year-old has been replaced with a non-age-specific expression called Fior - the Gaelic word for 'pure' - and 24, 30 and 40-year-old vintages are also available.

According to distillery manager, David Doig, "Fettercairn is the hidden gem within the Whyte & Mackay portfolio. It has been slumbering for many years and we have now quite literally opened up a treasure trove of aged whiskies. The release of the 40, 30 and 24-years-old and our fusion whisky Fior is very exciting for me, as they are fantastic whiskies that should be drunk with respect.

"Maturation in only the finest American white oak and select Apostoles and Oloroso Sherry butts delivers fruity whiskies with hints of marzipan and chocolate soufflé in the background. Their flavours truly are a symphony of unsurpassed satisfaction."

Here's hoping Fettercairn's critics agree. Certainly we at whisky-pages were impressed by the new line-up, as the following tasting notes show.

the whiskies

Fettercairn, Fior (Scotland)
Fior comprises a significant amount of 14 and 15-year-old spirit, along with 15 per cent heavily-peated five-year-old whisky from first-fill Bourbon barrels. Sherry and smoke on the weighty nose, with ginger, orange peel, toffee and vanilla. Significantly smokier on the palate than the 12-year-old it replaces, with orange, treacle toffee, dark chocolate and a Sherried nuttiness. The addition of water causes the heavily-peated component to really shine through. Smoky toffee, liquorice and mildly spicy oak in the pleasingly lengthy finish. Altogether more presence and class than its 12-year-old predecessor. Much harder for even Fettercairn's most fervent critics to criticise! 42.0% ABV, 70cl, £36.50, specialist whisky merchants.
Fettercairn, 24-Year-Old (Scotland)
Cereal, caramel and citrus fruits, plus a slightly savoury note and coal fire cinders on the nose. More perfumed with the addition of water. Fresh fruit on the palate, especially apples, aniseed and a subtle note of peat. Smoke, spice, black coffee and treacle in the lingering finish. (6,000 bottles). 44.4% ABV, 70cl, £115.00, specialist whisky merchants.
Fettercairn, 30-Year-Old (Scotland)
The nose displays a vibrancy that belies the whisky's years. It offers marmalade, plum jam and toffee notes, plus hints of Sherry. Pineapple, marzipan and soft fudge on the rich palate. Treacle toffee, liquorice and peat smoke in the long finish. Complex and satisfying. (3,000 bottles). 43.3% ABV, 70cl, £185.00, specialist whisky merchants.
Fettercairn, 40-Year-Old (Scotland)
Orange, dark chocolate, coffee, ginger and spices on the big, confident, Sherried nose. More dark chocolate and spices on the palate, along with marzipan and orange marmalade notes. The finish yields raisins, liquorice and dry smoke. An after-dinner veteran to sip and savour. (463 bottles). 40.0% ABV, 70cl, £770.00, specialist whisky merchants.


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