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Fettercairn (pronounced: FET-er-kairn) has been branded by some, lazily I feel, as being an unpleasant and crappy distillate. This is unfair, while there have been some standard official bottlings that show the whisky in a very poor light, this is as much down to lazy cask selection as anything else. Take some time to delve into the various obscure bottlings and you will find a fascinating distillate that is far removed from most others in Scotland. Often eccentric and always interesting, there are many fine examples out there. If you like your whiskies fascinating, challenging, old school and unsexy then Fettercairn will be right up your street. Boring it is not.
Stills: 2 Wash 2 Spirit
Water Source: Grampian Mountains
Capacity: 1.6 Million Litres
Owners: United Spirits (Whyte & Mackay)
1960-1975: Expansion And Old School Eccentricity
Fettercairn's floor maltings were closed in 1960. This was the first change at the distillery in several preceding decades of quiet old fashioned production. There was further change in 1966 when the number of stills was doubled from two to four, they were modernised in the process with the addition of new condensers and steam coils.
There are a few bottlings from this era, notably an excellent 1962 by Cadenhead's and some rather fine young official examples bottled in the 70's and early 80's. Examples from the early 60's display some distinctly phenolic aspects with gentle smoke, medicinal notes, various kinds of oils and subdued fruit notes. They were not quite as unusual as later versions although they were already showing odd notes of ink, paper, milk, muesli and porridge. The best examples, and probably the best Fettercairns ever, are a pair of casks from 1975, bottled by The Perfect Dram as a 33yo and The Whisky Agency as a 34yo. These show immensely old school waxiness and mineral notes with sharp pepper, mustard seed, camphor, soot, green fruits in abundance and light phenols. Both are stunning and fascinating drams, great examples of how Fettercairn can be both eccentric but beautiful at the same time.
1975-Present: Difficult, Unsexy & Charming.
The oddest examples of Fettercairn hail from these years. At its strangest it can be very bitter with far out notes of kirsch, spice, milk, porridge, cardboard, soap and flowers. The ones that have given it a bad reputation are almost always the official examples, standard bottlings from throughout the nineties are pretty poor and show the distillery in its worst light. On the flip side of the coin there are some stunning independent examples, a 1980 12yo by Cadenhead's was a brilliant and edgy example of the make. Likewise another pair of stunning 1980 sherry casks were bottled by Signatory in 1994, both showed the distillate in full, powerhouse form with concentrated fruit, old style nervous resinous qualities and great smoky complexities.
Last year Whyte & MacKay saw fit to reappraise Fettercairn and gave it a facelift and a new range of bottlings. Of the three a 24yo was an old school stunner, displaying bags of orange notes, wax, minerals and odd sooty and floral notes, another great Fettercairn. The 30yo was a bit of a let down on the palate despite a great nose, the palate became too extracted and far out. The 40yo was a minor woody masterpiece that knocked on the doors of some great aged Dalmores and Macallans.
Hopefully W&M will continue to put some effot into this largely unloved distillery that seems to remain refreshingly old style and endlessly surprising. It might not be to everyone's taste with its distinctively unsexy, complicated house style but when it works it is a stunning whisky. Lets hope we'll get more in future.