This Summer (2018) saw the first release of a brand new core range of whiskies by the Fettercairn distillery. Based outside the town of Fettercairn, east of the Cairngorm mountain range, the distillery has been functional since 1824 within the Fasque estate (once owned by the family of British Prime Minister William Gladstone). The distillery has primarily produced whisky for blending but has kept occasional expressions back through the years for special release single malts or otherwise snapped up by canny independent bottlers.
Since the 1950s, the distillery has been more renowned for its unique cooling column on its spirit still, which allows the local water source to pour over the copper stills during the distillation process. The contrast between the cooling Scottish waters and piping hot copper still is claimed to make for a purer and more fruit-driven spirit, as only the lighter alcohol vapours can escape the still.
We have previously reviewed one of their two more recently available single malts: the Fasque (named after the family estate), which was accompanied by the Fior release, however this new core range represents the first actual core range of single malt scotch whiskies that the distillery has made readily available. With such tenure behind them, these old dogs are weighing into the malt game with some hefty aged statements: 12 Years Old, 28 Years Old, 40 Years Old and 50 Years Old!
Courtesy of a recent tweet tasting session through our friends @TheWhiskyWire, here are our tasting notes on each of the new range. Its fair to say that, Christmas really did come early for us that night:
12 Year Old
The new entry and opening gambit into the distillery’s roster has been matured solely in American white oak, ex-bourbon barrels, bottled at 40% ABV and is available ca. £45.
The first waft of this spirit has something of a pot pourri hit to it – leaving a light and floral nose prickle as it rises up the nostrils – it reminds me of the smell of parma violet sweets when they’re crumbling apart. After that initial blast there’s a fresh and popping scent of orange peel/zest and a fresh citrus zing around too amongst the heathery floral freshness. Some grapefruit and pineapple notes in there too. Very fresh and zesty.
Wow. Rather than the youthful burst of alcohol I was expecting based on those notes from the nose, this actually has a really soft and oily/creamy texture to it, delivering more of a honey body to the sweetness. Heather honey, in fact. There’s a nice depth of body and flavour. A nice balance of sweet fruity flavours – like the fruit salad sweets! It doesn’t linger for too long, but just enough to remind you that this is a single malt of character with a candied orange flavour at the heart of it. A nice little bit of chocolate to it at the end too.
A beautiful little oaky spice finishes this dram off. There’s only a little white peppery burst though that delivers a tingle on its way down before the sweetness and mellifluous body off the tongue reappears and that dominant candied orange flavour remains as the lasting exponent of the dram.
A fantastic start to the show here. The light and fruity bodies make for a really easy sipper. The smooth, oily texture really seems to show its age and nicely balances the otherwise youthful, fresh and zesty flavours and this is their youngest release! This would be a welcome addition to the WU cabinet as an everyday sipper. It is nice and light, but has enough of a body to it, for the liquid to stick around for a little bit and get your attention.
28 Year Old
Similar tot he 12 Year Old release, the 28 Year Old has also been solely matured in ex-bourbon barrels but has been captured at the slightly higher 42% ABV, and a regular sized bottle would look to set you back ca. £500.
There’s a floral hit here at first again, but this time the extra 16 years of maturation has brought a deeper fruity sensation with it. Rich oranges, figs and raisins all seem to be present. A little bit of a sherry profile to this (despite not featuring in the maturation) and there’s a Christmassy spice influence here too (clove and ginger) and there even seems to be the smell of some baked goods that house these fruits, like a fruitcake or a farmhouse bara brith.
There’s a thick body to this whisky when you’ve finally stopped smelling it and got to the good bit! The orange and sherry-rich flavours are all present, despite having not come into contact with ex-sherry casks, and there’s still a floral flavour that lingers above it too. Tropical fruits seem to nestle amongst rich, nutty flavours – there’s a slight bitterness that reminds me of the red skin on peanuts. Pineapple, oranges and even some melon make for a tropical final flurry of flavour. Delivering up a real fruit and nut 1-2 combo!
It is a fairly firey finale with this one. The barrel spices are playing their part well. And with over quarter of a century’s exposure to wood, that’s not surprising. What is surprising is that there are still some light floral and orange-y flavours to it and even a little cherry flavour lingers afterwards too and a characteristic nutty (almond?) flavour.
If a full bottle of this was sitting in the WU cabinet, then it would come out as a nice night cap at the end of a special evening. There’s plenty going on and it definitely commands the respect of time to appreciate just how 28 years+ has developed this whisky. It doesn’t overpower you though, just lets the flavours unfold, and with all the tasting notes having some form of sweet bakery type flavours, it really is reminiscent of a boozy cherry Bakewell tart – and I would definitely eat one of those!
40 Year Old
This single malt has spent 35 years of its life maturing quietly away in American white oak, ex-bourbon barrels but has then spent a final 5 years maturing in Apostoles sherry casks to impart some complementary spice and dark fruity flavours. This release has been bottled at 48.9% ABV and a regular sized bottle would make a dent in your bank account to the tune of ca. £3,000!
Well, at £3,000 per bottle, it seems a shame for the first tasting note to be that of Coca-Cola, – don’t worry, I haven’t added any to this! – but that’s the dark, rich, fruity and vegetable extract kind of sensation that the nose gives off at first. Saccharine and dense. There are some classic old whisky tasting notes to come from something this dense too: Leather. Tobacco. Prunes. Figs. Oranges. Almonds. Nutmeg. Teaked wood. The works.
More of the same on the palate here. Rich woody tones. There’s a nice, rich dark chocolate profile here now too. Bringing both the dark roasted cocoa bitterness and a soft, velvety texture and touch of sweetness. That oily orange flavour re-appears too after the chocolatey flavours fade. With the festive season approaching, this also seems to remind me of mince pies with brandy butter. Everything about this palate feels rich and decadent.
A really cloying and thick finish as this slips down the throat. With it, a strong wood and black peppery spice remind you that this has been in a barrel for 40 years and that just under half of the liquid content is pure alcohol. Nutmeg and that (seemingly) Fettercairn signature note of oranges linger.
Well, this is a treat. I would have to pair this with some dark chocolate too. I don’t usually comment on the legs that the whisky leaves on the side of the glass, but these beads of whisky seem to take their own sweet time and, when they do decide to go (on their own terms, of course), they drop very slowly. The depth of flavour on this dram is remarkable. If a bottle of this was found in the WU whisky cabinet, then it would come out for very special occasions only. But it still would come out and it would be drank. Whether or not I’d ever have the privilege to spend £3,000 on a bottle is a whole other matter.
50 Year Old
Like its (significantly) younger siblings, this whisky has spent the majority of its life being matured in those classic American white oak, cx-bourbon casks before spending its 5 final years in tawny port pipe casks. Reaching just over half a century in age, this whisky was first distilled on 11th June 1966, but has still some fire about it, bottled at its natural remaining cask strength of 47.9% ABV and a regular bottle purchased from specialist stockists will set you back a whopping £10,000!
Its rich. Its flavoursome. It has had 5 whole decades encased in wood and it shows. Despite that provenance and maturity it still somehow remains quite light in body. Amongst all of the seasoned oaky/wooden tones, there still manages to be fruitiness and sweetness amongst the spice. Cherries, sloes, damsons, plums, and even some blackcurrant jam flavours are fighting for your attention amongst the festive spice melee.
Like an absolutely sodden Christmas cake. Rich. Thick. Unctuous. (I don’t break that word out too often). So many flavours revealing themselves through time. The boozy dark cherries really stand out here too. Like they’ve come straight out of the cake or have been encased in some very high percentage dark chocolate. Speaking of sweet stuff, this there’s plenty of treacle in here and even some cola cubes. Thick red and purple fruits come in from the port too (strawberries, cherries, plums, blackcurrants and even black grapes). There’s a thick tobacco note underlying the whole gambit of tasting notes that are rolling out.
50 years in a cask and she just wants to get out! There’s some fire in this finish. And by fire, I mean spice. Ginger and nutmeg, to be precise. Fresh stem ginger at that. The fruity flavours then seem to reappear as you breathe afterwards with a rich, stewed jam consistency of sweet berry goodness.
This could be the cure for the common cold. At that price for the bottle, it may well be. £10,000 per bottle makes this over £350 per measure. Another thing I don’t usually do is focus on the colour of a whisky, but good grief this is something special. Just look at the picture below! Sure, the port cask is probably bringing the final reddish tint, but 45 years of contact with ex-bourbon barrel oak is going to tarnish you somewhat. In pure Ron Burgundy, it does look like (and maybe even smells a bite like) rich mahogany. This is an absolute treat for the senses and just keeps delivering and having flavours unfold. Going back to the WU cabinet, you wouldn’t find it in there. It’d be locked away somewhere in perfect conditions to keep this gem safe and ready for the most special of occasions to sample it. In fact, sampling it is a special occasion in of itself. Remarkable stuff and an honour to be entrusted to sample and write these notes.
Sample disclosure: These samples were sent through to Whisky Unplugged as part of a tweet tasting event organised by Steve Rush @TheWhiskyWire in conjunction with Whyte and Mackay to promote the new releases and rebrand of the Fettercairn distillery. All notes above have been made as honestly as possible to reflect our own thoughts on the whiskies.