Tasting Notes: Fettercairn – 12 Year Old

The Fettercairn distillery has been in production for approaching 200 years. Whilst all eyes are looking as to what may be released to mark such an occasion next year, we are looking at their flagship expression for the purpose of this post.

Fettercairn essentially means “foot of the hills” and their site’s history is almost as old as the hills, as the estate upon which the distillery was built was originally owned by Sir Alexander Ramsey – one of the main campaigners to licence scotch whisky distillation. The site was later owned by parents of British Prime Minister William Gladstone, and the village is said to have had royal visits by Queen Victoria – quite the heritage there!

Today, the distillery is more renowned for its ownership under Whyte & Mackay, and their usage of the nearby passing stream’s water to flow over the spirit still’s neck to condense the spirit within. Their stylish rebrand in 2018 saw a fresh and clean look to their malts with a nod to that water-cooled copper neck and the purity of their spirit.

The 12 year old whisky itself has been matured purely in American white oak, ex-bourbon casks – keeping thing simple and building on that purity – ultimately captured at 40% ABV.

Fettercairn 12


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, a citrussy zing, and some heathery floral freshness. Some grapefruit and pineapple notes in there too. Very fresh and zesty.


I was expecting this to be fairly thin and light touch based on the nose but it actually has a really soft and oily/creamy texture to it. It delivers 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 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, and sweet honey and vanilla around it. A touch of milk chocolate and malteaser 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 good 12yo core ranger. 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 despite being 12 years old, this is their youngest release!

This has been 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.

The fresh and oxidised copper colours are a tribute to that condensation ring

The bottle and packaging of the Fettercairn range is really quite elegant, in my opinion. The unique bottle shape and indents, along with the Fasque estate’s unicorn emblem being embossed into the bottle, make for something with a bit of class and a bit different.

The alcohol sitting at 40% ABV is noticeably light on this one. That plays into the character of the malt. Sure, a 46% release would provide extra bite and probably build the peppery finish into something more challenging for the discerning single malt drinker, but that’s not what this drink is about. It is a core range entry dram – it is there to demonstrate the core spirit and direction of the distillery’s wares. It is for someone looking for that classic “smooth” finish, which providing a zesty fruitiness, freshness, and vibrancy. Those flashes of flavour and the oily texture give you something a little bit more than the Glenfiddich 12 / Glenlivet 12 that essentially sit in the same ball park. Definitely one for beginners and something quick, easy, and palatable for the regular maltsters. Malty, fruity, oily, delicious.


Fettercairn 12

Sample disclosure: The initial sample was received by Whisky Unplugged as part of a tweet tasting event organised by Steve Rush @TheWhiskyWire in conjunction with Whyte and Mackay to promote the Fettercairn distillery – looking at 12, 28, 40, and 50 year old single malts! I have since gone on to buy a bottle for myself and as a gift – the full size bottle is rather lovely looking. All notes however have been made as honestly, fairly, and independently as possible to reflect my own thoughts on the whisky. Please drink responsibly. Please drink wisely.

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