Fettercairn. There I said the immortal word and the only thing to be heard was the sound of the door slamming as everyone bolted from the room. It’s an efficient method of crowd control and dispersal. Guaranteed results along with phrases such as anyone for a Jura? and the new king on the block I’ve got a bottle of the new official Highland Park anyone like a dram?
We’re more forgiving in whisky when it comes to the form of the distillery. Unlike Formula 1 where you’re only as good as your last race, or a footballer in what has become a squad-based sport – perform badly and you’re hooked off or replaced next time around. In whisky, we still cling to the past and dismiss a bad run of form as just one of those things. The good times and a drinkable Highland Park will soon return; or will they? As drinkers, enthusiasts, whisky geeks – call it whatever you want – we should be demanding more from our purchases. We’re told now that we’ve never had it so good. Whisky is in general of a superior consistent quality and dud releases a thing of the past. Then why are so many releases proving to be mundane, disappointing or wildly off the mark?
If something sells the formula will be repeated again and again until the cash cow is bled dry then sacrificed at some pointless award ceremony. The only way to buck the trend is to step away from brands and specific releases that are overpriced and below what you the consumer expected. More openness, transparency and honesty from reviewers will assist, alongside actual details regarding the contents as opposed to some Norse god that circumnavigated the globe in the carcass of a dead cow using only a wooden spoon for a paddle. Follow the herd and the sheep, led by the merry pipers of Instagram, you’ll be a step nearer to the slaughter and being assimilated. Step away from the marketing and go on a walkabout – explore whisky outside the releases and discover new treasures.
All of this takes us to Fettercairn. The distillery itself harks back to 1824 and the dawn of the Scotch whisky industry we know today. Its current owners are the Whyte & Mackay group who focus more on the Dalmore and of course the Jura as single malts. That’s not to say Fettercairn is largely ignored by Whyte & Mackay who have in recent years enhanced the Fettercairn single malts with new releases. A revitalisation of the range was implemented to try and reposition the distillery into the promised land of premium market or FWAEPWTM in Malt-speak i.e. fools who are easily parted with their money.
In typical Whyte & Mackay fashion the approach adopted has been one of No Age Statements such as the Fasque and Fior, neither of which have received much acclaim or adoration from whisky enthusiasts. You’ll stumble across the odd bottle in the supermarket aisle perhaps taken on by the retailer to facilitate a special deal for Jura that always sells well. Why? We’re not entirely sure but the price is a key aspect, whereas the Fettercairn is more expensive arguably for a less recognisable brand.
Fior is the only current official bottling being supported as Fasque was halted only a couple of years after debuting in 2012. The fact that Fior is lightly peated and less emphasis is being given to this style of distillate by Fettercairn suggests that its days are numbered as well. At Malt we have heard on the grapevine that 2018 will bring sizeable changes to the Whyte & Mackay ranges from Jura and Fettercairn. An opportunity exists to establish the distillery as a single malt, which still avidly produces for the Whyte & Mackay blended Scotch portfolio. Only time will tell if finally Fettercairn can get it right or is content to wallow in the poorly conceived No Age Statement motel on a permanent basis.
When Cadenhead’s release any whisky from a relatively overlooked distillery, I take note. It offers the opportunity to experience a whisky in its natural state without – in the case of Fettercairn – the interference of Richard Paterson who does love the odd tan or cask finish. Kindly furnished with a sample from the team at the Edinburgh Cadenhead’s shop, it was time to seek out the hidden depths and delights of Fettercairn. Bottled at 51.5%, this whisky was distilled in 1993 before being released in 2017 with an outturn of 198 bottles from an ex-bourbon hogshead. On paper this will set you back around £77 – a good price for a well-aged malt.
Cadenhead’s Fettercairn 1993 24 year old – review
Colour: light caramel.
On the nose: restrained at first this does need time to show some sparkle. Vanilla yes, a fleeting citrus aspect and some pencil shavings with a lemon mousse adding some lift. There are some barley sweets and a slight creaminess with water revealing a gentle honey.
In the mouth: more of that vanilla creaminess on the palate with a Victoria sponge cake coming through gently. Again, this is a subtle and leisurely whisky. There’s no wood bravado or dominating spirit. A slow reveal of chocolate oranges, green apples and caramel with tablet adding some sweetness.
This isn’t an immediate grabber or one that demands your attention. It’s a solid Fettercairn that’s above the official range but nothing dramatic or thought-provoking. An interesting diversion and the hint at promise with patience and a solid cask. For now Fettercairn remains an unknown maverick that may one day deliver.