Cadenhead’s Fettercairn 1988

Did you hear the one about the 10 grand Fettercairn? A 50 year old expression that spent almost all of its maturation in an ex-bourbon cask before a brief finish in a tawny port pipe? It sounds ridiculous and a reality that has recently come true.

Whisky nowadays is simply crazy. Many call it a boom and a surge that is overdue a dramatic pop. I’ve moved beyond this now and comfortably sit on the side lines with a poke of chips and enjoy the show. Fettercairn is always good for entertainment. In fact most of the White & Mackay or Emperador distillery stable crank up the amusement factor. They are the Spinal Tap outfit of whisky with the volume amplified to 11. It’s as if there’s a deranged band manager at the helm who cannot help himself and interferes at every opportunity during the creative process. Giving us insane concept albums rather than a solid LP. This leaves many feeling somewhat bemused by the end product and overall delivery.

Dalmore, Fettercairn, Tamnavulin and Jura are united by their failure to deliver a coherent and memorable whisky. Almost tragic at times. Mark does have a soft spot for the tan emporium that is Dalmore – you can imagine him drooling in this piece – and independent bottlings from the Alness distillery do hint at its potential. An ability that is underlined if you are fortunate to experience older bottlings from the 1970’s and prior. Not the E150 laced and cask forced offerings we see today.

The Dalmore is very much style over content whereas its Emperador siblings lack even a respectable sense of dress wear.

Take Tamnavulin for instance, an example of a 1960’s soulless construct for blends. Rarely seen as a single malt, it took until 2016 for its 50th Anniversary release the Tamnavulin Double Cask. An important date marked by a cheap whisky that sat on the bottom shelf and became forgettable. Not a fitting release for a distillery that can produce a relatively enjoyable whisky in the independent sector.

And please let’s not talk about the Jura, but you can see similarities amongst all of these distilleries that are united by their ineptness, cohesive vision and execution. The guillotine would await them all.

Thankfully I’m forever saying every distillery has its day. A perfect example being the Cadenhead’s 29 year old MacDuff released earlier this year. Totally overlooked and yet delicious. Whisky isn’t about brand or presentation. Whisky should be about simply the whisky. You’ll pay less for an unfashionable distillery and more than likely have a realistic chance of purchasing multiple bottles if you find it to your liking. Take for instance my recent review of the Edradour 2005 Ballechin, a fun expression that takes on the peated big boys and showcases some style.

We’re back with Cadenhead’s for another potential surprise or at least that’s what the recommendation suggested. This Fettercairn was distilled in 1988 before being bottled in the autumn of 2018 at an impressive 29 years of age. The bourbon hogshead resulted in an impressive 252 bottles at a robust 54.9% strength. Due to the unfashionable nature of the distillery, this bottle is priced at an impressive £126 and should still be available.

Cadenhead’s Fettercairn 1988 – review

Colour: Pineapple cubes.

On the nose: Wood sap and white pepper, then the fruit kicks in. A touch of the old skool fruit bomb dynamic here. Pears, mangoes, vanilla, withered apples no make that fresh apple pie. Wood shavings, raw pastry, peanuts and honey with a touch of salt? Is this really a Fettercairn? A touch of smoke towards the end. Adding water brings out peaches, resin, syrup, strawberries and orange pips.

In the mouth: more of that old skool vibe with juicy apples, icing sugar, sour sweeties and a twist of lime. The vanilla is subdued but still in the mix along with a vibrant lemon sponge. Water brings out more of a chalky, mineral aspect.


Well, well, well. Fettercairn eh? By far one of the best I’ve had the joy of trying. This whisky sings and hits the right notes, which goes back to the original question i.e. what do band managers actually know?

A pleasant surprise. I’d put this on a par with the aforementioned MacDuff hence the score below. This whisky is verging very close to an 8, which isn’t a score I give out lightly. The fact that I’m seriously considering purchasing a bottle says it all. Plonk this into a tasting and you’d be kicked out of the pub for suggesting it was a Fettercairn. Time for the band to get new management.

Score: 7/10

My thanks to the Edinburgh Cadenhead’s shop for the sample and highlighting this whisky. If you’re new to Malt then please read our scoring guide.

CategoriesSingle Malt

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