Fettercairn 12 and 28 year old

Let’s be frank, when the email from Fettercairn’s PR people landed regarding the offer of free samples, there was no stampede in the MALT HQ. In fact, arguably, the only sound was the crew bolting towards and then slamming the door. We even had to turn down an invitation to the distillery for a couple of days. In these situations, the responsibility falls upon the editors to pick up the challenge. Given Tweed’s almighty body swerve, I was left as the last man standing. So then, it’s Fettercairn time, but only the whisky.

I admire such approaches to MALT, as we don’t instigate communication, or swap lists of contacts in the pursuit of freebies. You’ll know the industry types, wannabes and bloggers who positively gorge themselves Augustus Gloop style on the next offering. The only price of admission is saying something positive, or in the worst case benign, to ensure the kaiten conveyor belt continues to knock at their door.

Recently, we were approached by a new bottling label about their latest products. Their forthright email asked us for our social media fees and if we were in agreement, samples would be dispatched asap. In return, they expected coverage by the end of that week. We refused the offer of payment and bending to their will. Replying, that we would be happy to cover any samples, but in our own time and on our own terms. That is probably the end of that approach, which is unfortunate as there might have been a solid recommendation amongst their releases. But what is more interesting, were the individuals who did take up their offer. We only know this because the coverage appeared later that week and did they disclose this was paid for content, or much of what they wrote was lifted straight from the press materials? No, which sums up their motivation and while I’ve got nothing against paid for content: you have to highlight it as such.

That’s the temptation it seems for some and personally, I tend to avoid such offers, trips and events; not only because I don’t feel comfortable with the situation, but also I might not care for other invitees. Life is too short to be spending valuable moments with pompous and narcissistic individuals who will fill their deadlines with template scripts and exclaim job done! Occasionally, I will accept an invite with the Glengoyne Edition One event proving a long and tiring day in some respects, but also reaffirming, as it was mainly populated by fans of the distillery.

So, credit to Fettercairn for getting out there despite the baggage of its reputation. And what a reputation it is, isn’t it dear readers?

The mere mention of a Fettercairn, is often enough to prompt any whisky enthusiast to throw themselves upon the mercy of the pourer. Such is the repulsion at what most of Fettercairn has shipped officially. There are exceptions, as with most things in life such as the Cadenhead’s 1988 29 year old that was quite pleasant and during the 2018 Whiskybase Gathering event, the 1978 Fettercairn bottled by the Ukrainian Whisky Connoisseurs Club was a standout dram amongst attendees. However, such discoveries requires more dedication to the cause than the combined catalogue of Indiana Jones and Lara Croft.

Just what then is the problem with Fettercairn? The distillery has an interesting history and visually, isn’t a modern godforsaken construction. Like Deanston, until recently, Fettercairn has been mainly engaged in supporting its master’s blends, or 3rd party white labelling goods. The official single malt expressions that did hit the market were blighted by poor decisions and average (at best) contents. Does anyone out there lament the loss of the Fettercairn Fasque, or Fior? Exactly, at least the new core range offers an age statement and more sensibility.

The 12 year old expression costs £46.13 from Master of Malt, or the Whisky Exchange will charge £41.95, with Amazon charging the exact same. The 28 year old is a more pricy affair with Amazon charging £450, whereas Master of Malt and the Whisky Exchange both charge £460.

Fettercairn 12 year old – review

Color: gold leaf.

On the nose: sappy, lemon, apples and a dusting of cinnamon. A very plesant sweet musty aroma, melon, white grapes and pear drops. The emphasis on sugary sweet, flour, honey and adding water reveals more fruits and a buttery nature.

In the mouth: a burst of sugary sweetness that lingers throughout: apples and pears with a fairly flat nature. White chocolate, vanilla and a little ginger. Water reveals a sappy aspect, melon and a touch of grapefruit but only marginally improves things.

Score: 5/10

Fettercairn 28 year old – review

Color: apple juice.

On the nose: oozes complexity and elegance. Red apples, rhubarb, an aged woody dustiness and chocolate ginger. Marshmallows, pineapples, a gentle vanilla and chalky nature. Fudge, apple strudel, peaches, lemon and a malty vibe. At 42% water isn’t beneficial.

In the mouth: again elegant. Polished wood, juicy fruits, a little beeswax and chocolate. More red apples, green peppercorns, walnuts, apricot, woody but overpowered and Highland toffee. Water again, isn’t required.

Score: 7/10


Firstly, I’ve deducted a point immediately because of the 28-year-old pricing. Because it is greedy, ridiculous and totally uncalled for. We have a brand in Fettercairn that immediately sees itself as a premium product. Its like taking a ham-fisted portrait from a local art club and trying to pass it off as a lost work from Leonardo da Vinci. Some fool out there with more money than sense might buy into the fakery, but critics and enthusiasts alike will know that no Fettercairn is worth circa £500. It is sheer folly and another example of the delusional mindset at Whyte & Mackay.

Mark explained the scenario pretty well in his recent Glen Moray 21-year-old Portwood finish review, where another distillery was reaching into a market it clearly isn’t ready for. I’d recommend checking out that article and I’ll say that I mentioned Deanston above for a particular reason. Towards the end of the millennium, no one really called about Deanston. Ian MacMillan realised that no lavish marketing budget or rebranding was going to change opinion. What was required were wholesale changes and these began in 1991 with the actual whisky production.

At the turn of the millennium, Deanston was one of the first distilleries to have a core range at 46% (or above), natural colour and non-chill filtered. They also charged a fair price for admission. Even so, it took a decade or so for the tide of opinion to stall and then change direction. Now, people talk about the distillery and its whisky in a positive light. They look forward to purchasing a new release and for Deanston, they’ll also consider paying a wee bit more.

All of this came about via a long-term strategy and building a fanbase. Only then with further sustained effort can you consider bringing out a more premium product.

Fettercairn in the 90’s, I’d argue was in the same doldrums as Deanston. Frankly, to many enthusiasts it remains there. You’re not going to change the mindset by just relaunching the distillery core range and expecting a sudden transition. It is obvious where all the budget has gone into here and while the packaging and bottles look good, they are priced excessively and therefore out of reach of those who you need to engage with.

The 28 is a very good whisky, but I’m sorry at this pricing level I can have much better value and fun elsewhere with multiple purchases. The 12 is ok, but like the 28, both suffer from a lower bottling strength, colouring and chill filtration – 3 absolute no no’s if you’re looking to engage with an increasingly educated market.

If the 12 was sub-£40, I’d consider that was reasonable, but the 28-year-old needs to be under £200 to even wet the appetite. Do this Whyte & Mackay: stimulate prospective buyers for the right reasons and then word of mouth will carry you forward.

There are commission links within this article but as you can see, they don’t affect our judgement. Photos kindly provided by the Whisky Exchange.

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. Mark P says:

    They age whisky for 28 years and then reduce it to a scant 42% and charge £460? Who are these maniacs?

    If anyone can work out which new bottler is being referred to in the 3rd paragraph please respond below.

  2. Tried the 28 at a show recently. Not keen on any Fettercairn and wouldn’t want it for £50 (given that the Kilkerran 8 cs sherry is that amount). £450 is a joke – might be able to shift it in Lidl if they drop the price. Good point made about Deanston. If whisky brands lose a customer through poor quality, that customer may be gone for 20 years (and telling his mates/other potential customers why they shouldn’t bother either). I have been on board with Deanston for the past 12 months or so – they’ve no doubt been good long before that in this current (1991, you say!! -add time for maturation) guise. I’ve still written them off for buying purposes when they’ve turned things around owing to a lack of trust and “the same dog biting twice” scenario. Looks like another Fettercairn tasting due in 2039 – hope they’re better by then.

    1. Jason says:

      Hi Mick

      Yeah, Fettercairn seem to think they can skip all the groundwork and head straight to the bank. I expect price cuts and a rethink once the penny drops and sales fail to materialise.

      Cheers, Jason.

      1. Hi Jason, as a beneficiary of the whisky loch (my whisky epiphany came in 1994) I accept that I have been very fortunate to taste some excellent whiskies for next to no money. 21 year old Springbank at £40 (the brown one that’s really 35y.o.), 1979 Glenmorangie at £15 (2 bottles for £30 at Sainsburys in 1994, my other bottle in the pair was a Springbank 12 green thistle, same age as the 21, allegedly – same price for white horse lagavulin 16) untold (excellent) 30 year olds for £50 (notably Glen Grant and Bunnahabhain) ad infinitum. My idea of value in today’s market is a little at odds with my contemporary whisky club compatriots, many of whom think £250 is a good price for a decent 25 year old (I’m more into a ton tops but I might go another tenner if it’s got flavours I really like – tobacco, leather, old books, old sherry, dried fruits etc – the stuff I’ve been brought up on. Today, briefly, Amazon were selling Glengoyne 21 at £80. I didn’t buy it because I’ve had one already (£60!) and I’d rather try something new. I spend 90% of my spare cash (ie not bill money) on whisky and I really (REALLY) need to see the value in the dram. Some no brainer drams (Ardbeg 10, Glendronach 15, Lagavulin 16) are still easily available, but in today’s market the balance has shifted towards the brands and away from the customer – thus Fettercairn 28 at less than £600 ( the going rate for a 30y.o. these days) is a massive typical official bottling piss-take versus independent bottlings, in my eyes. Whyte and Mackay are SO far up themselves and behind the times (with the hilariously overrated Dalmore brand too), that I don’t think they are aware how their “portfolio” stacks up against the opposition. Trying to cash in on this current boom with this shoddy offering at a ludicrous (albeit market set) price will not, ultimately, enhance their reputation (such as it is) and will only serve to set them back years in terms of catch up. Loving your site (especially the brutal honesty) – keep up the good work. Slanjeevaurus Mick

        1. Jason says:

          Thanks Mick, we never lose sight of the price of whisky and value. Others skirt around or avoid the topic but to us it is extremely important.

          It is a shame that we’re marked out for honesty when that should form the basis of any review. Not maintaining industry or PR relationships, keeping things benign and not offending anyone. Whisky isn’t cheap and we must always be candid and honest about it.

          I’m all up for a bargain – a rare thing to find nowadays but we’ll keep searching.

          Cheers, Jason.

    2. Carl S says:

      Bought a 12 year old recently- Though a pretty bottle, average whisky as noted in your review but made worse as I for the first time experienced corked whisky. Never buying it again.

      1. Jason says:

        Hi Carl

        That’s a rarity nowadays, shame after all the money spent on the branding of these bottles and a simple feature lets it all down.

  3. David Pop_Noir says:

    I buy so very few official releases these days, often the majority of what I could afford are low in ABV and are NAS which is a real turn off.
    Then of course when you do add some % and age the price does creep up which is obviously understandable to some degree, unless of course it’s a total piss take.
    When distilleries such as Springbank can do it, why the hell can’t the likes of far less fashionable Fettercairn??
    Much like those annual ‘Special’ turds churned out by Diageo, which I truly find baffling as to why anyone would get excited over, and in all honesty are enough to induce narcolepsy.
    Rant over I’m off for a lovely dram of Pittyvaich

    1. Jason says:

      Hi David

      No need for foul language such as Pittyv**** which takes us nicely into the void that are the Special Releases. I’ve said before (and quite happy to do so again) that Diageo need to revisit their whole release programme. Everything from the Faunas, to core expressions and the special things.

      The majority of the market cannot see that right now. These old Taliskers finished in sherry casks for a couple of years – why exactly? As long as things sell then the status quo is maintained. And as long as this goes on, you’ll have distilleries/owners looking for their slice.

      Cheers, Jason.

  4. David Wright says:

    AD Rattray’s house malt no.10 was a 10 yo Fettercairn for £28, which makes the pricing of this official 12 yo a bit of an absurdity.
    Morrisons (supermarket) Distillers Choice 5 yo blended malt has a good dose of Fettercairn in it for £14.

  5. John says:

    Hi Jason,

    I expected OB Fettercairn to fair worse. I guess these are worth trying when they come out here.
    The label is pretty ok. But the bottle design sort of reminds me of the St. Germain.

  6. Smiffy says:

    When you can get a 10 yo Fettercairn that is not been E140’d or chill filtered and is bottled at 57.4% from a certain independent bottler in SW Scotland for £40, why the hell would you waste your time with the official bottling?

    1. Jason says:

      Hi Smiffy

      I guess accessibility for some. Others possibly prefer to be seen with an official release, rather than an indie. Also, there remains a part of the market that doesn’t care about colouring etc. Hopefully, they’ll see the benefits of looking elsewhere.

      Cheers, Jason.

  7. Welsh Toro says:

    A fine and very informative review. I mean, this is Fettercairn at the end of the day. One of Chris Goodrum’s ‘Axis of Evil’. Fair play to Fettercairn for giving you a go and I’m pleased to hear you rejected those turds from the unknown distillery. However, Fettercairn blow it again – I mean what the hell are those prices and abv for a distillery with, politely, a bit of a reputation. Totally out of order and not worth bothering with. So many distilleries screwing it wit the price right now. There might be a whisky boom but we’re not all mugs. Cheers Jason. WT

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