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The Story of Fettercairn
Fettercairn distillery was founded in 1824 by Alexander Ramsay, owner of the Fasque Estate beneath the foothills of the Grampian Mountains. Following the Excise act of 1823, Ramsay converted an old Corn Mill on his land into a distillery but was sadly unable to make a success of it. By 1829 he had lost his fortune and his estate, distillery included, was sold to the Gladstone Family.
Young William Gladstone was only a boy when his Father purchased the Estate and Fettercairn Distillery with it, but he would go on to become an influential figure in the whisky industry and the nation at large. As Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister, Gladstone passed various laws to the benefit of distillers, ending the tax on the Angel’s Share and allowing whisky to be sold in glass bottles for the first time.
Though the distillery was run by tenants, the Gladstones remained in charge of Fettercairn until its sale in 1923 to whisky brokers, Ross & Coulter. It was later sold once again, this time to world famous blending house Whyte & MacKay who remain the driving force behind the distillery today.
Fettercairn is perhaps best known for its rather unusual pot stills. A copper tube known as a cooling ring encircles the neck of the still and drenches it with water, lowering the temperature and increasing condensation so that only the lightest of vapours can scale the swan neck to the promised land of the condensers beyond. The design was introduced in the 1950s to help create a more delicate spirit and remains completely unique today.
It would perhaps be fair to say that Fettercairn has not been the most revered of distilleries in the past. I won’t speculate on why this was the case but it seems that Whyte & MacKay wish to address the fact and have followed their recent relaunch of Jura with another rebranding. As yet, only 12 and 28 year old versions have been unveiled, though it seems likely that further expressions will follow.
For the majority of whisky drinkers it is the 12 year old that is most likely to draw attention. I find myself a little concerned with its price point, however, and fear the dreaded ‘p’ word may have been sprinkled liberally over the marketing meetings that led to its release. The premiumisation of whisky is getting rather out of hand of late, with largely unheard of brands suddenly declaring themselves luxury items and hiking their prices accordingly. This is particularly galling with a distillery like Fettercairn, that hasn’t been without image problems in the past. Nevertheless it seems we are expected to forget this and accept the new single malt is worthy of a higher price point.
For a little context, I had a rummage on a top online whisky store to check the current pricing of some well known single malts in the 10 – 12 year age category at the time of writing…
Glenmorangie 10 = £29.50
Glenfiddich 12 = £29.99
Auchentoshan 12 = £34.65
Laphroaig 10 = £34.95
Glenfarclas 12 = £39.95
Ardbeg 10 = £39.95
Springbank 10 = £41.95
Fettercairn 12 = £46.13
It may not be a massive price jump but it is a jump nonetheless, and when you consider that Springbank and Ardbeg, the two nearest in price are bottled un-chill-filtered at 46%, while Fettercairn is diluted to 40%, the difference looks all the more dramatic.
It all seems a rather bizarre tactic for a distillery attempting to relaunch itself onto a previously disinterested market. It is a shame in fact, as Fettercairn is a fascinating and unique distillery and I know from some independent bottlings that the spirit can be just as enthralling so I really want to give my backing to this new range. I want to like it, but it feels like the price point puts it at a disadvantage from the get-go… “So you think you’re better than Glenfarclas do you? Better than Ardbeg? Better than Springbank? Oh yeah?”
*Full disclosure: I was sent this sample by the people at Fettercairn in order to share my thoughts with you, the reader. As always, I will strive to give an honest, impartial opinion on the inherent quality of the spirit.
Smell: Vanilla, honey and malty cereal notes. Orange. Caramel. Apple and pear. Slightly grassy. Some rich chocolate notes in the background.
Taste: Caramel and chocolate. Orange. Apple juice. Honey and vanilla and some gentle woody spice.
Thoughts: It’s actually a pleasant wee sipper of a dram but inevitably struggles to justify the price tag. There’s nothing radical going on but it’s a well executed example of a highland malt flavour profile. There’s some depth to the flavour profile and it feels like some decent casks have gone into it.
That said, so long as we the whisky drinkers accept that a 12 year old malt bottled at 40% should cost the best part of £50, prices will continue to climb. This new Fettercairn is a malt of decent quality but I certainly won’t be buying a bottle any time soon. Not at that price.
*You can buy the whisky in this article from Master of Malt. Click here
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