Fettercairn is a village in Aberdeenshire in the north-east of Scotland. Its most famous landmark is a dramatic archway, built in 1864 to commemorate the visit of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1861. The two Royals had been staying at Balmoral but occasionally they liked to travel the countryside incognito and on one such occasion, decided to spend an evening in the village. Victoria noted their visit in her Royal Journal… “At a quarter-past seven o’clock we reached the small quiet town, or rather village, of Fettercairn, for it was very small-not a creature stirring, and we got out at the quiet little inn, “Ramsay Arms” quite unobserved”.
The Ramsay name is also linked to the village’s only distillery. Buoyed by the Excise Act of 1823, Alexander Ramsay built his distillery on the Fasque Estate in 1824. Sadly however, he was was declared bankrupt just a few years later and had to sell his estate, distillery included, to John Gladstone. Gladstone’s son William would go on to become Prime Minister and pass several laws that benefited the whisky industry, including a cessation of taxes on the evaporated contents of a cask. It was he who allowed whisky to be sold in glass bottles for the very first time.
The Gladstone family sold to whisky brokers, Ross & Coulter in 1923 but after a series of sales and mergers, the distillery came under the ownership of Whyte & MacKay, the Glasgow-based distiller and blending house that remain its custodians today.
Fettercairn is unique in the world of scotch whisky due to the deployment of cooling rings on their pot stills. These copper tubes allow water to flow down the outside of the still, increasing internal condensation and preventing all but the lightest of vapours from reaching the summit of the swan neck. The process was introduced in the 1950’s in order to create an increasingly delicate spirit.
Despite such innovation, Fettercairn has struggled to gain a tangible hold on the single malt market and has been rather maligned over the years, often derided as a sub-standard dram. It is a rather sad state of affairs for what is undoubtedly an interesting distillery. Now, with the launch of a new range, spearheaded by 12 and 28 year old single malts, Whyte & MacKay hope to resolve the situation by drastically changing direction.
Each bottling of the Fettercairn single malt displays the emblem of a Unicorn, a symbol of Scotland since the reign of King Robert III and a feature of the Ramsay coat of arms, once flown over the Fasque Estate upon which the distillery still stands and on the inn, where Queen Victoria and Prince Albert spent the night more than 150 years ago.
The Fettercairn 28 year old is bottled at 42% and retails at the astonishing price of £460 a bottle.
*Full disclosure: I was sent this sample free of charge in order to share my thoughts with you. As always I will strive to give my honest opinion on the inherent quality of the spirit and the value for money it represents.
Smell: Honey and vanilla. Toffee. Apple juice. Ginger snaps. Pineapple and white grapes. Chocolate covered raisins.
Taste: Highland toffee. Honey. Grapes. Coffee and dark chocolate. Pepper, ginger and a subtle presence of oak.
Value for Money: Ugh. Where to begin. A couple of weeks ago I reviewed the new Fettercairn 12 year old (here) and found it to be a decent dram that was disappointingly overpriced. Unfortunately, the 28 year old takes that concept to the extreme. Now, I’m not (and likely never will be) in a position to spend the best part of £500 on a bottle of whisky. If you find yourself able to afford such extravagances then more power to you but this 28 year old would still be a waste of your money.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a pleasant dram. Knock a zero off the end and I’d be telling you it could do with a little extra strength but remains a satisfying enough experience. At this absolutely mind-boggling price point though, I’d be looking for something utterly exceptional and frankly, this isn’t that.
If you’re in the market for a stupidly expensive, uninteresting malt from an unpopular distillery then feel free to form a queue. Everyone else, ignore it and maybe it’ll go away.
File under “more money than sense”.
Visit Fettercairn here.
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