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Fettercairn distillery was established almost 200 years ago on the Fasque Estate, under the foothills of the Grampian Mountain range. Since 1973 however the distillery has been part of the Whyte & MacKay stable, currently under the ownership of Philippines-based Emperador.
Despite surviving for the best part of two centuries, it would be fair to say that Fettercairn has struggled to really establish itself as a single malt brand of note but there has been a concerted effort made in recent years to address this, with the launch of a complete new range in updated, contemporary packaging. First came new 12 and 28 year old bottlings, both of which I found to be decent malts that struggled under excessive price tags before things got really interesting with the unveiling of a 16 year old, distilled from chocolate malt and bottled at 46.4%. At £70 it wasn’t exactly a bargain buy but there was at least a rather rewarding experience at the other end of that admission fee.
I’m absolutely delighted to say that Fettercairn seem to be carrying on down that path with their latest release. Warehouse 2 is the first in a new series that will look at whiskies matured in each of the traditional dunnage warehouses that surround the distillery.
It has long been believed that the style of warehouse used to mature scotch whisky can play a role in defining the character of the spirit. Dunnage warehousing for example comprises of low buildings with thick stone walls and slate and timber roofs. Casks are stored two or three high and the floor is usually earth or cinders, meaning humidity is high and influenced by the condition of the surrounding soil and the water table. The thick walls and low stature make for a cool and even temperature throughout the year, creating a relatively stable environment in which the whisky can mature. Modern warehouses meanwhile, take the form of racked or even palletised storage, often in much larger buildings. Casks near the top experience much greater temperature variation than those near the floor, impacting the development of the whisky.
There’s also the small matter of location, location, location. Some believe whisky matured in warehouses by the sea for example, will develop a coastal character influenced by outside conditions. Sadly this issue isn’t very well understood yet, with little published evidence to support the hypothesis one way or the other. It’s true that whiskies produced on the coast often remind us of the sea, but given that many of them are matured in massive warehousing complexes on the mainland, it seems unlikely that this was as a result of their maturation. There are other drams too, distilled and matured in coastal locations that don’t take on this salty sea air character. To say this is an area that needs further research is something of an understatement. My own personal feeling, is that the majority of whisky with a supposedly coastal character got it from somewhere other than the breathable air around the warehouse.
Despite the masses of testing and investigation that has been done into the effects of maturation in oak casks by the scotch industry, it still feels like we’re in the infancy of our understanding. Nevertheless, Fettercairn have decided to celebrate their own unique array of dunnage warehousing with the series of bottlings that begins with Warehouse 2 Batch No. 001. Created from spirit distilled in 2010 then matured in an array of first fill American and European Oak casks, from Port Pipes, Vasyma Sherry Butts and Tevasa Sherry Butts to unseasoned Vasyma barrels and ex-bourbon barrels. It is bottled at 49.7% and retails for £55.
Full disclosure: I was sent this sample free of charge. As always I will strive to give an honest opinion on the quality of the dram and the value for money it represents.
Smell: Woody spice – cinnamon, ginger, paprika… Vanilla, raspberry and blueberry. Oak char. Fudge. Rum & raisin ice cream. Apple crumble.
Taste: Apple and pear. Dark chocolate. Raspberry. Pineapple. Honey and vanilla. Caramel. More of that oaky spice.
Thoughts: As mentioned above, I’ve found some of the Fettercairn pricing to be a little off in the past but I think they’ve got things just about right here.
Fettercairn has had a few false starts as a single malt brand but there are signs that things are finally on the right track. Following on from the release of their rather intriguing 16 year old, they’ve once again impressed with this latest expression and it’s great to see head whisky-maker Gregg Glass bring some of the creativity we’ve seen with his Whisky Works project.
Going forward it will be very interesting to see if unique styles emerge from each of the distillery’s warehouses but in the meantime, Warehouse 2 is an approachable, affordable single malt with everything you would hope to find in such a dram… Flavour, complexity, balance, depth…
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For more on Fettercairn visit here.