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The Fettercairn distillery was founded in a converted corn mill by local landowner Alexander Ramsay in 1824. His whisky found a following early on as demonstrated by a story published in the Fife Herald of 31 March 1825. In the dusk of the morning a Gentleman was passing the old churchyard of Edzell when he was startled by a figure standing behind one of the tombstones… Frozen in terror, he watched as the apparition came towards him. “Don’t be scared, friend, for it’s nothing bit a puir tailyer, here risin again.” “Rising again!” replied the dismayed gentleman. “God help me!” “I’ll help ye, min” said the taylor, drawing a flask from his pocket; “I’ll help ye to a spark o’ Fettercairn: It gat the better o’ me last night, or ye had na met me here; but the creatur’s gude: Here’s t’ye!” Through entreaty, the Gentleman partook of the “gude creatur” and it proved an anodyne and chased his fears away.
Despite such success however, Ramsay decided to sell his estate, distillery included in 1829. The buyer was John Gladstone, father of William who would later become a four-time Prime Minister. Though very much hands-off owners, preferring instead to let their tenants operate the distillery, the Gladstones held the land for the best part of a century. They sold in 1923, to Ross & Coulter. The family’s timing was good, as the industry was in decline, suffering the effects of War, Depression and US prohibition. The new owners were forced to halt production in 1926 and Fettercairn lay dormant until 1939 when the stills were fired up by Associated Scottish Distillers.
Further management changes followed until stability was achieved in 1973 when Tomintoul-Glenlivet sold to Whyte & MacKay, who retain ownership today – though the parent company themselves have changed hands on more than one occasion.
Fettercairn deploys a unique tactic to create its spirit. The pot stills are equipped with an irrigator ring that surrounds the swan neck and drenches it with water. The practice cools the rising vapours inside, causing them to drop back into the pot, increasing reflux and helping to produce a lighter style of spirit.
In 2018 Whyte & MacKay relaunched the single malt brand, with a new range spearheaded by 12 and 28 year old bottlings. Since then the range has diversified further with the addition of 16 and 22 year old versions. Matured in ex-bourbon casks and bottled at 47%, the 22 year old retails for £170.
*Full disclosure: I was sent this sample free of charge so that I might take part in a tasting. As always I will strive to give an honest opinion on the quality of the dram and the value for money it represents.
Smell: Green malt. Honey. Fresh oak. Green apples and pears. Chocolate orange. Caramel. Toffee. Cinnamon.
Taste: Lots of flavour on arrival. Vanilla ice cream. Orange and lemon. Honey and oak. Pepper and nutmeg. Textured and buttery. Biscuit. Dry apple cider finish.
Thoughts: As with some previous releases, the price may raise an eyebrow or two but in order to properly assess the situation you have to look at the competition. Since there aren’t many 22 year olds on the market we’ll look at 21 year olds instead. There are plenty that come cheaper but many are at lower strength. Of a comparable age and strength however, is the 21 year old Glencadam which will cost you just £100. A 21 year old Benriach will set you back £120, Loch Lomond £135, GlenDronach £130 and Glen Moray £110. Of course, at the other end of the scale, there are some that will cost you significantly more as well. So whilst Fettercairn 22 isn’t completely obscene, it has still positioned itself well above some distilleries that could be seen to have better reputations. Of course reputation, and to a lesser extent, age, shouldn’t matter if the liquid in the bottle is of a good enough quality. Fettercairn 22 is certainly enjoyable, I’m not sure that enjoyment was £170 worth though.
A nice dram that’s bigger on the palate than the nose would have you believe. It arrives with an enjoyably vibrant flourish and continues to develop and open over time. The finish when it comes, lasts pretty well. It’s more evidence that Fettercairn is capable of producing good whisky, but the price of some bottlings remains off-putting. Incidentally, for the same price you could buy two bottles of their delicious 16 year old and still have enough left over for a bottle of your favourite blend.
If you have money burning a hole in your pocket and insist on having this overpriced 22 year old in your cabinet, you can buy it from Master of Malt. buy here. Please be aware that as an affiliate I can be paid commission on any purchases you make. Other retailers are available.
For more on Fettercairn visit here.