A trip to Fettercairn… and a review of the 16yo & 22yo

Fettercairn Distillery article

Remember the days when we could shake hands with someone without simultaneously reaching for hand sanitiser, or sit side by side with strangers at dinner without having to submit to a throat swab, or walk into a bank without looking like you’re about to rob the place? Ah, the gloriously carefree days of 2019.

Social distancing in one of Fettercairn’s warehouses before it was a thing. Trendsetters.

Back in those pre-pandemic times, I was part of a small group of whisky writer-y people who were invited to spend a couple of days at Fettercairn distillery, in the company of Distillery Manager Stewart Walker, and Brand Ambassador Andrew Lennie. It was a trip I went into with next to no expectations – not because I wasn’t looking forward to it, but more because I wasn’t sure what to look forward to. For many years, Fettercairn appeared to be the forgotten child of the Whyte & Mackay family – Dalmore was the first-born, straight A student who went to Oxbridge, Tamnavulin was a dependable, easy going, middle of the road guy, and Jura was the grungy, alt-rock, reformed-noughties-emo kid. Fettercairn, on the other hand, from an outsider’s point of view, was the result of a night of copious vodka and cokes, desperately cringy flirting, and a broken condom.

Not anymore.

The relaunch of the brand a couple of years ago sparked the brand very much into life, with the launch of a 12yo, a 28yo, a 40yo, and a 50yo. More recently, they’ve also added a 16yo and a 22yo to the range meaning the brand now has six expressions ranging from £48 a bottle to £18,000 a bottle. As part of this relaunch, and as I mentioned earlier, I was part of a small contingent to visit Fettercairn as part of the distillery’s first press trip. After bumping into my good friend Barry (off of that there Whiskyphiles blog) on the train north, we met up with Andy, Nicola, Alistair, Bill, and Tom Bruce-Gardyne, and were treated to a buffet lunch in the former maltings, before touring the site with Stewart, the distillery manager.

Fettercairn’s unique spirit still with its cooling ring.

As many of you reading this will appreciate, I absolutely love tasting new make spirit, especially in the building that it’s produced. Tasting the deliciously fruity new make while gazing up at the rather unique stills was fantastic. The cooling rings were installed on the spirit stills in 1952, but it was more by trial and error than scientific design – it was a simple way of creating a lighter, fruitier style of spirit. The cold water which runs down the outside of the stills increases reflux leading to an ester-rich spirit, meaning Fettercairn matured in bourbon casks is a tropical fruit feast, as you can see with the new 12yo.

After the most brilliantly casual tasting of a 50 year old whisky I’ve ever had – the bottle was pulled out of a filing cabinet in Stewart’s office as we perched on windowsills and the ends of coffee tables – we retired to the beautiful Glen Dye cabins and cottages for the evening (not much more to say here, other than what happens on a press trip stays on a press trip… although I do owe Amateur Drammer a rather stonking Cuban cigar and half a bottle of sherry). The next morning our ever-so-slightly fuzzy heads were soon cleared as we were treated to a remarkably candid insight into Fettercairn’s 2020 strategy, which brings me on nicely to their two releases this year (so far…).

Distillery Manager Stewart Walker showing us his best Usain Bolt impression during lunch.

The addition of a 16yo and a 22yo expression addresses the elephant which was very much in the room a couple of years ago when the initial four bottlings were announced – going from a 12yo to a 28yo was a Neil Armstrong-esque stride, and one which needed a stepping stone or two to bridge the divide. The result is, once again, not something I’d have guessed. The 16yo is made from chocolate malt (Regina barley, a winter variety, which is heavily kilned to 210C), with the resulting spirit being initially matured in first fill bourbon casks before being finished for 18 months in a combo of sherry and port casks. The 22yo appears to be the big brother of the 12yo, as it’s solely matured in first fill bourbon casks, much like its younger sibling. You can see my notes on the initial four whiskies here, so let’s get to the two newbies.

Fettercairn 16yo
Chocolate Malt
Sherry and port cask finish
46.4% ABV
£69.95 here

Nose: Those fortified wine casks make themselves known straight away; cedarwood, sherry soaked currants, orange marmalade on overdone toast, and blackberry jus. Some lighter things emerge, with orange blossom, golden syrup, and bananas drizzled with chocolate, before it returns to the dark side with espresso, sweet black tea, and a touch of truffle ganache.

Palate: Gingerbread biscuits, candied orange and pineapple, cooked apple and Millionaire’s Shortcake. Then the richness takes hold with classic juicy sultanas, dark cherry, rum and raisin ice cream, hazelnut praline, and polished wood. Old coffee grounds linger with charred twigs.

Finish: Dark chocolate, demerara sugar, and cask stave linger.

Fettercairn 22yo
1st fill bourbon casks
47% ABV
£200 here

Nose: Melon balls, overripe pear, stewed pineapple, tinned peaches in syrup, and cooked apple. Then a wee floral note and some fresh laundry, along with buttered scones, caramel wafers, and banana Nesquik.

Palate: The nose translates almost completely to the palate, with more banana, melon, mango, some lychee, and papaya. There’s some Love Heart sweets too, along with vanilla Angel Delight, and a dusting of nutmeg and ginger to keep things fresh.

Finish: Moves into sweet pastries and cakes, along with some light gingery spice and gentle oak.

Overall: Two thoroughly enjoyable whiskies, and two very good additions to Fettercairn’s rapidly expanding range. The jigsaw pieces of chocolate malt, bourbon cask, sherry cask and port cask, all fit together nicely with the 16yo. They provide an intensely fruity and richly flavoursome dram, which is all the more satisfying given it’s available for under £70. With the 22yo, I can really see the development from the 12yo, which is also matured solely in bourbon casks. The classic tropical fruit notes mix with light spice and a sweet, baked-goods note to give a much lighter, less intense flavour. Those of you who like the 12yo will very much enjoy this, but at £200 it’s a fair financial stretch. My pick of the two new whiskies has to be the 16yo; dark, brooding, and intriguing. Delicious stuff.





Photo credits for all press trip photos: Grant Anderson.

Leave a Reply

Spam Protection by WP-SpamFree

Book us for a tasting

Book Us For A Tasting! Looking for a whisky tasting experience? Look no further! We've hosted thousands of tastings catering for all budgets and themes. Let us tailor a bespoke whisky experience for you - click here or drop us a line now at edinburghwhisky@gmail.com!

Connect with us

Find us on Facebook!    Follow us on Twitter!    Follow us on Instagram!    Connect with me on LinkedIn!    Subscribe to us on YouTube!    Email us!   

Judging honours & awards

Icons of Whisky Communicator of the Year 2020            World Whiskies Awards Judge Spirit of Speyside Whisky Awards Judge         Independent Bottlers Challenge JudgeJudge Global Scotch Masters Judge           Scottish Whisky Awards Judge EWA Certificate                    EWA Diploma