There’s a common assumption that, unlike wine, whisky doesn’t change once bottled. But, if you’ve ever sampled a bottle that’s been opened for a long period of time (especially if the liquid level is quite low in the bottle), you’ll know that this is not the whole story. Oxidisation, will have an effect on your whisky. A completely sealed bottle which is still airtight, should remain entirely constant - all other things (temperature and light exposure etc) being equal. However, if the closure is not perfect, and many degrade over time, then slow oxidisation of the liquid is entirely possible. This occurrence has been named ‘Old Bottle Effect’ or OBE.
Fettercairn’s new entry-point single malt is a 12 year old matured in American white oak ex-bourbon casks. Launched in August of 2018, it’s available from Master of Malt for £42.90.
I’m often asked by my non-whisky friends why I visit so many distilleries. Surely, they say “….they’re all exactly the same, haven’t you seen it all many times before?”. Well, in technical sense yes – water, barley and yeast = whisky – and the processes of mashing, fermentation and distillation are common across all distilleries in their essence. But, it’s the differences – some incredibly subtle – at each and every stage of the whisky making process which result in marked variances of the end liquid. The minutiae of the processes operated across different distilleries *are* different. And they’re important. A change here, or a change there will have a dramatic effect on the flavour and character of the eventual whisky. To the uninitiated it’s easy to understand why things might look the same, but under the hood, there’s a reason why whiskies are different.
Whisky’s intrinsic relationship with the concept of the passage of time is a deeply-rooted yet oft-times rolled-out trope. Outside of the obvious physical requirements of making something and then for all intents and purposes leaving it alone – the industry has perennially gathered around the notion that ‘good whisky is worth waiting for’ – at least for three years. Whilst nowadays time is all too often wrapped up into the idea of the age statement – its application and its historic utilisation cuts far deeper. If you look back to the earliest whisky advertisements of the late 19th Century (all for blends and many that you’d nowadays mark as NAS), you’ll see the regular employment of words such as “old”, “slowly”, “patiently” and “unhurriedly” – all to some degree of truisms of the whisky making process itself - and none having left the modern-day lexicon. But nevertheless, throughout the spirit’s long history the idea of time has been repeatedly deployed to plant the acorn of an idea that it is synonymous with whisky.
Fettercairn 28 year old sits in the rather unenviable position of being the 2nd expression in the revitalised series, but at the same time asking a huge jump in price over its 12 year old sibling. There’s something missing here – an 18 or 21 year old – which would allow those enamoured by the 12 year old a reasonable stepping stone into the wider distillery range. As it stands, it’s a massive ask and one which I’m not sure many enthusiasts will be prepared to make cold.
Fettercairn’s 30 year old comes from a single vintage – entirely from Spanish oloroso sherry butts laid down on the 25th October 1978. Botted at 43.3% ABV, the expression was part of the distillery’s Vintage Range released in 2009. 3,000 bottles were produced and sold, initially for a shy under £200. Over the years since, this price has unsurprisingly risen as the supply of bottles has dwindled – you’ll struggle to find any at retailers (at a price you’ll be prepared to pay). Likewise, there’s a premium for auctioned bottles - one sold on SWA last month for £300 (plus fees).
The new Fettercairn 40 year old was distilled on the 23rd December 1977 and aged in American white oak ex-bourbon casks. It has been finished for an unspecified amount of time in an apostoles sherry cask. Apostoles is a type of sherry from Gonzales Byass that is designated at VORS: Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum – or Very Old Rare Sherry. Only sherry casks 30 years or older can bear this designation.
Fettercairn’s 40 year old was the distillery’s oldest officially bottled expression until earlier this year when a £10,000 50 year old from 1966 was announced. The new Fettercairn range also includes a 40 year old (£3,000), which is somewhat similar to the previous ‘Vintage Range’ release from 2009 in that both the old and new expressions were matured in Apostoles palo cortado sherry casks from Gonzalez Byass in Spain. The previous Fettercairn 40 year old, distilled in March of 1969 formed a release of just 463 individually signed bottles delivered at 40% ABV.
Fettercairn’s 1966 50 year old is, I believe, the oldest ever bottling from this distillery. It also stands as both the oldest single malt The Dramble has reviewed to date, as well as the most expensive. There are not many distilleries out there that have the depth of stock available to even consider bottling an expression at this age.
Now this is interesting. Not only has it been nearly five years since the Society bottled up some Fettercairn for us, but this latest edition comes matured in what is proving to be rather the cask de jour – a 1st fill STR (shaved, toasted, recharred) wine barrique.
The 10th of December delivered a Boutique-y whisky I’ve been looking forward to trying in the form of Fettercairn 21 year old Batch 3. I recently joined an online tasting of the distillery’s new and revitalised core range (which I’ll be telling you all about towards the end of the month – it includes the single most expensive bottling I’ve reviewed to date), but found it strange that the decision has been made to jump from the introductory 12 year old, all the way up to a 28 year old at an eye-watering £500. As such, if you’re wanting to explore Fettercairn deeper, chances are you’re still looking to independent bottlers to help facilitate.
The opening salvo of the Whisky Baron Founder’s Collection sends us up to Fettercairn for a 10 year old drawn from an ex-bourbon barrel (#4622). 270 bottles at 48% ABV have been produced and they’ll each set you back either £74.95 from Master of Malt (there’s only one left apparently. Or 5 pence more, but a feeling of socking it to the man if you purchase it directly from The Whisky Baron’s webstore.