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Friday, 10 September 2010

Unfettered At Last

So far, it's been a busy week for new whisky launches. (and, it seems, for twitter rumours... yawn) Bowmore's 40 yo, Dalmore's 45 yo Aurora (see tomorrow's post) were officially launched and on Wednesday, a distillery, which has yet to feature on Caskstrength decided to open its doors to a few guests. Fettercairn, named after the gaelic for 'wooded copse' was shrouded in darkness and a hint of rain, as we pulled up on Wednesday evening. But that didn't dampen our anticipation- tonight we were promised an insight into the re-birth of an oft-maligned brand... and a hearty dinner in some unusual distillery locations.

Our starting point was Fettercairn's 24yo, which was heartily thrust into our hands as Distillery Manager David Doig regaled the assembled guests with some history about the distillery. We were surprised to find out that William Gladstone, erstwhile Prime Minister of the UK once owned it and, being the good soul that he was, abolished the tax which used to be levied on the angel's share....
Truth be told, the 24yo really didn't sit that well on our palate- quite hot & rubbery, with a oaky/bitter note, which left us feeling slightly ill-at-ease about what was to come, but we needn't have worried- the whisky we were about to try was brand new in its inception, the handiwork of Richard Patterson, AKA The Nose...

Fettercairn's Fior (meaning 'Pure') is the distillery's re-birth bottling. Limited to 1,500 cases, it is essentially a NAS vatting of 3 styles of Fettercairn; A large proportion (60%) comes from 15yo casks, 25% from 14yo casks (both sherry and first fill bourbon hoggies) and 15% - and rather importantly, the most interesting note comes from a 5yo heavily peated whisky.
Fior was to provide the pairing to our starter course, (distillery 'Come Dine With Me' perhaps??) smoked salmon served in one of the warehouses (possibly the where the cask filling takes place)

Fettercairn - Fior - 42% - Limited Edition - 1,500 cases

Nose: Treacle toffee, dark orange peel, smoked ham and some very fresh fruity bourbon/vanilla notes. Then more peat smoke, gentle but enveloping. A really delightful balance.

Palate: Tropical fruits, sweet cereals, cherry sherbet and Hubba Bubba bubble gum (the original, fruity pink version)

Finish: More sweetness, leading into a nice orange citrus note.

Overall: Robust, but wonderfully light in places, backed up with the peated notes. Fettercairn has most defintely come alive with this brand new bottling. With any luck it'll be introduced as a regular bottling.

Next up and we were whisked away from the filling warehouse to our next culinary destination. David explained that we might want to remove our coats at this point... as we mounted the stairs to the stillroom!!

Yes, that's right- a fully set dining table had been laid out within the stillroom, which was in operation as we took our seats. Extraordinary stuff!

Anyone who has visited Fettercairn will notice something unique about their stills. Around the neck of each, lies an irrigation ring, which gives a continuous cascade of water (heated to 93 Centigrade) running down the outside of the neck, aiding reflux. In essence, it's like a little waterfall for the still and Fettercairn are the only distillery in Scotland to use such a technique- dating back since their inception.

A pile of wholesome meat pie was our next course, washed down with the next dram- Fettercairn 30 yo. Sleeves rolled up and with a slightly fevered brow, we got stuck in...

Fettercairn - 30 yo - 43.3 %- 70cl

Nose: Immediate tropical fruit notes, giving an almost irish whiskey aroma. Licorice, some slightly waxy oiliness, fruit pie and cream, fudge and then a little Demerara sugar. Absolutely cracking.

Palate: More fruit (Passion fruit) tropical sherbet, classic lemon sour sweets, menthol and that licorice from the nose all unite for a very complex palate indeed. With a little water, a mandarin orange note emerges.

Finish: The tropical fruit lingers, with a slightly soapy back flavour (reminiscent of older Bowmores)

Overall: This really is a very impressive dram - incredibly fruity and lingering. Highly recommended.

Once again, we were whisked off to another location (but not before we'd managed to finish our generous dram of the 30yo!) to enjoy dessert and the final drams of the night. The dunnage warehouse was considerably cooler than the stunning backdrop of the stillroom, but nonetheless thrilling.

The room was thick with the classic aromas of maturing whisky- musty oak, dry sherry and a fruity topnote of bourbon, all of which combined beautifully with our pud (a slab of chocolate mousse) and the Pièce de résistance - Fettercairn 40yo. Aged in Apostoles palo cortado sherry casks, 463 bottles have been produced of this malt from 1969, highlighting the huge ambitions that Fettercairn clearly have.

Fettercairn 4o yo - 40% - 463 bottles - 70cl

Nose: Highly polished mahogany surfaces, Playdoh, some very malty cereal, honeycomb, leading into tannic oak, and some freshly laundered linen. Mightily complex- perhaps not as exciting as the 30yo but still very beguiling indeed.

Palate: Similar tropical fruits (clearly something of a distillery character) big oak influence (dry, but not bitter) hints of bourbon vanilla/citrus, sweet milk chocolate and caramel.

Finish: Although this is bottled at 40% a few drops of water really did broaden the palate out, with the fruit firmly taking the lead.

Overall: Perhaps not as impressive as the 30yo, (which really oozed absolute class) this bottling is an indication that the distillery has produced some fabulous casks in the past. Long may that continue.

With a postprandial drop of Fior to help us on our merry way, We can report that Fettercairn is most definitely a distillery in the frame for further greatness. We can only hope that Whyte & Mackay's investment will continue to be healthy. Many thanks to David and his team for a most entertaining and highly insightful evening!!