Squirrelled away behind door number 8 of Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar is a distillery you may not have heard of, but offers a deliciously sweet treat. Say hello to Fettercairn 12 Year Old!
Head up to deepest, darkest Aberdeenshire, not far from the stunning Grampian mountains, and you’ll discover a perhaps lesser-known distillery that is ready to make its mark on the whisky-drinking world. Sister to the likes of The Dalmore and Jura, Fettercairn has a rich history and intriguing production processes but hasn’t really ever shouted about it.
But that’s about to change. Last year, Fettercairn for the first time unveiled a core range of single malts, bringing the distillery to a broader audience than ever before. And more innovation has followed!
Here to tell us more about Fettercairn as we tuck into a dram of the 12 Year Old expression is distillery manager, Stewart Walker!
Master of Malt: Fettercairn has had a pretty exciting time of late! Bring us up to date with developments at the distillery and with the brand…
Stewart Walker: We’ve had a brilliant year at Fettercairn with plenty of upgrades at the distillery to keep me and the team busy, while also crafting and laying down thousands of barrels for future generations to enjoy. At the distillery itself, we have installed a new malt intake and milling equipment, we’ve also rebuilt the tun room which is stunning, adding two huge windows that look onto the Grampians behind the distillery. Our visitor centre has also had a makeover, and we welcomed Claire Sabiston to the team. We’re looking great and have had the pleasure of meeting hundreds of new and old Fettercairn fans from around the world at the distillery. This year we released a Fettercairn 12 Year Old PX cask finished single malt into travel retail. It is delicious!
MoM: One of the features of the distillery that sets it apart is the cooling ring on the still. Talk us through how this works, and the impact it has on the character of the whisky…
SW: At Fettercairn we have a unique cooling rings fitted to each of our spirit spills. The drench our stills in crystal clear water from the Cairngorms, and ensure we capture the purest expression of our whisky’s character. They also create a beautiful green patina to our copper stills, and are simply mesmerising to watch in action. The feature was installed in 1952 when the manager of Fettercairn was looking for a way to create a floral, fruity nose on his new make spirit. He discovered that by allowing cold water to run down the head of still he could create something rather special. I like to imagine how they might have come up with this, and can imagine the distillery workers spraying water onto the stills with hoses to test the results before creating the actual cooling rings! Today the original cooling rings still take pride of place on our stills, and I’m glad they made this discovery as it really does allow us to create a lovely floral tropical fruit nose that is found throughout the Fettercairn Range.
MoM: Talk us through a typical day at Fettercairn!
SW: It’s always an early start at Fettercairn, with a shift change at 6.00 am as the weary night workers head home, the day shift team prepare for mashing to begin at 7.00 am. Depending on where we are in production the spirit still might also be running – the cooling rings and warmth of the stills in action are always a welcome sight in the morning, especially in the winter months. We then take in a load of malt, checking the quality before off-loading to one of the malt bins before checking that everything is running as planned across the distillery. Then it’s time for a cup of tea and chat with the team. On days that we are filling casks, we take a charge and nose the spirit before reducing the ABV to 63.5% ABV, fill 60 casks and then roll them to their resting place in the warehouse where they’ll spend years asleep. We run tours seasonally so I like to say hello to our visitors as they walk around the site, and we regularly welcome special guests and press so I can often be found hosting tours and tastings too. I love my job – it’s busy, varied and no two days are the same.
MoM: What trends or developments do you think we’ll see in the world of whisky in 2020?
SW: Around the world consumers thirst of whisky is growing! I think this will continue with people exploring more styles and experimenting with ways to enjoy their whisky – neat, with ice, in a cocktail – whisky is for everyone. For Fettercairn, we’ll be introducing more consumers across the world to our fantastic whiskies, and hopefully sharing some new expressions that will excite people’s taste buds!
MoM: What will you be drinking this Christmas?
SW: Winter is a beautiful time of year at Fettercairn, with snow on the Cairngorms and frost in the fields. We tried a beautiful hot chocolate recently, made with chocolate drinking powder, coconut milk, a dash of PX sherry and Fettercairn 12 Year Old PX. A real treat that I can see enjoying around the fire with the family on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day itself, it will be a nice dram of Fettercairn 12 Year Old.
Fettercairn 12 Year Old Tasting Note:
Nose: Loads of stone fruit, florals and even some white chocolate coming through. With time, earthier coffee emerges as a bit of a base note.
Palate: The apricot vibes turn more tropical fruit, with ginger coming through, too. Vanilla pods and some drier herbs add a pleasing complexity.
Finish: Back to those orchard fruits, with more sweet spices!