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Fettercairn Whisky

The Fettercairn whisky distillery lies not far from the River Esk in the Eastern Highlands. It sits in its namesake town, a name loosely based on the phrase “the foot of the mountain”, with the untamed Cairngorm Mountains overlooking the disitllery.

This is good barley land with access crystal clear mountain water and today the distillery uses barley supplied by farmers within 50 miles of it, some of whom are descendants of those who would have supplied the distillery when it first opened for production. With all that local grain and crystal clear water rolling down the mountains, it doesn’t take a detective to work out why a distillery was built here.

Originally sited a good two miles further up the slopes of the Cairngorms, the Fettercairn distillery was founded in 1824 by Sir Alexander Ramsay, who licensed it a year later. It was the second distillery ever to be licensed in Scotland and have been unfettered by expectation or convention ever since. In 1830, Sir Alexander sold the distillery as well as Fasque Estate to Sir John Gladstone, father of William Ewart Gladstone who would be Prime Minister on four occasions over the course of the 19th century and, during which time, he would not only legalize the selling of bottled whisky to the public, but also scrap the Malt Tax.

In 1887, a fire rendered the distillery almost totally destroyed and it did not reopen until 1890. Fettercairn closed in 1912 and production did not recommence until 1939 when Associated Scottish Distillers acquired the distillery. Fast-forward to the mid-1950s and their whisky makers started experimenting with the distillation process – looking for a way to extract the purest character from their spirit. They discovered that pouring water down the outside of the still, cooled the copper, and increased condensation on the inside so only the lightest vapours could rise. They crafted a copper ring to drench the stills in crystal-clear mountain water, and to this day that ingenious cooling ring is the secret to their unique tropical house style. Fettercairn is at present under Whyte and Mackay ownership following purchase in the 1970s.

In 2022, Fetterairn initiated a Scottish oak maturation programme. It was ten years in the making and led by master whisky maker Gregg Glass, who had an aim to make native Scottish-made barrels available at a scale never seen before. On the land next to the distillery, 13,000 oak saplings have been planted. A total of 109 farmers signed up to help assist with the project and the nearby Fasque Sawmill is taking care of the logistics. Speyside Cooperage is also involved in the project, removing imperfections from the oak and training apprentices. Bench trialling and small-scale lab assessment are always ongoing, with trials happening across Fettercairn’s considerable number of warehouses where variations in aspects like climate and how it impacts Scottish oak can be monitored. The distillery may be barely 200 years in, but it’s planting for another 100 to come.

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