Fettercairn was silent between 1926 & 1939, when it was acquired by Associated Scottish Distilleries Ltd, a subsidiary of Train & McIntyre Ltd. (owned by National Distillers of America). The new owners resume production immediately and until the maltings were closed in 1960 the distillery enjoyed a few relatively quiet decades. Then things start to become 'fluid' again... In 1966 the number of stills was extended from two to four, but that was the last major change to the distillery itself - unless you count the visitor centre that was opened as early as 1989.
Fettercairn was acquired by the Tomintoul-Glenlivet Distillery Co Ltd.
in 1971 (owned by W. & S. Strong & Co. and Hay & MacLeod & Co. at the time). Just two years later, the Tomintoul-Glenlivet Distillery Co Ltd. (who founded Tomintoul in Speyside in 1964) is sold to Scottish & Universal Investment Trust (owned by the Fraser family) who buy Whyte & Mackay in the same year.
Fettercairn and Tomintoul become part of Whyte & Mackay Distillers Ltd.
As I mentioned earlier, the ownership of the Fettercairn
distillery changed in 2007. After the take-over, many people
felt uncertain about the future of Fettercairn and its sister
distilleries Dalmore and Isle of Jura under the stewardship
of new owners Whyte & Mackay. Their Indian overlords
United Spirits (lead by mogul Vijay Mallya) had paid a top
price when the whisky market was at one of its peaks but
the credit crunch of 2008 came as a nasty surprise...
In 2002 the old design
of the bottle and label of 'Old Fettercairn' (shown above) were
changed to 'Fettercairn 1824' shown at the right. At that time, Fettercairn was the only
remaining active distillery in that part of the Eastern Highlands - over the years all the
other representatives of the area were closed or mothballed; Glencadam (in 2000),
Glenury Royal (in 1985), Hillside - Glenesk (in 1985), Lochside (in 1992) and North Port
(a.k.a. Brechin, the first one to go in 1983). Fortunately, The Glencadam distillery was
brought back to life again in 2003 by the company Angus Dundee...
In 1974 Whyte & Mackay is bought by 'Lonhro' who sell it on to the
Brent Walker Group plc. in 1988. Then, in 1990, Whyte & Mackay
Distillers is purchased by American Brands, renamed to JBB Greater
Europe plc. in 1995. This company was bought by another company
with the name Kyndal International Ltd. in 2001, who shortly after-
wards decided to change their name to... Whyte & Mackay Ltd.
It's enough to make your head spin, isn't it? And then, in 2007,
the story of Fettercairn took another unexpected turn when owners
Whyte & Mackay were bought by the tycoon Vijay Mallya from India.
(Old) Fettercairn (Pronounced: Old FET-ter-kèrn)
56°51'13.0068 N, 2°34'45.0912 W
Glencadam, Hillside / Glenesk, Glenury Royal
Sources on the Grampian mountains
2 Wash stills, 2 Spirit stills
1,600,000 litres of pure alcohol per year
United Spirits > Whyte & Mackay / JBB (since 2007)
Fettercairn, Laurencekirk, Kincardineshire AB30 1YB
Yes - opened in 1989
Below, on WhiskyFun and on the Malt Maniacs Monitor
Scores & tasting notes:
1) There are 14 dunnage warehouses on the distillery grounds with room for 32,000 casks of whisky
2) The Fettercairn distillery has stainless steel condensers and a cast iron mash tun.
3) The cooling 'system' of the spirit stills is quite unique: they simply run cold water along the sides.
4) In 1995 the stainless steel condensers were replaced by condensers made of copper - which is common.
5) United Spirits seemed just as eager to maximise their profits as competitors like Bacardi and Diageo.
Not only did they remove the age statement from their standard expression when they changed it from 'twelve years' to 'Fior' (allowing them to use younger whisky for that bottling), but they also reduced the ABV from 43% to 42%.
Fettercairn 14yo 1996/2011 (46%, Signatory Vintage Un-Chillfiltered for LMdW, C#4241, 304 Bts.)
Nose: Starts of 'veggy'. Grain and bread aroma's. Fairly nondescript, though... Is that vanilla?
It grows a little more complex after a few minutes of breathing. More power and spices over time.
In fact, even after adding a drop of water it almost smells like a cask strength whisky.
Taste: Starts off round and smooth - almost like a grain whisky. Not a lot of taste, though...
Score: 81 points - this makes it into recommendable territory on its expressiveness. Not really my style.
Fettercairn 34yo 1975/2009 (57%, The Whisky Agency, Ex Bourbon Hogshead, 132 Bottles)
Nose: Whoah! Something else entirely! Shoe polish? Rubber? Clay? Odd - but extremely interesting.
Oddly enough the nose shows none of the fruity elements I found on the palate. Well, not at first...
Taste: Strong tertiary fruits, milk powder, speculaas. I'd have picked this as a sherry casked whisky.
The fruits are really nice. Towards the finish it stayed chewy and moved in the direction of pine and resin.
Score: 87 points - and I should add that bourbon casked malts don't often get that high on my scale...
Like the Coleburn, I'd say it takes some malt whisky experience to fully appreciate its complexities.
I wouldn't put it in the 90's myself, but I can see how some other people might. Very special...
Two young expressions by Signatory that were distilled in 1980 scored in the upper 80's too...
Fettercairn 12yo '1824' (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2007) - quite a drop down from the 'Old' Fettercairn.
Nose: Grainy and quite sharp. Not very expressive or complex though. Sweetens out after breathing.
Taste: A flat profile with a rough and sharp mouth feel. Quite bitter, especially in the finish.
Score: 61 points - a significant drop down from some 1990's batches that scored in the lower 70's.
(However, keep in mind that a malt whisky with a score below 75 points isn't recommendable to begin with.)
Fettercairn 13yo 1993/2007 (59%, Cadenhead's, 318 Bts.)
Nose: Sharp and sweetish. developing spices. Developing farmy and organics. Interesting.
Taste: Sweet start, smooth centre, fruity finish retreating on the sides of the tongue.
Score: 80 points - despite the rather bourbony finish. Nothing really remarkable about this whisky...
Well, one aspect IS remarkable - until now I haven't seen many independent bottlings of Old Fettercairn.
Fettercairn 1992 (60.5%, James MacArthur, +/- 2003, 5cl)
Nose: Soft and creamy. Bakery aroma's. Seems quite gentle at cask strength. A little sour.
With a few drops of water some citrus emerged. Not much else to excite me in this whisky though.
Taste: Farmy and metallic at first. The high proof disguises the subtler elements; let's add water.
Hmmmm... Not much change it seems, apart from the fact that it became sweeter & easier to swallow.
Score: 76 points - an interesting and better than average whisky, but by no means spectacular.
Old Fettercairn 10yo (40.0%, OB, Bottled +/- 2000, 100cl)
Nose: Nondescript. Slightly oily. Dusty. Nuttier and maltier with time.
A lot of the character seems to have evaporated since I opened the bottle.
Taste: Sweet and malty. A hint of oil. Nutty. Peanut butter?
Slightly watery. Some liquorice in the background. Short finish.
Score: 72 points - this bottling seems not as good as my first bottle from +/- 1995 that scored 74 points.
No top shelf candidate, but decent value. A good base for vattings as well, because it's quite 'neutral'.
Fettercairn 25yo 1970/1996 (57%, Signatory Vintage, Distilled 10/9/1970, Bottled 01/1996)
(Cask #4709, bottle #114 of 202, brought from Australia to Scotland by Craig in 2003).
Nose: appears grainy and quite harsh at first. Over time it grew bolder and sweeter.
Slightly oily with something fishy in the background. Milk powder? Quite interesting.
Taste: At c/s it was flat and numbing. With some water more woody elements emerged.
Dry finish. I'm not really into these 'natural' malts, but Craig, Serge and Krishna liked it.
Score: 76 points - but the maniacal opinions about this bottling varied a lot.
Fettercairn 13yo 1980/1994 (43%, Signatory Vintage, Cask 2001-02, 750 Bts.)
Nose: Liquorice. Sour. Rancio. Raisin skins. Warm strawberry sauce. A tad more expressive than the 14yo?
Taste: Winey. Bubblegum. Oranges. Bitter woodiness. Roasted nuts and chocolate. A highly engaging malt.
Score: 89 points - and once again Serge served me a 'best expression ever'! Just short of the nineties.
Fettercairn 14yo 1980/1994 (43%, Signatory Vintage, Cask 2003-04, 680 Bts.)
Nose: Leather. Sweeter and spicier than the 13yo. meaty. Tea. Hint of antiquity, perhaps?
Taste: Not quite as extreme as the 13yo. Just a little tannic in comparison. Peppery mouth feel.
Score: 87 points - another distillery that I wasn't all that interested in jumps into the limelight!
These were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Fettercairn Scotch whisky I've tried over the years.
Besides, these tasting notes only reflect my own, personal opinion; your tastes might be different from mine.
Fortunately, you can find the scores and tasting notes from up to two dozen other whisky lovers in the 'Malt Maniacs Monitor' - an independent whisky database with details on more than 15,000 different whiskies from Scotland and the rest of the world. Visit the Fettercairn page on the MMMonitor and select 'scorecard view' if you want to know how other whisky lovers felt about the hundreds of Fettercairn expressions that were released in recent years. However, if you'd like to learn more about whisky in general (and single malt Scotch whisky in particular), you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky (10 chapters filled with everything you need to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky) or the mAlmanac (sort of a rudimentary whisky shopping guide.)
2001 - New owners Kyndal Spirits bought Whyte & Mackay from JBB Worldwide.
2002 - A new packaging is introduced for the official bottlings and the old 10yo bottling is replaced with a 12yo.
The name is changed from 'Old Fettercairn' to 'Fettercairn 1824' - supposedly chosen to stress Fettercairn's long and respectable history. Hmmm.... Perhaps they simply should have hung on to the word "old" in the title?
2007 - United Spirits from Vijay Mallya buys Whyte & Mackay, its brands and distilleries.
2009 - The new owners aim for a more 'luxurious' image and introduce a 24yo, a 30yo and a 40yo whisky.
2010 - The old 12yo expression is replaced with the Fettercairn Fior - which is packaged not unlike a liqueur.
The bottling does not have an age statement, but it DOES contain some peated malt...
The Old Fettercairn distillery (a.k.a. Fettercairn or Nethermill) was built in
1824 by Sir Alexander Ramsay. So, that's the meaning of the number 1824
on the bottles - it's not the distillation year... The distillery was rebuilt
between 1887 and 1890 after it was damaged by a fire. Fettercairn was
hardly the only distillery in Scotland to suffer such a fate - in fact I imagine
that the distilleries that were not damaged or even completely destroyed
at least once in their lifetime are the proverbial exceptions to the rule...
The story of Fettercairn is not all that different from that of other Scottish
distilleries either, in the sense that this whisky distillery had quite a few
other owners and licensees during the rest of the 19th century, including
James Stewart & Co., Gibb, Durie & Co., James Durie and David Durie.
Thanks to growing whisky exports
to South America
and Asia, the Scotch whisky industry as a whole didn't
suffer as much from the credit crisis as some people had
expected. However, it seems the take-over of W&M was
leveraged quite heavily. This suppressed the profits of
the company in the years after the deal, putting them at
a disadvantage compared to other whisky companies.
While the shift of focus from quality to luxury worked
well for some brands it didn't work too well for Dalmore.
Is the distillery or