Fettercairn — Natural Innovation

FettercairnNatural Innovation

For a land with such revered heritage in whisky, it will come as some surprise that there is yet to be a regularly released whisky finished in Scottish Oak, but it’s the truth—or at least it was.

One of the world’s oldest distilleries Fettercairn has embarked on a mission to change that and the use of Scottish Oak throughout the drinks industry in general.

To come by the wood is no short-term plan as sustainable growth and usage requires decades of foresight and planning, much like the forefathers of the Fettercairn Distillery had when they set up almost 200 years ago. In 2024 it will be 200 years since visionary Sir Alexander Ramsey signed the contract to take over the buildings in the village of Fettercairn and turn them into a distillery.

The miracle of capturing flavour from such an early stage in the spirit’s life, is that the signature flavour profile is there from the start, a foundation that is then built upon, explored and nurtured, a feat best seen in Fettercairn 18. Closing the loop on the heritage of whisky and its homeland, Fettercairn 18 begins life as many whiskies do, in American White Oak casks, but then authentically finishes life—up to two years—in 100% hand-crafted locally sourced Scottish Oak barrels. The Scottish Oak’s character embellishes the whisky with a “grapefuity” flavour with elements of coffee and chocolate coming to the fore, along with more darker fruits.

There is a fine balance to be struck though, as the signature house flavour needs to be protected at all costs, as Whyte & Mackay Single-Malt specialist Andrew Lennie confirms:

“Of course we want to celebrate Scottish Oak, but it also has to be fair to Fettercairn whisky”

© Angus MacKinnon
© Angus MacKinnon

Fettercairn 18 is unique in that while other distilleries have released Scottish Oak finished bottles in the past, they have very much been one-offs and limited editions. On the other hand Fettercairn 18 will be a yearly release and is very much the brainchild of Master Whisky Maker Gregg Glass who has been nurturing the Scottish Oak programme for the past 6 years, but for whom it has very much been a passion project for the past 15 years.

When it comes to flavour, being in control of the Oak from seedling gives real access to the distillery to influence flavour, as Andrew Lennie explains: “We can create the Scottish Oak casks which really are “designer casks”, and have a real kind of a grip on the flavour from the very beginning to the very end of the process. That can be anything from the growing conditions, how the tree is felled and processed all the way through to the whisky or the spirit going into cask. We could make the cask, send it to a Scottish rum producer, Scottish breweries or old-world wineries to be seasoned, so there are loads of different opportunities [to influence flavour] which I think is really exciting.”

© Angus MacKinnon

They are also one of the most innovative distilleries I’ve had the pleasure of visiting, not down to the adoption of modern tech but by embracing old ideas. Past Master Distillers discovered a special way of creating flavour at a very early stage in the whisky’s life, the secret being a bespoke copper cooling ring that gives the new make spirit a distinctly tropical character. In fact I’m yet to taste a new make spirit with more flavour and character than at Fettercairn, and it’s from this voluptuous template that the distinctive Fettercairn character is built.

© Angus MacKinnon
© Angus MacKinnon

A less innovative approach, but no less important, Fettercairn have also committed to growing their own Scottish oak forest—in a bio-diverse manner—which will allow them to sustainably contribute to their oak consumption, while making their own contribution to the environment.

While their commitment to Scottish Oak will undoubtedly reap benefits for Fettercairn as a distillery, the goal is actually a further reaching one; to support the drinks industry for generations to come.

© Angus MacKinnon
© Angus MacKinnon

Fettercairn 18 Year Old 2023 limited-edition annual release is available to purchase worldwide, priced at £200.

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