Fettercairn may have been founded in 1824, shortly after the passing of the Excise Act by Parliament that revolutionised and reinvigorated the Scotch whisky industry, but it’s had a fairly low profile ever since.
The Act in 1823 prompted many would-be owners to start their own distillery for a small license fee and duty on each gallon of spirit produced. Sir Alexander Ramsay was one such inspired individual, being the local landowner and resident at Fasque House, which is near the village of Fettercairn. This lavish house, which cost the family a small fortune to construction and maintain, was one of the factors in 1830 when Sir Ramsay experienced financial difficulties. Being unable to match the costs of its upkeep, he sold the house and the nearby distillery to Sir John Gladstone, who had made his fortunate as a merchant in Liverpool.
The Gladstone family had experience of the wine business and Scotland’s busy Leith port that was a major hub for the distribution of whisky internationally. The distillery continued under family ownership even when it was partially damaged by a fire in 1887 and Sir John passed away shortly afterwards. His son, John, picked up the reigns and when the distillery was facing financial difficulty in 1912, he bought out the other interested parties and assumed total control. This period brought many economic difficulties to the whisky industry with the First World War followed by the Great Depression and Prohibition. The chain of events forced Fettercairn to close in 1926 and it remained silent until 1939, when the Associated Scottish Distillers Limited takes control.
Life returns to Fettercairn and after the 2nd World War many of the changes we see across the industry arrive at this Eastern Highland distillery. The traditional malting floor closes in 1960 and in 1966 the number of stills is doubled to 4, which remains the case today giving it an annual capacity of around 3.2 million litres. In 1971 the distillery is acquired by the Tomintoul-Glentlivet Distillery Company Limited, a move that prompts a series of owner changes as the industry goes through a period of amalgamation. Eventually, Fettercairn finds itself within the ranks of the Whyte & Mackay Distillers Limited who open a visitor centre in 1989. This company over the course of several decades is bounced around various owners including Vijay Mallya, before it is purchased by the Phillipine Emperador group for £430 million; a fee that also includes Dalmore, Jura and the Whyte & Mackay range of blended whiskies.
Amongst this group, Fettercairn feels at times the runt of the litter as Dalmore attracts all the headlines and Jura is a popular entry level malt with a widespread market appeal. Fettercairn did have a small single malt presence and was often bottled as Old Fettercairn with the staple 12-year-old being the most widely seen expression. Under the ownership of Vijay Mallya’s company, there was an attempt to upscale the brand and establish Fettercairn as a single malt destination in its own right in 2010. An entry level bottling was created as Fettercairn Fior, which is a no age statement release, although we know it contains mostly teenage whisky and has been generally well received. Another no age release was launched in 2011 as the Fettercairn Fasque that is made up of younger whiskies including peated malt.
The ability to create these whiskies without an age statement has been helped by the repositioning of the age statement bottlings from Fettercairn that now consist of 24, 30 and 40 years old. That’s a long period of maturation before this trio can be bottled leaving the no age avenue as a viable alternative and continued support for the Whyte & Mackay brands. The style of Fettercairn is complex with toffee and oranges thanks to the promotion of reflux during distillation. It has a rich mouth feel with nuts, oak and chocolate before a satisfying finish unfolds.