[Review] Fettercairn 12, Fettercairn 16 2022, Fettercairn 18

The other night I finally got to try the line of official bottlings from the Fettercairn distillery. Up to now I had only tried independent bottlings, which are generally good and aren’t too hard to find. An East Highland distillery, Fettercairn has a particular tropical character that comes from cooling rings on top of the stills, as well as a characteristic earthy funk. I can’t say that I had high expectations for these, given that Fettercairn’s parent company, Whyte & Mackay, also runs Dalmore and Jura – not exactly paragons of official-bottling excellence by modern standards. Then, arriving at the tasting, I noticed ABVs higher than 46% on two of these three bottlings. That raised my eyebrowns a little.

Let’s start with the 12-year-old and go up in age from there.

Fettercairn 12

  • 40% ABV
  • Matured 12 years in ex-bourbon American oak casks
  • $100 at the LCBO

Nose: Fairly light and sweet. Fresh apples, citrus, and some banana. A sort of gristy and bready malt character. A little bit of oak.

Palate: Medium-light texture. Arrives with sweet malt and vanilla. Develops… well I’ll be, it’s a little tropical. Some slightly tart notes of mango and passionfruit. Moderate oak and vanilla as well.

Finish: Medium-short. Creamy white chocolate and vanilla. Caramel apples and more sweet malt. Peach and a lingering little bit of pineapple.

Thoughts: For a 40% standard offering, this is quite solid. The ex-bourbon casks are really running the show here, with all that vanilla and oak. I was skeptical about the tropical fruit, but it really does show up on the palate there. The mouthfeel and finish are both better than expected too. Nice stuff!

Final score: 80/100

Fettercairn 16 3rd Release (2022)

  • 46.4% ABV
  • Matured 16 years in a combination of 1st and second fill Oloroso sherry casks, Pedro Ximenez sherry casks, and ex-bourbon casks.
  • Europe, Asia, and travel-retail exclusive

Nose: Definitely darker in character than the 12. Noticeable oak and earthy heft on the nose. Brown sugar, browned butter, Jaffa Cakes, dark chocolate, and hazelnuts. Not too tropical here, but a hint of something like mango salsa. Not so much overt sherry either, at least not at first. Some macerated berries and fruitcake emerge with time.

Palate: Medium texture, slightly oily. Arrives with honey, raspberries, sour cherry pie, and maple syrup. Rich oak and leather emerge as the whisky develops, along with, again, a tropical twist – this time into pineapple. Caramel and white chocolate headed into the finish.

Finish: Medium-length, fairly sweet with lingering oak spice. Pineapple, Granny Smiths, nectarines, and ginger candies.

Thoughts: Kudos to Fettercairn for the higher strength and lack of chill-filtration on this one. This is quite a solid release, with good distillery character and very balanced sherry (which is generally how I like my sherry to be!). The tropical-twist on the palate is something I normally only get in very old whiskies… it’s very cool to pick it up in something, shall we say, more affordable.

Final score: 84/100

Fettercairn 18

  • 46.8% ABV
  • Matured 18 years, initially matured in first-fill and refill ex-bourbon casks, then finished in virgin Scottish oak casks.
  • Not at the LCBO yet, but should be in this year for $450

Nose: Rich and rounded. Warm spiced oak, dark chocolate, and maple sugar. Slightly earthy again, maybe wet hay this time. Caramel apples, navel oranges, and figs.

Palate: Medium texture. Arrives sweet and rich – apple tart, chewy caramels, and chocolate-covered macadamias. Very fragrant old oak on the development, with walnut and sandalwood. There’s that tropical twist again, maybe more buried by oak than on the 16. Passionfruit and gooseberry. 

Finish: Medium-length, scented. Rich oak, dark malt, chocolate, and syrup-covered Belgian waffles. Fragrant Earl Grey tea and some tart yellow plums. 

Thoughts: This one has a very interesting finishing cask – Scottish oak! Most of the great Caledonian forests were logged millennia ago… yes, the famously treeless Scottish landscape is technically manmade! Fettercairn has taken the responsible route of replanting trees and, apparently, harvesting their Scottish oak from only fallen logs. I have no earthly idea how that’s supposed to work, but that’s what the brand ambassador said.

This was the winner of the tasting to me. Sure, there’s a lot of oak, but it never comes across as overly heavy or tannic – it’s always rounded and very fragrant. Maybe that’s a Scottish oak thing. I’d imagine that a virgin American oak finish would be rather spicier.

Final score: 85/100

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