Fettercairn is a Scotch single malt whisky distillery in the foothills of the Grampian Mountains. Its name actually translates as 'foot of the hill' from Gaelic. Claims to fame for this east Highland distillery include ownership by the father of a former British Prime Minister and a peculiar still design. The distillery has historically produced blenders malt but is now shining as a single malt brand in its own right.
Fettercairn produces a light and fruity yet firm spirit. This shows green apple and cereals with a savoury and nutty edge. The spirit is mostly matured in one cask type - first-fill ex-bourbon barrels made from American oak. However, a small percentage of spirit filled to ex-sherry casks, with fortified wine casks also used in some older expressions.
Fettercairn has an open-topped cast-iron mash tun with a five-tonne capacity. They currently operate 18 mashes per week. There are 11 wooden washbacks with a fermentation time of 60 hours. There are four stills (2x wash and 2x spirit) and these work in pairs.
Fettercairn is known for a unique feature on its spirit stills - they both have an irrigating ring around the neck of the spirit still. This allows water to constantly run down the outside of the still. The process aids reflux within the still and also starts condensation of alcohol vapour back to liquid earlier. The result is said to lead to a purer spirit. The water source is high in the Grampian mountains and fed to the distillery by gravity. There are 14 traditional dunnage warehouses on-site with 32,000 casks maturing inside.
Fettercairn was founded in 1824 by Sir Alexander Ramsay. It was originally named Old Fettercairn and is located near the village of Laurencekirk in the east Highlands, between the towns of Montrose and Stonehaven. Ramsay was a keen supporter of the legalisation of distillation in Scotland. As a result, Old Fettercairn was the second ever distillery to be granted a licence to distil after the Excise Act was passed in 1823.
His ownership only lasted six years. Sir John Gladstone took control in 1830. He was the father of William Gladstone, the four-time British Prime Minister. Fettercairn was to stay in the Gladstone family for nearly a century. The distillery closed in 1923 following World War I and financial problems ended Gladstone's involvement. It was then out of operation between 1926 and 1939.
The new owners, Associated Scottish Distillers Ltd, initially produced medical alcohol for World War II before later switching back to single malt. In 1973 Whyte & Mackay became the owners after Fettercairn has changed hands numerous times in the preceding decades. They have remained ever since, although the company is now part of the larger Emperador group.
Fettercairn's role was and largely remains, to produce spirit destined for the creation of blended Scotch. It is a key ingredient in numerous blends. However, in 2009, Whyte & Mackay attempted to establish it as single malt. This was revised in 2018 with a major revamp and launch of a new core range and brand identity. The current core range consists of whiskies at 12, 16, 22, 28, 40 and 50 years old. These are punctuated with the occasional special bottling such as Warehouse 2 and travel retail exclusives.