So many times, I’ve celebrated a successful pairing. Perhaps the pinnacle of this [so far] was in my post last night, where two of my beloved distilleries and their expressions went head to head, and then I called a draw. But what about failures? We don’t seem to share them. We want to be perceived as connoisseurs, aficionados, even experts in this “business” of whisky. And yet, it’s from these failures that I think we learn the most. It’s all a journey, individual and very much unique. And so today, I share one of these, in all its raw and very much transparent glory. I had a failure last night, and it was not the whisky that has let me down. So let’s review this self-reflecting time and hopefully pick up a little bit of wisdom. But first, music! Now playing: Pjusk – Salt Og Vind.
My twentieth surprise dram from the Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar (yes, I’m still going through it!) was a small bottle of the Fettercairn 12-Year-Old. At only 40% ABV and £45, this Highland single malt was new to my senses, but there was something incredibly familiar about the unicorn on the logo. Haven’t I just seen that somewhere today? Aha! Indeed, I have a tasting set from Fetteracairn and a scheduled session for tomorrow! The upcoming virtual tasting night is courtesy of The Spirits Embassy, which I have recently joined for their 3-month tasting subscription, and it looks like I will explore the very same 12-Year-Old plus a few others (including a 22 and a 28-year-old dram). So what am I to do? Just skip this one or drink it without pairing? And then, I wanted to compare it with a highland malt, something like Aberfeldy or Blair Athol or perhaps Dailuaine. Alas, I didn’t have a dram of those in stock, and so I honed in on the Balvenie, Mortlach, or [as is already evident from the title of this post] the Oban. The latter is a highland malt, which I have first reviewed and then put up against the Lagavulin. So shall I dust it off again and see how it compares to the Fettercairn? I felt that it would be an unfair match for reasons I’m about to disclose, and yet I went ahead to stumble through this bout.
The Oban here is also a 12-Year-Old, but it is part of Diageo‘s Special Releases from 2021, and such as is bottled at a cask strength of 56.2%. The price of this 70cl bottle is more than double that of Fettercairn and comes in at a whopping £105 – but is it worth it? Scientifically speaking, at an ABV this high, you’re getting a third more of the whisky because you probably should add some water to the glass, and more than just a drop. And this I did, diluting further down to about 40%. I may have drowned Oban just a tad, and lacking chill-filtration, it got cloudy, its nose was completely gone, its flavour very muted in the process. They say you can’t add whisky to the water [is that true?] but I have poured a little more, and Oban was a bit restored. By then, I may have ruined my own palate. I kept on tasting Fettercairn as well, but with its added colouring, and chill-filtration, and bare-minimum percent of ABV, it also felt diluted, mangled with, and ruined, and this without interference by my hand. And so, already I have felt disdain for watered-down whiskies while trying to retain the memories of flavours that were gone. So no, it wasn’t fair to compare it to the Oban because the final bottlings were different even though both aged in the American white oak ex-bourbon barrels [okay, the Oban was refurbished with a coat of fresh char].
And yet, I did not want to just dismiss the Fettercairn, primarily because of the upcoming tasting and the promised experience of older expressions bottled at a higher ABV. In fact, I’ve heard some praise for its 16-year-old [albeit for the first batch, while I’ve got second], and then the 28-year-old goes for a whopping £460. So yes, I will indulge and give it one more chance. But next to the Oban, even so much diluted, it still felt like a cheap and hindered whisky of low grade. So, once again, it wasn’t fair to pair it with a cask strength. And this, I felt, was a poor judgment on my part. So I won’t make a call this time on a winner. The lesson is the only win and saving grace.