Fettercairn 16-Year-Old vs Fettercairn 22-Year-Old

It’s interesting to compare one distillery against the other. Especially when I pick bottlings of equal age, style, ABV and most importantly, their maturation process. It’s only then the slightest notes of one begin to possibly outshine the shadows of the other. But what about bottlings from the same distillery of different ages, ABV and process and the rest? And what about their price? It often feels like the exclusive range of rare and older bottlings will beat their more accessible and younger siblings. Alas, it’s not the case for all, and then, of course, your palate matters – some may prefer the dingy funk of old decrepit barrel, while others like their whisky green and fresh, with a delighted bite of young and eager spirit. Let’s see what these two bring today, but first, you know, we must have music! Now playing: Tomasz BednarczykWindy Weather Always makes Me Think Of You.

Last night I documented a failed pairing of the Fettercairn against the Oban, and so today, I’m back for exploration of its older range [via an online tasting, courtesy of The Spirits Embassy]. The new thing that I’ve learned (and this is where it’s great to meet ambassadors and sales reps) is that the Fettercairn is owned by Whyte & Mackay from Glasgow, who also own the Dalmore and the Jura, and which, in turn, is owned by the Philippines based Emperador Inc. Sigh… We start the tasting with the 12, but I am mainly using it for baseline. We move on to another 12, this time, it’s finished in Ximenez casks, but in my glass, the dram is spoiled, full of sulfur, rotted pipe and rubber. I cannot drink this, so I pour it out. I do not know what happened here. Was it the [plastic] bottle’s fault? I’d like to really understand what happened to my sample, so I’ll come back to this again some other time. We’re finally approaching the awaited 16-Year-Old for tasting. This is a second batch [aka 2nd release] that really differs from the first in maturation and in the process of the roasted barley. There is no colouring this time [as is the case with two 12-year-olds] and there’s no chill filtration. Yay! It’s bottled at a better 46.4% and currently is sold for £65. It starts off from the same first-fill ex-bourbon casks and then it is “enhanced” in refill Oloroso and rare first-fill Palo Cortado sherry butts. It’s got a fresh and zesty scent and taste of tropical fruit, caramelized bananas, and roasted pineapple. It’s very playful and complex and somewhat entertaining on the palate. It is a limited release, as every year Fettercairn assures of new expression [albeit still a 16-year-old].

The 22-Year-Old is yet another matter. There’s even more banana, fruit and spice. It’s not exactly the same 12-year-old that’s just aged a while longer. In fact, if memory still serves me from the night, it’s twice matured – first in the freshly shipped ex-bourbon casks, and then again, once more, in the ex-bourbon casks for a round. The Fettercairn has basically “refreshed” the barrels, and it shows – the dram is juicy fresh, yet full and very “chewy”. The latter is perhaps attributed to higher ABV, and this time it’s at a proper 47%, again, unlike the younger bottles at a retail counter. There is no colouring and chill-filtration in this Highland single malt, but it is now sold for £170 per bottle. It’s a refreshing dram [the pun indeed intended] that brings the notes of bourbon caramel upfront and offers an expansive stage, especially with just a drop of water. Back to the tasting for a sec – we move on to the 28 – but, once again, I am put off by this expression. It smells and tastes like a fresh woodshop with old books and waxy candles dripping on a mushroomed barrel. I realize that it may be desired for some fans. I do remember when the peat for me was also outcast. And I admit that I enjoy the scents I have described above. But for some reason, not in this £460 (!) bottle. Perhaps one day I will return, but not today…

And one more thing to note about Fettercairn, which you may see as echoed on the bottle. The necks of their stills are wrapped in copper rings from which they’re doused with cold mountain water. This lowers the temperature of the necks, and as the vapour comes in contact with the cooper, it cools, condenses, and drops down for another cycle. In essence, this allows only the lightest vapours to rise, leading to what is claimed to be a lighter and pure spirit. It’s a unique approach, and as I said above, you can appreciate this in the design of the bottle – there’s that ring and “flowy water” in art deco style.

So there you have it, folks, a trip through Fettercairn, and more importantly, distillery specific bottlings. I say that since I spy a few unique and independent bottles on the market. There is the 25-year-old, which is bottled by the Signatory for £130 and older bottles dating back to the 70s and 60s of various and possibly questionable quality. The 40-year-old is sold by Fettercairn itself – it was distilled in December of 1977 and bottled at 48.9%. It’s currently at £3,000, and I wouldn’t mind trying a sample! I’m also curious about the first batch of 16 – it was distilled with heavily kilned barley that gives the malt that chocolate and dark roasted coffee flavour. For now, let’s pause here, and I’ll say that the 22-Year-Old wins this round.

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