This new whisky is the latest to join the core range of Fettercairn and is a planned annual bottling. It is the first release from the increasingly popular east Highland distillery's innovative Scottish Oak Programme. The initiative has seen pockets of matured and new make spirit filled to virgin Scottish oak casks. These casks have been constructed at the famous Speyside Cooperage specifically for Fettercairn and using wood selected from trees found in the Highlands. It has also seen 13,000 Scottish oak saplings planted close to the distillery, which is hoped will form the new Fettercairn Forest. This will supply Scottish oak for generations of whisky makers to come once they reach maturity.
The Fettercairn distillery is located near in the village of Fettercairn, near Laurencekirk in the east Highlands. This sits between the towns of Montrose and Stonehaven. It was founded in 1824 by Sir Alexander Ramsay but he sold it to Sir John Gladstone in 1830. He was the father to four times UK Prime Minister William Gladstone and it remained in the Gladstone family for nearly a century. It is currently owned by Whyte & Mackay and is considered a prized malt within blending circles. The current annual capacity is 3.2 million litres.
The Fettercairn 18 years old is bottled at 46.8% ABV and is both non chill-filtered and of natural colour. It will be available via specialist whisky and luxury retailers in selected global markets. A bottle will cost £175.
Our tasting notes
The colour is deep gold with a hint of chestnut brown. The initial aromas are of ripe tropical fruits and these sit alongside further aromas of caramel, toffee and cocoa. There are background hints of milk chocolate, roasted coffee beans and menthol alongside and underlying note of heather honey and sweet spices.
On the palate this whisky has immediately more oakiness up front. This has a slightly unusual edge and must be from the Scottish oak influence. It is drying and woody and packed with expressive oils - think of menthol, clove and a hint of eucalyptus in particular. A defined sweetness is never far away and this manifests itself as notes of golden syrup, honey, milk chocolate and a pinch of cocoa powder. Underneath sits Fettercairn's signature tropical fruit notes - imagine pineapple, mango and ripe banana. There is also a malty almost bread-like and biscuity quality sitting alongside, plus a blob of apricot jam and a hint of a sweet dessert like creme brulee.
The finish becomes drying and warming with time.The fading sweetness and tropical fruits allow the oaky woodiness and oily resinous quality to evolve and come through strongly. It again has a malty biscuit edge and an additional hint of mocha.
What's the verdict?
Fettercairn has really seemed to be coming of age with some of their recent releases, and this new 18 years old backs this feeling up strongly. The Scottish Oak Programme could be the thing that really put this lovely east Highland distillery on the map. The price of this 18 year old is a bit heavy, but the programme's heart is in the right place.
The initiative is innovative and with huge focus on sustainability and the future. And the casks involved in this have given a different and more savoury dimension to Fettercairn's fruity and tropical spirit style. It will be very interesting to see what future Scottish oak releases will bring.