Fettercairn Distillery Visit
A little about Fettercairn:
Fettercairn Distillery was founded in 1824 by Alexander Ramsay, owner of the Fasque estate, who converted a corn mill at Nethermill into a distillery. After losing his fortune, Alexander was forced to sell the estate to the Gladstone family in 1829. John Gladstone’s son William Gladstone, went on to become Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer and was instrumental in passing various reforms on the taxation of whisky.
Owned by Whyte & Mackay since 1973, Fettercairn distillery is sited at the foot of the Grampian Hills close to Montrose, and uses natural springs arising in the foothills as its water source . Founded on the Fasque estate by Alexander Ramsay in 1824. The distillery comprised of a single wash and spirit still. In 1952 the distillery manager Alistair Menzies added the purifier ring which trickles cold water over the neck of the spirit still in an attempt to increase reflux and achieve lighter new make spirit quality.
The current distillery manager Stewart Walker explained they probably played around with simply hosing the still necks during the distillation run middle cut to asses the impact on spirit – possibly by nosing the new make as it came off the still. The purifier ring was hand-built at the distillery using copper piping and on its upper surface has a series of small holes punched at 1 inch intervals around it. During the distillation run the cooling ring is run only for the middle cut.
In 1966 a further set of stills was added to double capacity these differ slightly in shape and dimension as they were surplus from another distillery, but a cooling ring was also added in the same fashion to the second spirit still. The condensers are of shell and tube type though the first pair of stills originally had worm tubs, it is likely theses changed during the installation of the second pair of stills.
The distillery also has 11 x 25,000 litre wooden washbacks housed in a cathedral-like vaulted washback room which was recently redeveloped to house massive floor to ceiling length windows looking out along the water source route to the Grampian hills beyond.
Warehousing capacity for 25,000 casks on site mostly constitutes ex-bourbon casked spirit stretching back to the 1950’s with more recent additions of alternate cask types of a a variety of sources that are being used either for finishing or maturing more recently produced spirit, further cask storage capacity is available at Invergordon grain distillery also part of the Whyte & Mackay stable.
A little about our trip:
To get to Fettercairn I took the train from Edinburgh to Montrose where we were collected by Taxi for the ~ 30 min transfer to the distillery. On arrival at Fettercairn we were quickly introduced to the team and treated to a picnic lunch in the old maltings.
This was followed by a tour of the working parts of the distillery with the distillery manager Stewart Walker who has worked there since 1990. During the tour we were treated to seeing the unique water purifier ring in action on the spirit still, a sample of the global travel retail Fettercairn 12 year old PX finish in the washback room to admire the view and also a trip up to the nearby natural spring production water source. There we were treated to a cask sample before wandering back to the warehouses to sample a few more selected casks.
Finally despite our scheduled exit for the evenings accommodation imminent Stewart invited us into the distillery manager’s office for a review of the Fettercairn 40 and 50 year old releases as well as nosing a couple of single cask samples in the 40-50 year old range (~1960-1970 vintages).
Following Taxi transfer to Glen Dye cabins we had a brief chance to settle in before our discovery dinner which included wood-fired pizza cooked using an ex-Fettercairn whisky cask as fuel!
Then followed a Fettercairn quiz hosted by Stewart himself testing on us on all the information we had received during our tour of the distillery that afternoon. After some stiff competition Alistair (Spirit & Wood), Chris (Edinburgh Whisky Blog) and myself came out in order as the top three and were treated to Unicorn themed prizes as reward for our efforts.
The following morning after a hearty breakfast we were whisked back to the distillery visitor centre – closed to the public for the season. There we were treated to some further secret expressions of Fettercairn during a presentation about their future expansions. A round-table discussion followed based on these exciting new releases and potential branding building upon Fettercairns new whisky range .
Categories: Distillery Visits