Tiree, Fettercairn and Elusive Expressions (Part 1)

Well, we‘ll soon be at partridge in a pear tree time again and you might be looking for something to give your true love or for them to give you, as the carol indicates. Therefore, I‘ll do some more tasting bits as we get towards Christmas, for those who celebrate it, but am starting off with a few here.

First of all though, I‘d just like to mention some activity at Tiree Distillery. Since 1st November and up until 18th December you have a chance to win a trip to the island of Tiree so there‘s still plenty of time to get your orders in to have a chance in the prize draw. Our western isles are wonderful places to visit and doing it as a prize makes it even sweeter. This offer features their gin only as the spirit maturing to become whisky isn‘t ready yet but there may be more news to come on that soon. The gin has won awards so do try it soon.

Now, in the last month or so I‘ve been sent three samples of Fettercairn to taste. Using all three would turn this into the Whyte & Mackay show. No harm in that but I‘ll concentrate on the recent Fettercairn 18 Year Old release which is intended as a permanent expression. A live Zoom taste session with their Single Malt Specialist Andrew Lennie was held recently giving us scribes more info. I‘d tasted it and written my own notes beforehand and use those here.

This expression was matured in bourbon wood, finished in Scottish oak casks and bottled at 46.8% alc. vol.

Appearance: Light – medium amber; slight reddish cast and old gold/tawny highlights. Tears fairly slow and fat with some oiliness in its aspect.

Nose: Honey – rather like manuka. Ripe fruits and soft, sweet spices. Barley sugar. Dried pineapple and mango slices. Oak vanilla – quite deep and rich. Sawn wood. Baked citrus and dark fruit – blueberries.

With water, waxy at first then sweet. Toasted wood. Concentrated sweetness with a lightening toast and zest. Baked tropical fruits and barley sugar persist.

Palate: Slightly unctuous mouth feel. Warm spices – ginger and pepper; cedar (Scottish oak spice); wood – like pencil ends or shavings. A slightly green sappiness.

Finish: Quite long, spicy and drying with a hinter sappy note and wood shavings.

It‘s a good dram and one I‘d go back to again. I always like the tropical fruit notes in Fettercairn, particularly the pineapple. The other two samples I‘ve had sitting for a little while were Fettercairn 16 Year Old, 3rd Release 2022 (46.4%; cost approx. £72 – bargain!) and Fettercairn Warehouse 2, 2022 Release Batch 004 (48.8%; cost approx. £60). The Warehouse 2 is a younger whisky, distilled in 2014 and matured in 1st and 2nd fill bourbon barrels and Hungarian wine casks (we‘re not told which grape type). I found plenty in it such as lemon sherbet, pineapple juice, toasted bread and baked pear on the nose. The pear note continued on the palate alongside a slight unripe hazelnut „green“ nuttiness. The 16 Year Old (from sherry matured and sherry finished casks – 1st and 2nd fill Oloroso, PX and ex-bourbon casks) featured tropical fruits on the nose again plus a touch of vine fruits. It had a richness and opulence despite also having a clean, fresh aspect. Maybe some baked plum and blackberry with ginger too (a nice autumn crumble!) as well as some toasted oak, vanilla and yeast notes – a bit like aged champagne. The palate also included spices and a note akin to black leaf tea. If asked for a preference I‘d be hard pushed between the 16 and the 18.

Before we depart Fettercairn, some words on the distillery where the revamped visitor centre opened back in June. Near the distillery is their forest where they have planted 13,000 trees to aid Master Whisky Maker, Gregg Glass‘ focus on Scottish oak. They created the Fettercairn 200 Club to recruit nearby barley farmers but already 109 of them have filled the quota required and all their barley needs come from within 50 miles of the distillery. All of them grow the same type of barley. It‘s currently Diablo but that will change from time to time. The maturation caks are bourbon wood but the whisky in 18 Year Old was finished in Scottish oak, both first fill and refill casks for 12 – 24 months. The cask sizes are 200 and 250 litres with a medium toast. Mainly 250‘s were used to give „slightly more subtle notes“. One of the ongoing considerations is how to season the casks, grain whisky being but one option. They are also playing tunes looking at things by farm and warehousing. Gregg has ex-bourbon casks where only the ends are of Scottish oak too, to see what effect that has on the spirit. Plenty to look forward to here. I find the maturation process such a fascinating area.

I‘ve finally been able to get round to this year‘s Diageo Special Releases, Elusive Expressions. It‘s a select group of 8 cask strength whiskies and I‘m covering two here. I chose the Cardhu 16 Year Old for this column as I don‘t see anything other than the standard Cardhu that often and Cameron Bridge 26 Year Old Single Grain Whisky. We‘re told, Inspired by the artwork and legends behind this year’s theme, Special Releases is launching the first ever Elusive Expressions Cocktails and Serves book. Explored in a bold graphic-novel style, cocktail-making is reframed through characters and journeys. Carefully created by our Brand Ambassadors, each cocktail and serve highlights the whisky collection for fans to recreate at home and enter a new world of Special Releases.“ I haven‘t tried my hand at any yet, wanting to sample the whiskies on their own first but hope to get to them over the next few weeks. As mentioned last time the packaging artwork (and hatbox/outsize jewel box format) for the samples collection is superb as befits these cask strength, sometimes older and sometimes rarer, whiskies and as you‘ll see below, looks fabulous on the full size bottlings too.

Cardhu 16 Year Old (58% alc. vol.):

Appearance: Bright sun gold, brass highlights. Tears slow to form and run. Quite widely spaced.

Nose: Ripe banana skin and sponge cake; touch of vanilla custard and icing sugar; marshmallows; soft, mellow oak and sweet cake spices; creamy caramel/toffee. With water, barley sugar sweets, more creamy caramel, touch of wax and maybe a tiny waft of sulphur.

Palate: Slightly unctuous and mouth-coating. Pepper and spice; oak; a little liquorice; toffee/caramel and ripe fruits; dark rum sugary notes.

Finish: Medium length. Dances on the tongue. Finishes quite herbal and dry.

This expression is matured in refill and recharred US oak and Jamaican pot still rum-seasoned casks. Recommended 70cl. retail price (UK) is £160.

Cameron Bridge 26 Year Old (56.2% alc. vol.):

Appearance: Rich, warm gold, almost old gold; brass highlights. Tears very slow, sticky and quite fat. Quite widely spaced when they start to run down really slowly.

Nose: Quite fresh and a little sharpness at first. Green fruit and, oddly, fresh sea air as it‘s not beside the sea. Touch of oak and light spice. Damp oak begins to push through more with some vanilla. Fresh pear and dark berries + plum fruits with brown sugar. Baked pastry. With water, a little more oak and a slight vegetal note which fades quickly. Soft toffee and sweet wood char, more of a toast than a char.

Palate: Medium mouth feel. Touch of char and mellow oak. A slightly „corked“ wine note but pleasant in this case. Caramelised brown sugar, spices and shaved wood.

Finish: Quite long and rich; dryness and oak linger.

It‘s matured in refill US oak. Recommended 70 cl. retail price (UK) is £275. I chose this one as I don‘t drink single grain whiskies often but I‘ve never had a bad one yet from Diageo (and Chivas‘ Royal Salute Snow Polo Single Grain was wonderful). This one is no exception, really quite a tasty whisky. Another reason for the choice, the distillery is situated not too far from where I was born and I drive past it sometimes when visiting family over in Fife.

That‘s it for this first November piece. Back by the end of the month with more.

Till then, happy dramming.




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