I’m sitting here with the warm copper coloured, oily textured Fettercairn Fior, the entry level from this Highland distillery at the start of what I hope will be a fun journey right up to to 40 year old.
The Fior is showing early signs of real complexity. The nose has initial hints of bubblegum with touches of sweet coconut and lemongrass. There is a nice, musty lavender, and it’s got a warm yeastiness, like lifting the cloth covering a loaf of wholemeal bread which is proving before being baked. It’s not long before it becomes like a toasted brioche and warm custard, sweet black pepper, orange peel, white chocolate, rich marmalade, and orange juice. With a bit more time it developed into a fruit salad, then cappuccino and sweet lemon. The Palate has black pepper spiciness and candied strawberries, developing a herbal character which is washed over by a cool winter breeze on the finish. With a spot of water the nose became slightly more chocolaty, and salty. It was still soft, and there was an underlying note of brine which was slowly coming to the front.
Then I move on to the 24yo.The appearance is similar to the Fior, but maybe a touch more rich orange.The nose was really quite powerful with a fresh pine needle aroma which slowly became more like milk chocolate swimming in fresh orange and lemon juice. Even after it had time to breathe it was still quite spirity, but with lemon sherbet sweetness, warm oak and cappuccino loitering at the edge.The palate was soft with a subtle hint of flowers while feeling quite strong with the spirit. It has a slightly dry saltiness, with sawdust, fresh strawberries and warm sponge cake, and a sweet and sour feel on the back of the tongue. As I rested for a moment for the aftertaste to come through, after a few minutes there was a hint of lavender – but it didn’t hang about for long.
Then I reach for the glass containing the gold polished wood liquor of the 30yo. The first thing to leap out of the glass is a sweet, spicy, balsamic vinegar with a chocolate custard richness pushing through after the initial punch. Despite that first hit, it is very delicate on the nose. There is also a strong salty corn snack and toasted note with the balsamic aroma settling into the familiar scent of a heavily sherried whisky. After a while (and a touch of water) a sweet and rich fresh tomato sauce comes through with a warming hint of hot drinking chocolate. Sometimes the palate on a whisky can be a total surprise compared to expectations conjured by the nose. Fettercairn 30 is not one of these. There is an obvious natural progression between the senses with a strong toasty, but light palate and the richness of rum and raisin ice cream. It held onto that salty dryness of the alternate samples and that pronounced toastiness.
The last dram in front of me is the 40 year old. Deep gold and coppery-red, the nose is very soft and light, with floral perfume, marzipan, citrus and spice. A wee touch of water brought out a salty edger and something like cold concrete paving stones. The palate was huge – amazingly full-bodied and silky, with that now familiar chocolate, marmalade, and warm rich spiciness of cinnamon and cloves. Even after plenty of breathing time this seemed a little too well put together – the flavours became so well integrated that picking out the individual notes became a bit tricky, but don’t get me wrong, it is seriously delightful.
A thoroughly enjoyable selection of whiskies, but as the ages increased they seemed to lose something. They became smoother, and more elegant, but lost something in the length, and the flavours melded together almost too well, as after a while it became a little tricky to pick out the distinguishing characteristics. The 24 and 30 year old are lovely whiskies with an extremely approachable style, and the 40 year old is supremely delicate (to a fault maybe), but it is the Fior which comes through as having more balance. There was so much going on in the nicely rounded palate, it had decent length, and enough soft elegance to tempt you to that second dram.