Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Musing on Merchant Bottlings: Hepburn's Choice's Fettercairn 2008 (7 year old)

When you’re perusing the online spirits retailers, it often seems that some of the more interesting products are the ones that have been produced by reputable distilleries, but bought, aged and bottled by various merchants. Long ago I decided to build this observation into my whisky procurement matrix, and now it has determined that the time has come to buy a merchant bottling with no age statement, or aged under 10 years.

There actually didn’t seem to be that many that are aged under 10 years – and even less that were also from a region I hadn’t already tried an independent bottling from. I was particularly looking for a Lowland offering, but there were none of suitable youth, and all far outside my price range. So in the end I settled for something from the highland region – a 7 year old Fettercairn, bottled at 46 ABVs by Hepburn’s Choice. I didn’t know anything about either the distillery or the merchant, but frankly I didn’t care at that point. I just wanted to get something based on no recommendation at all. This one came in at just under £40 including P & P. It’s actually possible to get an 11 year old bottled by Douglas Laing for about the same price… but that would be missing the point… as stupid as it probably sounds to you.

Hepburn’s Choice

The theory is that the Laing Brothers sought out the best casks they could find and then filled them with product from well known but “off the beaten path” distilleries. Quite what criteria classify you as both well known and off the beaten path, I don’t know, but I do wonder whether it’s a waste to leave spirit in great casks for only 7 years. We’ll find out.


Based at the foot of the Cairngorms, it appears Fettercairn’s distillery bottlings tend to lean towards the side of older spirit. Aside from the no age statement Fior, the others are 24, 30 and 40 years old – and they ain’t cheap, except Fior, which is an almost reasonable £40. So if you want to try something a bit younger, you have to go to the independents.

I didn’t do any research  before plumping for a Fettercairn on this occasion, though some things I’ve read suggest I might’ve done well to’ve done so. This particular bottling isn’t featured in the edition of the Jim Murray Whisky Bible that I have, but he is positively scathing about all the other expressions – except the 40 year old which sells for in excess of £700, so a little bit outside my comfortable spend zone. I don’t really care what Jim Murray says at this point anyway.

Thankfully a brief squiz at internet reviews suggests many more people have nice things to say about the distillery’s output. Once again, it could go either way, and if it is as bad as Murray would have you believe, it will be interesting to find out just how bad that is. I won’t be happy about having dropped 40 notes on it, but frankly I don’t think there’s any way it can be all that bad.


So this was distilled in 2008 and aged for 7 years in a refill hogshead before being displayed in a basic bottle (itself within an unremarkable but dignified grey tube), showing its pastiness in all it’s glory. The label is suitably old school, there’s no chill-filtration, no colouring (something would have had to have gone wrong if there were), and 432 bottles were produced.


A quick sniff of the mouth of the bottle reveals biscuity tones that remind me of the Grant’sSignature. It immediately started me looking forward to enjoying something a little less rich than the various single malts I’d been trying of late, with their advanced years and sherry cask finishes.

I wasn’t expecting too much by this point, but first impression was that it was surprisingly nice; rough but fresh, soft but definitely on the young side, pleasantly warming. It seems like ages since I’ve tried anything like this, so I’m pleased I decided to include young spirit in my matrix, and this seems way better than anything like it I remember trying before.

You can see how it can go wrong with such immaturity, but my feeling is that any telltale roughness can easily be forgiven when it is accompanied by such depth of flavour and length of finish. It probably won’t be for everyone and it’s hard to know what to say about value. It’s no secret that for £40 you can get some excellent, well known single malts of 10 to 12 years’ maturity (even more sometimes). Is this better than those? Probably not. Is £40 too much for a 7 year old? Probably… but this is a single cask release, non-chill filtered and bottled at 46%. How much does any of that matter? Well I can’t say those factors didn’t influence my decision to buy. As someone who buys whisky fairly frequently, I’m used to dropping 40 notes on a bottle, so I’ve got to the stage now where it doesn’t matter – I was probably going to drop 40 notes anyway, and as long as there is some level of enjoyment to whatever I purchase, I’d say it’s money well spent. You could buy a well renowned bottle and not enjoy it.

In all then, this has been a good purchase for me. It has provided a refreshing alternative to types of whisky I’ve been trying lately and I’ve been enjoying the experience. So; good.

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