Whisky expert Andy Clark raises a glass to a distillery that’s changing the face of the industry.
They’re so small you can’t even call them a forest – 13,000 tiny saplings, planted on a hillside above Fettercairn, and ready to transform how whisky is made at this little distillery, and maybe across a whole industry.
The trees – we can’t call them a forest until they’re three feet tall – are part of an exciting project by Fettercairn to replant ancient forest and produce its own single-estate Scottish oak matured malt whiskies.
The programme is the concept of Gregg Glass, whisky maker at parent company Whyte & Mackay. It’s part of a wider plan that will see similar initiatives across the company’s distilleries, but it has found its natural home at Fettercairn.
Fettercairn has already laid down whiskies in Scottish Oak, much of which has been sustainably sourced from around the distillery, and it plans to release the first in a series of Fettercairn Scottish Oak bottlings next year.
And this is the bit that interests me. Ever since I first heard about this project earlier this summer, one question has been on my mind.
Scottish Oak whisky – it may be a grand idea, and a worthy way to help the environment. But what does it taste like?
So when I got the opportunity to try some samples a few weeks back, I was more than a little intrigued.
What would it taste like?
Because it’s such a new project, there are relatively few Scottish Oak casks filled with new-make spirit, and the majority of work to date has been around “cask-to-cask” transfers – taking “normal” Fettercairn and finishing its maturation in Scottish Oak casks.
The result is like turning up the effects on your photo editing app. It’s that wonderful Fettercairn I love – those tropical fruits and that light spice with vanilla, peaches and little blobs of toffee – but now it’s sharper, brighter.
The tropical fruit is now unashamedly pineapple, fresh and juicy and straight from the tin (yes, tin!); the spice is like it’s been toasted in a dry pan – the Scottish Oak has taken the already delicious and made it something to die for.
We did taste some casks filled with new-make spirit – and even after only a couple of weeks, the Scottish Oak was working its magic on the Fettercairn. Absolutely gorgeous!
The Scottish Oak project has been a decade in the making, and it will likely be a century before the full benefits are realised, but great whisky is all about time – and having seen this venture at the very beginning, it will surely be worth the wait.
I’ll definitely be checking in from time to time!