When is a brand not a brand? (An essay in which I become an honorary pilgrim)

Not many people know but many years ago (more than I care to admit) I studied Business at university. In fact I have a degree in that very subject. The area that interested me most was always branding and especially the way in which people perceive a brand.

Fettercairn is a very interesting example of some strange branding choices. More of this later.

Social media and whisky writing has been very kind to me. I’ve interacted with whisky enthusiasts from all over the world, people I class as acquaintances and drinking buddies yet I have never met them.

Adam, The Whisky Pilgrim, is such a person. We’ve been chatting whisky and life in general over Twitter for some time and he has previously taken part in my Desert Island Dram project and I contributed to his 40 under £40 article. Adam has been the length and breadth of the country visiting as many distilleries as he can in his quest to tick off all the UK distilleries and try their entry level expressions.

When The Pilgrim was passing my way, it seemed like the ideal opportunity to visit another new distillery and to meet another of my virtual acquaintances. After a little coordination, a beautifully sunny and crisp Scottish morning saw me setting off up the A90 towards Aberdeen.  I had never visited before and truth be told I’d only tried one Fettercairn expression previously. I was aware of it but most certainly was not on my radar.

Fettercairn is owned by Whyte and MacKay who also own, amongst others, The Dalmore and Jura brands.

The distillery staff were very friendly and their love for their distillery shone through during the time we spent there. They are very proud of the distillery and of the whisky they produce. We were the only two on the tour which always makes for a great experience.  Worthy of note is their unique (as far as I know) practice of running cold water down the side of their stills to cool them down to increase the copper contact and gain more control over vapour reflux through the distillation process. See picture below and notice the thin copper pipe and ring near the top of the still.

The dram at the visitor centre at the end of the tour was indeed the one I had tried previously (Fettercairn Fasque, an expression exclusive to Tesco Stores) however it seemed more enjoyable in the comfortable settings of the tasting room. Perhaps a little unremarkable but not entirely unpleasant.

You can hear what Mark from WhiskyWhistle thinks of their other expression, Fior, by following this link.

At this point I bade farewell to Adam as he had another tour booked that same afternoon and had to hit the pilgrim trail once again. 

You can read Adams write-up of our visit, and his thoughts on Fettercairn here.

A pleasure to finally meet up and share a dram and a tour with a fine chap. 

You can catch up with all of The Pilgrims Travels on his website

Now, back to the start. When is a brand not a brand? When its Fettercairn.

The bottle and packaging design is striking and definately has ‘shelf appeal’ (reminiscent of The Dalmore branding) 


The distillery is nicely presented with the logo and name proudly displayed all over the complex and outside on the main wall. 

The tasting room and the visitor centre is well designed and very comfortable.

There is no distillery website to speak of nor a website for the whisky itself, Fettercairn isn’t really pushed as a single malt and, I’m assuming as 90% of the spirit produced here is directly send to be blended, its really just a workhorse distillery.

Which leads to the question, where are Whyte & MacKay going with this? Why establish a brand, a brand home, overhaul and restyle the product if you aren’t really going to take it anywhere or push it?

It seems like a half finished project. The rebranding from the slightly dated Old Fettercairn brand to the slick and polished new product complete with stylish Unicorn emblem on the bottle is night and day. Makes you wonder what the future holds for what can only be described as a brand which appears to be simply treading water.

One comment

  1. […] It’s a distillery I visited last year alongside The Whisky Pilgrim and afterwards I wrote an article (probably better described as an essay) about my visit and my thoughts on the Fettercairn branding and market strategy, which you can read here. […]

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