The Glenfarclas Distillery: A Favorite

The Glenfarclas Distillery remains one of my favorite distilleries. This may come as a bit of a surprise to those who know of my fondness for first fill ex-bourbon casked whiskies, with their strong vanilla and toffee flavors, whereas Glenfarclas is particularly famous for utilizing European oak ex-sherry casks, much like does The Macallan. However, this continuously family owned and managed Speyside distillery consistently produces fascinating whiskies which, sadly, are underrepresented on shelves in the U.S. market. My introduction to Glenfarclas was about 9 years ago at a Whisky Extravaganza in Philadelphia, an event that is no longer taking place in Philadelphia, to the considerable chagrin of many. I deemed the Glenfarclas 25 years old the best whisky at the event and a fan was born.

The standard expressions regularly found at better whisky merchants are the 12, 17, 21 and 25 years aged. If one searches in the U.S., one can also find the 10 years aged and the 105 Cask Strength expressions. The recently released 15 years aged is, I believe, a recent release for retail only in the U.K. A search of Glenfarclas on the website of The Whisky Exchange out of London will give one a very good look at some of the other expressions this distillery offers.
(I just obtained the 15 years from The Whisky Exchange for gifts to family, friends and myself and sense a buying spree in my next visit to the U.K.).

In May 2016, I was fortunate enough to visit the distillery. Set on a beautiful farm purchased by the company’s founder, John Grant, in 1865, one sees a large well polished [retired] copper still as one comes up the driveway to the modern, well appointed visitor center. The tour is a must for any visitor to the distillery. There is much in the way of any standard distillery tour, with magnificent copper stills, a very busy and handsome still safe, a busy filling room, musty warehouses and culminating in a most impressive wood walled tasting room that I recall was removed from the stateroom of a retired ship, but what struck me most was a look at the water entering the distillery: it gives one a sense of the influence of the peat of the farm’s soil on the whisky. The Glenfarclas whiskies are unpeated, so the very light, barely noticeable, but highly complimentary smokiness on the palate I believe comes from the water, which works its way from the Ben Rinnes mountain, through the peaty soil and into the aquifer that is the water source for the making of the spirit.

The current head of the company is
George Grant, who is the sixth generation of Grant family ownership and management. Mr. Grant was on site the day of my visit and gave me a friendly nod from his office window, seeming a bit surprised to be recognized by a touring visitor.

The distillery maintains a good number of elderly casks of whisky and if one has the opportunity to taste there, the 5 decades tasting is well worth the investment. That tasting includes 5 whiskies from The Family Casks series selection still available (these whiskies are pretty rare and can be more than a little pricey). The Whisky Wife and I tasted a range of whiskies casked from 1959 to 1991, all of which I believe were bottled in 2014. I was disappointed that the 1959 was, in my opinion, overly oaky, as I’d eagerly been looking forward to tasting that 55 year old whisky from the moment we booked the tasting; however, the 1991 was flawless, to my mind a perfect sherry casked whisky, smooth as silk, rich, fruity and perfectly spiced; the other 3 whiskies tasted were varying degrees of nice to very nice. And no, I didn’t limit my tasting to only those five whiskies as our host invited me to try 2 more, both of which are pictured with this blog post.
I look forward to sharing my thoughts on Glenfarclas whiskies with you in 2018.

For those who’ve read through this unconventional note, my other favorite distilleries are the Balvenie and whichever other distillery can ascend to that pantheon at any time, with Springbank, Mortlach, Glenfiddich and Balblair often filling in that third spot on my favorites list.

Slainte Mhath!