It started like a trip down memory lane as I headed along the A941 towards Glenfarclas recently. This was a road I travelled upon many times in the past when I worked at Dailuaine and Benrinnes Distilleries.
Like Benrinnes, Glenfarclas nestles in at the foot of the 840 metre high (or 2756 feet if you think in old money) Ben Rinnes hill. Glenfarclas however is on the opposite side of the hill from my previous place of employment.
It is on the “opposite side of the hill” in a number of different ways.
Benrinnes is part of the mighty conglomerate that is Diageo, while Glenfarclas is family owned and family run, with only 32 people working in the whole business. The company predominantly markets and sells aged single malts, with a very plain marketing style. Much of the industry is moving toward non aged statement expressions, various types of cask finishes and extravagant packaging; assurance was given that this was something that Glenfarclas would not be joining in with.
They are very proud of their range of aged single malts and of the Family Cask series (a single cask bottled at cask strength, from every year’s production since 1952). They are also proud of their current stock levels (just under 60,000 casks are currently maturing on site) that will allow the company to keep producing the aged malt range and Family Cask series going forward; they have stock on site for every year from 1953, and I can testify to seeing a 1953 cask myself.
The site itself is a mix of modern and traditional. The mashhouse and tunroom have been modernised, however the stillhouse and warehouses have remained very traditional. With the view that the main flavours are derived in the still and in the cask, the family at Glenfarclas have kept these parts of the process very traditional. The stills for example are still direct fired, not a common means of heating within the industry today. I was assured that changing the heating system would result in a spirit that would just not be Glenfarclas.
The Glenfarclas website is well worth a look; it is very honest and a lot more “scientific” than the sites of some other distillers. For example you can find out the Latin name for barley, and that impressed me!
So the packaging is quite plain and simple, but what of the whisky? A vertical tasting with a variety of ages was fun and enlightening to see the effect of age on a similar spirit. So I had the hard job of sampling the 10, 15, 21 and 25 year old single malts, along with their non-aged product, the 105 cask strength.
The whiskies are all obviously influenced by the sherry casks used for maturation but each of the malts at the various ages was quite different, and that surprised me. I had expected the sherry influence to maybe take over and make certain flavours more pronounced as the whisky got older, but each product had varying flavours of their own.
They did get better in my opinion with age, with the 25 year old being very special indeed. A creamy and soft nose gave way to salad, green tomatoes and almost mint, with the palette having toffee, vanilla, butter and sherry. The long and very smooth finish also said this is a 25 year old.
The younger expressions were also good with the 10 year old being more floral and sweet than its older sibling. All the expressions were influenced by the wood with vanilla, toffee and sherry coming through to varying degrees.
My only slight disappointment was with the 105 cask strength expression. It nosed and tasted as quite a young spirit and was quite harsh, but then it is 60% alcohol. However there was plenty of choice with the aged products to keep me happy.
Recommendation of the Month
Quite a difficult choice this month based on age versus price. At around £45 the 15 year old is my recommendation. A sweet floral nose develops into toffee and caramel, with a palette of sweet richness and a full and oily mouth feel. I think this is the best expression in terms of value for money.