If you have read our earlier post on Glenfarclas you will know that Glenfarclas is one of the few remaining family owned distilleries in the Scotch whisky industry and even more than that, it has been owned and run by one family, the Grants, since 1865. Earlier in the year, here in London, we met George Grant, the sixth generation of the family and were charmed by his passion for life and whisky. When George suggested that we come and visit him at the distillery and enjoy whisky at the source, we jumped at the chance (kids in a sweetshop comes to mind). We should also say at this point that Glenfarclas is, in our view, a truly great whisky so we were super excited to visit the distillery.
Glenfarclas operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and later that evening, long after the sun had gone down, we saw a lorry meandering through the tight courtyards to deliver its load of malted barley to the distillery for in common with most distilleries today, malting is no longer done on site.
We wont go into full details of the production process but refer readers who are interested in learning more to www.whisky-distilleries.info which gives an excellent description of how whisky is made. All around the distillery the sweet smell of the whisky process was in the air though for those who work there, they are long since oblivious to it; we loved it, it's like a whisky meadow. It became a full on powerhouse when we thrust our head into a working mash tun and George also suggested that sticking your head into the wash back and inhaling deeply was also an excellent hangover cure; we'll take his word for it as we didn't try this remedy for ourselves. We did though get to try a glass of the 'wash' from the wash backs which was fun, tasting like a strong blonde beer, something from Belgium perhaps, for up till now, the process of making whisky and beer is pretty similar. It's the distillation room where it goes next and 15 years in a barrel that will change things.
The Millenium edition is a very special bottle at a very special (read expensive) price, that being the price of perfection. However, you can get quite close to perfection at somewhat cheaper prices within the range and we very much enjoyed the 15 year old as well as being lucky enough to drink quite a lot of the 40 year old.
We enjoyed the 15 year old before dinner each night in front of the fire and it works well with or without a splash of water. Nearly all of the Glenfarclas range has sherry note on the nose and palate as the whisky has spent most of its life in first use sherried casks. Glenfarclas is also not especially peaty and smoky (usually described as hints of) so if you find the Islay malts too much but still like a robust flavoursome whisky, Glenfarclas might be a good choice. We like this whisky in Winter too as it does have some rich notes that is one of the few nice things about cold December days: burnt orange on the nose giving way to zesty Christmas cake. And while it has yet to strike 4pm, to ensure this blog post is correct, I've poured a dram of the 15 year old to taste as I write, and have noted the finish at a whopping 15 seconds. Loved too by those cheeky chappies at the Master of Malt, they have it for sale at £35.95 which is a great price for a whisky of such complexity. What also put a smile on my face is that the alcohol content of the 15yo is a somewhat unusual 46% because 'my grandfather preferred it at this strength'. You wont hear that at Diageo.
The 40 year old is a dram for when you're feeling flush or just want to get as close to the best of whisky as you can. A deep dark amber whisky, there is background peat on the nose and again, walnuts and raisins. Medium sweet to taste, George notes burnt brown sugar while others note toffee with a touch of spice as well as dates and figs. Another super long finish though sadly, I don't have a glass in front of me right now to time it. The new Glenfarclas 40 year old has been awarded a stunning 95/100 by the Malt Advocate magazine.
Okay, I guess we need to talk price here. Master of Malt sell it at £289 a bottle which seems like a lot until you compare it with other 40 year olds with a distillery name on: Tomatin 40 year old is perhaps the next cheapest at £429, Highland Park 40yo is £764 and Dalmore is £1,339. In that sense it's a relative bargain. The packaging on the 40 has been kept deliberately low key to keep costs down, you don't drink the fancy packaging after all. George is a whisky man and a whisky evangelical and knows that 40 year old whiskies are already budget busters for many. Nevertheless, offering a 40 year old at this price, he hopes that he's put a great whisky slightly closer to the grasp of the serious whisky drinker on a budget.
The house we stayed in on site was the old tax man's house - up until the mid 70s, Customs and Excise would have an assessor permanently stationed at all distilleries and the distillery was required to provide a roof over his head. Glenfarclas were clearly quite nice to their Customs assessor and it was a beautiful house in local stone with a comfortable sitting room and a real fire that we kept alight whenever we were home. The whole area was so beautiful covered in snow that we barely minded having to abandon the car and return to Edinburgh by train (where the weather was just fine); it would take another five days for snow to close Edinburgh airport.
Scotland is wonderful place, George and everyone at Glenfarclas were just superb and Glenfarclas is one of the very best Scotch whiskies out there. If you're up in Speyside, Glenfarclas is a must, and if you've not tried it before, we're sure you'll love it if you're a whisky fan. If you're not up in Speyside anytime soon, maybe swing by the Master of Malt website and order a bottle or two for Christmas which in turn will lead to a very merry Christmas indeed.
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