During my visits to Speyside and meeting various industry folk, one thing has become abundantly clear. Everyone respects Glenfarclas and how this distillery goes about its business whilst retaining its sense of independence.
You could argue that this goes beyond a mutual respect and that many onlookers would love to work for the distillery, or at least break free of their corporate shackles. Yes, other distilleries might be family owned but these fall by the wayside when you consider the day to day business of running a distillery. I’ve never bumped into another owner behind the distillery bar or walking amongst the warehouse casks. Visit Glenfarclas and there’s a good chance you may see something along these lines.
This fierce sense of independence and protecting the family name has been deeply rooted in Glenfarclas for generations. Only once did trouble come knocking at the door of the distillery in 1898, when the Pattinson crisis began to take hold. Robert and Walter started out like many whisky barons of the era as greengrocers and stumbling across the potential and popularity of whisky. Eager to make a success of themselves they founded their whisky blending company in 1887 and heavily invested in stock and flamboyant advertising campaigns. Except when they launched as a public company in 1896, they did so on the basis of a misleading dossier.
When the truth was revealed, it was too late for many. Glenfarclas in 1895 had formed a new partnership with the Pattison’s as the Glenfarclas-Glenlivet Distillery Company. An equal split, meant both sides were heavily invested in the distillery which was rebuilt and production increased in 1897. At this time the future looked bright for both sides. A well respected single malt would also provide the basis for a popular blend; consumer demand was rising for all things Speyside. Except when the truth was revealed and the Pattison brothers charged, consumer confidence dropped like a stone along with demand for whisky.
All of a sudden distilleries and blenders had ageing stock with no market. John and George Grant were faced with the prospect of losing their family distillery and legacy. A mountain of debt and loans that had to be repaid. The banks were not sympathetic generally to the industry where previously they had been happy to lend and support expansions. Now all of a sudden the threat of defaulting on loans would expose the banks to tremendous losses. The Grants regrouped and sold off most of their maturing stock to cover their debts and with some bank support they managed to weather the storm. Glenfarclas survived and never again would the family put their distillery at risk. From that day onwards, the family would retain control of all matters.
Today, we have a thriving distillery that does things the way it sees as being right. If it wasn’t for Springbank then the next heir apparent to the title of most loved distillery arguably would be Glenfarclas. Both have a rugged determination of sense of tradition. Both are cherished by enthusiasts and rightly so.
This Glenfarclas was distilled in 1988 before being bottled in the summer of 2018 at 30 years of age. The bourbon hogshead resulted in an outturn of 222 bottles at a strength of 50.9%.
Cadenhead’s Glenfarclas 1988 – review
Colour: gold leaf
On the nose: wood sap, pine nuts, lemon oil and golden syrup all mingle to a delightful effect. A rich honeycomb alongside a creamy vanilla caramel, tangerines and paraffin oil. It’s not hugely detailed but remains satisfying with marzipan, orange peel and a buttery aspect rounding off an approachable Glenfarclas.
In the mouth: a beautiful poise without too much underlying richness and a gentle resinous quality. Almond butter, ginger, a light honey and a well-balanced influence of vanilla all venture past with milk chocolate and a weak fruit tea infusion.
Does this scream 30 year old? Not really in all honesty however the dram itself is a kind and gentle soul. Refined, enjoyable and displaying a lovely balance. Showcasing that Glenfarclas isn’t all sherry butts and such like. This release highlights the other side of the coin to great effect. Such a shame I passed up on a bottle when it came out, but you cannot win them all.
Thanks to Cadenhead’s Denmark for the lead image. My thanks to the Edinburgh shop for the sample.