Many international readers of Malt will have made their own pilgrimage to Scotland on a trip that either wholly or substantially featured Scotch. Perhaps a little golf too, some fine dining, etc. Many wives will have endured – some will have enjoyed – the many distillery tours as they support our inexplicable passion for the amber liquid.

I wholeheartedly recommend a tailored tour populated entirely by whisky enthusiasts if you can arrange it. the deep dives into geeky conversations about production, the generous sharing of interesting drams, and the pace to indulge every detail of a tour really enhance the experience. A number of recent and future articles will draw heavily on my own experience on a tour arranged by East Coast Whisky, so much so that I may be censured by fellow travellers for letting the cat out of the bag. For this article, however, I want to talk about the pre-tour-tour.

My good friend Mehul, due to be joining the main tour, almost single handedly managed to arrange an incredible bolt-on pre-tour that saw a small contingent visit Royal Lochnagar for a warehouse tasting, Glenfarclas, and then an incredible after-hours tour of a distillery closed to the public, details of which are sworn to secrecy. I will record here how grateful I was to those who arranged it. I joined the sub-tour at Glenfarclas for the Distillery Manager’s Tour. Although Callum Fraser was unwell on the day, the visitor centre staff did a fantastic job of stepping in on his behalf, delivering a tour that was both entertaining and informative.

Glenfarclas Distillery is huge. The distillery processes 110 tonnes of barley a week, uses 1 million liters of water a day, and produces 70,000 litres of pure alcohol a week. That’s over 300 hogsheads filled weekly. The distillery has a roller mill that can process 8 tonnes of barley an hour.

It’s not all about size, through; Callum Fraser is working hard to introduce greater sustainability. The summer project to install solar panels to the roof of the tun house was just finishing during our tour. The distillery, too, is looking for new sources of cooling water to ease pressure on the current water source. There have been a number of occasions where the water sources running off the hill have dried up. This summer for the first time, the ambient temperature of the source water has been too high to allow cooling. Hot Scottish summers are not guaranteed, but there certainly seems a good opportunity to arrange that whisky trip you have been meaning to.

The tour itself stood out for many reasons; tasting live fermenting wash was offered, but declined by myself. The first of our party tasted this liquid as second recounted the last East Coast Whisky trip, where tour guide and whisky guru Fredrick tasted the wash at Brora and subsequently discovered its powerful laxative effects (something I don’t think he’ll be allowed to forget for the rest of his life).

The other interesting aspect of the tour was the extensive discussion about how sulphur affects the whisky. A flavour often associated with sherry casks, at Glenfarclas we discovered this is a feature of the barley, as sulphur is contained within the amino acids of the barley and therefore the compounds are present in all whisky. How the barley is handed and the whisky distilled impacts how much sulphur is detectable in the final whisky. For a spirit like Glenfarclas, the sulphur is often at undetectable levels and may add body to the whisky rather than a distinct flavour, but for a spirit like Craigellachie the sulphur can be quite pronounced.

We also learned that on intensive farms the sulphur levels can become depleted and some farms are adding sulphur back into the soil to improve the quality of the barley crop. Most unwanted sulphur – such as hydrogen sulphide – will be removed through interaction with the copper stills, however dimethyl trisulfide does make it through the distilling process and can be found is whiskies with worm tub cooling systems.

There are a few other nuances with Glenfarclas that the whisky enthusiast should be aware of. The distillery uses almost exclusively oloroso sherry casks. The casks are then tracked for 3 further fills before being sold on. Any Glenfarclas found with other sort of cask influences should be regarded as extremely rare. The Glenfarclas range is otherwise fairly standard, with a variety of age statements. The Glenfarclas were one of the first with a non-age statement cask strength whisky, the 105, a reference to the degrees proof.

The premium range of whiskies are the Family Casks. “Family” casks, as the Glenfarclas distillery has been, and remains in, the private ownership of the Grant family. These casks have been selected and released since 2007. With the oldest dating back to 1952, these casks encapsulate the character of the distillery and form the single cask releases. For a cask to be selected for release it must be a minimum of 15 years old and an exceptional example of the style. The casks are selected not only from first fill sherry, but across the four fills, giving a broad range of cask and wood influence.

We experienced these fantastic casks on the day of the tour of which I have some summary notes:

Glenfarclas 1961

First fill sherry, released in 2015, 46.7% ABV.
Liquorice, resinous oak tannins, star anise, dunnage, beef stock, prickled pink peppercorns, coffee, chocolate syrup, pumpkin spice with an oily texture, praline and roasted chestnut on the finish.

Glenfarclas 1978

4th fill hogshead, released in 2022, 44.6% ABV.
Toasted coconut, tunnockc caramel log, a touch of rancio, dunnage, poached vanilla pear, cloudy heritage apple jice, freshly shaved oak, blanched almonds and caramel.

Glenfarclas 1995

4th fill sherry butt, released 2021, 57.7% ABV.
Spirity, plasticine, new make, grist, granite, some fresh apple, becomes more lively with water, fresh liquorice, herbal.

8 Year Old Staff Cask Share

First fill seasoned hogshead, 2015 – 2023.
Spirit forward, peach boiled sweets, nail polish, grist, yeasty wort, jammy apricot, cracked black pepper.

These samples demonstrate that there is a greater range of flavours in the Family Casks than released in the core range, and that whilst a particular vintage may appeal to a buyer, it is recommend to check that the release matched your preferred flavour profile. Even between 4th fill casks, the outcome can be significantly divergent. Obviously, a visit to the distillery or an opportunity to try before you buy is highly recommended.

For this review, as with other articles I have refrained from scoring the drams tasted at the time due to the undue influence of setting and atmosphere but I did pick up a miniature of the 15 year old core range. This is the core range bottle most highly recommended by the attendees at the tour because it is released with a higher ABV at 46%, instead of the standard 43%, for no other reason that it was the family favourite and was preferred at that strength.

Glenfarclas 15 Year Old – Review

Oloroso sherry. 46% ABV. £65.

Colour: Amber.

On the nose: Warming rounded sweet sherry notes of Christmas cake and brandy steeped fruit. Fresh ginger and white pepper, chewy toffee and toasted sugar. With time in the glass fresher apple and pear notes emerge and warming vanilla.

In the mouth: Sweet boozy stewed fruit, some dried chilli flakes, toffee apples, and a little charred sugar. Good body, some baking spices, dried ground ginger. The pepperiness builds, but there is not much other flavour progression. The finish is warming with fresh green chilli.

Conclusions:

This is on the right side of modern sherry, avoiding the sickly chocolate and boiled caramel notes. I’ve tried to hone in on the sulphur too, but its almost inperceptible, perhaps for the good, giving the slightest char note. The limiting factor for this dram is that it just doesn’t really go anywhere interesting with the falvour. The last time this was reviewed, a bottle cost about £10-15 cheaper. It’s a middling…

Score: 5/10.


Further reviews of the Glenfarclas on Malt can be found here and on Dramface here.

CategoriesSingle Malt
Graham

Graham is at the consumer end of the whisky world; constantly seeking out a bargains and generally very cautious with his limited budget. An occasional visitor to distilleries and a member of the odd whisky club. He does not collect whiskies but has a few nice ones put away for some future special occasion. He enjoys discussions with the wider whisky community and may resemble the ‘average’ Malt reader.

  1. kallaskander says:

    Hi there,

    hi Graham, did the staff say anything about how they are handling the sherry seasoned cask problem? If they intend to use a cask four times I do not think sherry seasoned casks will do as a first.

    Greetings
    kallaskander

  2. Graham says:

    Hello Kallaskander,

    We talked about a focus on quality casks and how Glenfarclas source all their casks via Miguel Martain in Spain. The suggestion is that a goof quality cask will perform. I think the issue with seasoned casks in this case is whether too much woody and spicy notes come through in first and second full casks rather than how much Sherry influence is left.

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