Glenfarclas Vertical Tasting

Welcome to the third vertical tasting I've put together for Whisky Rover with the debut being Talisker and the sequel was Auchentoshan. Now we're heading into Speyside for one of the Grants greats in Glenfarclas.

For those new to this distillery lets summarise why so many love it today. Firstly its a family business and that remains the case. Whereas other distilleries have been snapped up by huge tax efficient corporations thereby adding to their shareholder profiles, Glenfarclas remains under the ownership of the Grant family. Unlike say William Grant & Sons, the Grant family keep their focus exclusively on whisky and maintaining traditions.

The distillery came into being as a farm distillery towards the end of the 17th century. Glenfarclas is the last remaining distillery to use direct heating of its stills; a practice that has died out with other distilleries preferring more modern internal methods. The stills themselves are some of the largest in Scotland and throughout the distillation process they key component is tradition and maintaining the house flavour profile. The maturation takes place on site within one of thirty traditional dunnage style warehouses that Glenfarclas uses. The legacy and the result now resides in the drams below. 

This is potentially the first of two Glenfarclas verticals (around 20 drams in total) and here we'll be focusing more on the core age statements. I've also sourced a few surprise additions that maybe show another side to Glenfarclas other than the sherry influenced whiskies we normally associate with the brand. Hopefully you'll enjoy the comparisons just as much as I did putting this together. I've been stockpiling samples and bottles in advance for this and fortunately Glenfarclas do offer a couple of trio miniature packs to get you started. Trying before you buy is not always possible but such miniatures do help.

10 Year Old
Strength 40% vol at £32 a bottle
Colour: juice vesicles
Nose: initially its orange peel before the journey takes us towards Jaffa Cakes and that orange infusion with sponge and dark chocolate. Barley sweets follow with peaches and a touch of water brings out coconut.
Taste: grapefruit and that back of a postage stamp feeling soon gives way to orange peel and a little menthol. Honey, cinnamon and raisins mingle to a pleasant effect.

Overall: restrained, approachable and friendly. A stepping stone to other Glenfarclas whiskies, speaking of which...

12 Year Old
Strength 43% vol at £37 a bottle
Colour: toffee
Nose: immediately more intense with a slight rubber edge. Orange and grapefruit appear fresher and more vibrant. An earthy bark underpins ginger, hazelnuts and roasted coffee beans.
Taste: the intensity transfers onto the palate and a creaminess. Cinder toffee, pumpkin, honey, raisins, cinnamon and nutmeg display the core characteristics of this distillery.

Overall: for just a few quid more you've already stepped up a notch. This bottling feels more alive and joyous. 

105 Cask Strength
Strength 60% vol at £45 a bottle
Colour: a worn ruby
Nose: a huge ferocious presence with cherries, malted loaf, raisins, blackcurrant jam, a sticky bourbon glaze, cranberries and rhubarb.
Taste: much more limited in reality with tobacco, black pepper, chilli flakes, red salad leaves, rubber bands and a cosy leather armchair.

Overall: it does come across as a younger, more menacing Glenfarclas. A little unbalanced and raw you can appreciate why some rate this dram highly. However for me it lacks the poise I'd be looking for during the course of the evening.

15 Year Old
Strength 46% vol at £45 a bottle
Colour: gold leaf
Nose: diluted orange juice, strawberries, a touch of rust, honey, crushed nuts and pomegranate. With water butterscotch and plain nougat appears. 
Taste: blood orange and more honey no make that honeycomb. Pepper, hazelnuts, dark chocolate, raisins and figs with some cinnamon. Water only improves the texture rather than the taste.

Overall: it's an upward curve with the 15 year old proving to offer more than previous entries.

17 Year Old
Strength 43% vol at £100 a bottle
Additional: exclusive to the Travel Retail Market, North America & Japan
Colour: golden syrup
Nose: cranberries, syrup, heather and a Highland landscape with floral notes. More honey and butter, wholegrain mustard and lots of Christmas cake elements. With water sherbet and pineapple pop up. 
Taste: far more intense and yet precise and not overloaded. This rounded experience provides vibrant red berries almost like a fine merlot wine. Black pepper, tobacco and a fired quality are evident. Cherries, Black Forest Gateau with the creaminess evident. With water I felt it unsettled the experience and is best avoided but the finish is lovely.

Overall: best of the bunch so far and a shame its not a regular UK product. Worth tracking down and trying out if you can as I feel this is the last stop before we move into more powerful sherry drams?

21 Year Old
Strength 43% vol at £80 a bottle
Colour: walnut
Nose: more bronzed rust, toffee apple, brown sugar, all spice, cinnamon, cigar smoke, a touch of rum and marzipan.
Taste: a boozy Christmas cake, a faint echo of rubber, coco power and a leather arm chair presence.

Overall: very refined compared to the 17 year old that may appeal to some but I'm feeling this 21 is a little too relaxed and self confident. I prefer that youthful punk vigour of the 17 year old.

25 Year Old
Strength 43% vol at £110 a bottle
Colour: brown sugar
Nose: copper, HP brown sauce, raisins, cinnamon, metal work, pepper, ginger, oranges, caramel and an old book case.
Taste: more raisins, dark bitter chocolate, black pepper, a bronzed element adding to the very refined feel.

Overall: it's funny as whenever I've done these verticals whether here at Whisky Rover or at a distillery, you're automatically drawn towards the older ages like a fine wine. However it's something unexpected that captures your focus. This 25 year old is refined and ticks all the boxes but it is like a Jaguar car; very large, not suited to everyday life and a little old man, and well boring.

1.188 Sweet and savoury satisfaction, 28 year old
Bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in 2015
Strength 47% vol, part of a sold out trio pack, ex-bourbon hogshead
Colour: sunshine in a glass
Nose: wonderfully juicy with fruits such as ripe peaches and pears. Honey, vanilla and whipped cream. There's a distinct herbal element on the fringes tarragon? Also some mustard power, beeswax and melted butter. Ham hock? Pea and ham soup? A very rich nose almost a dessert wine in places.
Taste: in comparison this is very gentle as if its been sanded down to just a couple of core characteristics. White grapes, honey and a vanilla custard slice - one of my favourite treats from the local bakers.

Overall: Lovely.

1.189 High on the hills with a lonely goatherd..., 21 year old
Bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in 2015
Strength 54.3% vol at £81.50 a bottle, refill ex-bourbon hogshead
Colour: golden syrup
Nose: crushed almonds, pine cones, marzipan, cold butter, sourdough,
Taste: interesting, far more timid and restrained than the 1.194. The sugar essence is evident again but a more rounded experience. Vanilla, honey and some heather in the background.

Overall: not sure that this has to do with goats? It has a scrubbed quality, rugged Highlands and a floral aspect. A decent example but then we move onto something younger an far more pleasurable. 

1.194 Attractive, rounded and comforting, 16 Year Old
Bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in 2015
Strength 60% vol at £60 a bottle, 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel
Colour: buttercup
Nose: a real fruit bomb! Apples, pears, peaches and strawberries unfold. Vanilla fudge, wine gums, pine needles and a juicy fruit aspect.
Taste: a velvety grain-like texture leading us to plenty of sugar with tablet, vanilla, caramel, marmalade and cloves.

Overall: just love the nose on this one. A real break from the norm after indulging in these Glenfarclas sherry drams. Very playful, engaging and satisfying.

The end
An epic voyage and I'm glad I threw in some of the SMWS bourbon's than the official family casks; it'd just be too overloaded. We always associate Glenfarclas with sherry but these ex-bourbon casks show an overlooked side. One that captures my attention. Yet if you corner me at a tasting I'd recommend the official 17 year old every time.

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