The appearance of this whisky shouts Tradition, Old School and Whisky Like It Has Always Been. It is unashamedly low key in everything about its presentation: a squat, dark brown (looks green below, but my bottle is definitely brown) dumpy bottle and a simple label: red and brown lettering on a cream background and a line drawing of the distillery. I could easily pass it by on the shelves when it is positioned in amongst more glamorous and eye-catching whiskies, most of which work harder to be noticed and grabbed by the adventurous, experimental drinker.
Of course to ignore Glenfarclas would be a Mistake. It is a family distillery belonging to J (John) & G (George) Grant known as the Grants of Glenfarclas, as opposed to the William Grant & Sons drinks dynasty. Glenfarclas was granted its license in 1836, in the relatively early days of legal distilling in Scotland. It was bought by John Grant on the death of the original owner and has been the whisky of J & G Grant ever since, with the family very much hands-on from 1896 to the present day.
What worries me about Glenfarclas in its present livery is that this is a sherry cask whisky, one of the top trends for 2015, and yet it looks so staid. You have to know about it to love it. So much whisky is now sold through supermarkets with no chatter and sharing of knowledge that this brand could simply not fulfil its potential outside the specialist bottle shop in an age where sherry barrel maturation is all the buzz. Still, once you have a bottle, you’ll understand why so many independent drinks stores do so well with the whiskies from this distillery.
I first tasted the 15 year old (at which point Glenfarclas whiskies start to show real character) at a tasting that I led for my local wine merchants, Hennings in Chichester. It is a label that they champion and when I started to chat about it one of the younger attendees, a chap I would think was in his early 30’s, commented that it was his standard everyday whisky. I have to admit surprise as it so doesn’t look like a young brand.
The whisky has a glorious pale golden colour, indicating the real wonder of ageing in sherry wood, and especially ex-Oloroso casks as used in the main by Glenfarclas. It’s not a deep, dark colour: it still looks light but the depth of aroma alludes to the challenge to come on the palette. The nose is complex with a rich, fruity molasses sweetness and there is some smoke there too. In the mouth I found it distinguished: elegant and rich with a sense of fun. Sugar-daddy’ish? Maybe, but in a charming way. Adding just a few drops of water released more pepper for me and slightly more herbaceous flavours.
This is a whisky with great appeal. Like The GlenDronach 15yo Revival it would sit happily with salami and other charcuterie, with ewe’s milk and blue cheeses and with eggy custard desserts. It is full-bodied but not weighty in the mouth: not so much a deep depths of winter whisky as a malt for the brighter sunnier days when there is warmth in the sun.
Taking on board the spice and herbaceous sherry tones of this whisky it seems a natural to me to partner it to Spanish foods. Anything from tapas to paella would complement it at my table. However, we are just into February as I write this and it is the season for oranges. My Citrus winter fruit salad (Bite-Sized Video #3) is full of oranges and ginger with prunes and apricots and is seasoned with star anise and vanilla. By matching it to the Glenfarclas 15yo I have picked out the Spanish essence of the oranges and accentuated their flavour with the rich sherried tones of the whisky, it’s peppery notes now adding some extra depth of flavour too. Of course, the vanilla in the fruit is reminiscent of American oak in whisky terms and thus so many of the great flavours of whisky have met together through this match.
Glenfarclas 15yo 46% abv around £46 for 70cl
More information than you need to know
Glenfarclas is a Speyside malt, and is revered in the trade.
Glenfarclas was one of the first distilleries to open a visitor centre. It opened in 1973 and, in the keeping with the very traditional and masculine appearance of the whisky, the visitor centre is panelled in the oak from the historic steam ship, the RMS Empress of Australia. Like many distilleries which have passed from owner to owner this ship changed hands several times and had a colourful service life. She was used as the British Royal Yacht during a visit to Canada by the Prince of Wales, later briefly Edward VIII, in 1927, and later again for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on their state visit to Canada in 1939.
Settle down with a Glenfarclas 15yo and enjoy Rodrigo’s beautiful Concierto de Aranjuez.