Ahh, Glenfarclas…that beautiful, sherried whisky serves as a classic reference dram for spicy, Speyside profile. It’s such an iconic whisky, I’ve stopped by the distillery more than once, even though I didn’t have time for a tour, when I was in the area just to shop at the Visitors Centre (easily identifiable by its copper pagoda). The exterior of the distillery is classically gorgeous, its darkened stone buildings punctuated by bright red doors. Once I finally managed to get there for a tour, it didn’t disappoint.
Our tour guide was Donna McIntosh, and she was pretty easily the sharpest, most polished tour guide I’ve ever seen. Later, I learned that she recently celebrated 25 years with the company, so her expertise was well earned, but that also reinforced the truth of an old saying about superstars: “No one comes completely out of nowhere.” On the tour, Donna highlighted a feature most distilleries do not: the malt de-stoner. Given that the milling process involves having steel rollers crush the malted barley to varying grades of fineness, having a stone grind against the metal amidst all of that very dry powder is a clear fire/explosion hazard. She also showed us the “rummager chains” that move across the bottom of the wash still to keep things from sticking and burning there. I’ve been on a lot of distillery tours, and that was the first time I’d even heard of such a thing.
But as we often note in our distillery visit posts, what makes a distillery unique is almost always its people. In the case of Glenfarclas, that goes well beyond the fantastic tour guide. The history of this family-owned distillery is long and evident throughout the distillery grounds. The Grant family bought Glenfarclas in 1865 for the handsome sum of £511 and 19 Shillings. George is the sixth generation of Grants to run the distillery, and the philosophy he inherited is one that should keep the family in good stead going forward: this generation lays down whisky for the next generation to sell. Thanks to that philosophy, and a vision of the long term that kept them from cutting back production too much during the lean times, Glenfarclas boasts some amazing old stocks–and overall very reasonable prices on their whiskies–as a result.
There’s no better embodiment of that philosophy today–nor a better return on the previous generation’s investment–than the Glenfarclas Family Casks. Very sought after by whisky collectors and aficionados approaching a big birthday, the Family Casks show off Glenfarclas like none of their standard releases can (though I have to note that I try to keep a bottle of Glenfarclas 105 in my whisky cabinet at all times). The Sherry casks shine, but rarely dominate, in these whiskies. Visitor Centre Manager Matthew Porritt poured us Family Cask expressions from the 1990’s, the 1980’s, along with some Glenfarclas matured in a Port cask (see below), which gave me a very different look at this wonderfully fruity spirit. Oh, and I got to try this stunner from 1973:
If you can make it to the distillery, they’ll show you the list of prices for Family Casks from various years. Some are, sadly, sold out and long gone, but many others remain on offer, though the prices naturally tend to go up over time. The 1969 I had my eye on lists for £3,400. Though I’m not at all one to spend that kind of money on whisky–at least not all at once–if I were to make an exception, this would be the first place I’d go.