Every once in a while northern German retailer Weinquelle organizes great whisky tastings in their show room in Siek, just a few kilometres away from Hamburg. This time they invited George S. Grant, manager of Glenfarclas Distillery in the sixth generation, for a wonderful presentation of six different expressions from their well-assorted range. In the end, we even got a very special and unique surprise. Even if you never met George in person, you might still know his face from the tin of Glenfarclas Passion from their Legend of Speyside series. Officially, the distillery was founded in 1836. But as many others, they started production way earlier. No one really knows anymore when exactly the distillery was built, but its existence was already recorded in the 1760s. In 1865 the Grant family bought the land on which Glenfarclas was built for GBP 511.19. Originally, they were not too keen on the distillery itself but rather went after the farm and its estates. As Glenfarclas exports its whisky into more than 100 countries today, us as well as the inhabitants of many other parts of the world are happy the Grants did not tear down the production unit some 150 years ago…
Before we took our first sip of whisky, George explained to us why it sometimes says “Highland Single Malt” on their bottles and sometimes “Speyside Single Malt”. Whisky was produced at Glenfarclas Distillery long before the Speyside was even established as a region. Originally, all distilleries from that part of Scotland got the addition “Glenlivet” in their name. However, since there is also a distillery called Glenlivet, this caused quite a bit of confusion (especially in the US). To avoid this, Speyside was made a whisky region of its own. So when Glenfarclas refers to a pour as a “Speyside Single Malt” these days, they go with the contemporary classification. And when they call it a “Highland Single Malt”, they pay homage to their beginnings. Another interesting thing to know is the fact that Glenfarclas used to give 90% of their whisky to blenders in the past; but it is only about 33% nowadays. While Glenfarclas sold a significant amount of casks in the past, George assured us that their warehouses does luckily still hold a lot of old casks from the last six decades.
The first whisky we were served – none of which are being sold in the UK, by the way – was the Heritage. This smooth and easily drinkable everyday dram was originally brought onto the market for the French supermarket chain. It is about 10 years old and slightly different from the standard range bottling stating that age. About 40% of the Heritage come from first and second fill casks, while the remaining 60% come from third and fourth fill casks. In the standard 10yo, the ratio is exactly the other way around. In general, Glenfarclas does not use a cask more than four times and today every cask they buy from Jose y Miguel Martin costs about GBP 1,000. The Glenfarclas Legend from the distillery’s Legend of Speyside series came next. This spicy whisky is about 7 years old and more influenced by the Oloroso sherry. The range it belongs to was developed for the German market, which George holds in high esteem… despite the fact that he does not understand it all. No matter what has happened in Germany – be it a new government getting elected, millions of refugees receiving shelter or even the Berlin wall being torn down – each year sales have increased by 5% for Glenfarclas.
It followed the Christmas Edition 2008/2017, which was matured mainly in first and second fill casks. While this malt is not bottled at Christmas, the spirit is made and filled into the casks about ten days before December 24. It has a very smooth and fruity cotton candy sweetness and is a bestseller in Germany. In the UK or France, however, the festive picture on the label has not exactly helped to make this whisky all too popular. After a short break with a nice buffet we went on to the Premium Edition Sherry Cask 2004/2017. Bottled at cask strength with an ABV of 58.4%, it is a very powerful whisky with notes of dark fruits, chocolate and toffee. Its ABV is almost as high as that of Glenfarclas’ most popular cask strength whisky called 105, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2018. For this reason, a 22-year-old special edition will be released.
George also told us that the whisky industry’s current heyday lasts extraordinarily long. According to him, that is one of the main reasons why many distilleries are struggling to give their bottlings an age statement. Demand is simply too high to fully cover it with old expressions. This is also a problem for Glenfarclas, but they would rather pause some expressions – like they did for two years with the 30yo and the 40yo – than add too many NAS bottlings to their range. Also, each year they produce 10% more than they previously sold in the same period of time. Back to the drams: The Oloroso Sherry Casks 1996/2017 is another exclusive bottling for Germany. It is less smooth and sweet than the standard 21yo, but offers wonderful notes of fruits as well as lots of chocolate. As is the case for all whiskies by Glenfarclas, the price of this expression is relatively stable. George explained this by pointing out that A) they still have a lot of older casks in their warehouses and B) they want to retain long-term customers. Their motto is “See it, open it, drink it”.
The last dram of the evening was a very special surprise. The Vintage 1965 Single Cask 4508 is a cask sample that is full of sweetness, citrus fruits and toffee. The oaky notes are perfectly integrated and by no means as dominant as you might expect from a 52-year-old whisky. After some time in the glass, the orange notes shine through more and more. An outstanding and very unique ending of a perfect evening. George was an entertaining and charming host, who happily signed a lot of bottles and engaged in conversations after the tasting.
Glenfarclas Heritage (Single Malt / NAS / 40% / ~23.00 Euro)
Glenfarclas “The Legend of Speyside” Passion (Single Malt / NAS / 46% / ~35.00 Euro)
Glenfarclas Christmas Ed. Oloroso Cask 2008/17 (Single Malt / 8yo / 46% / ~55.00 Euro)
Glenfarclas Premium Ed. Sherry Cask 2004/17 (Single Malt / 13yo / 59.4% / ~60.00 Euro)
Glenfarclas Oloroso Sherry Cask 1996/2017 (Single Malt / 21yo / 46% / ~70.00 Euro)
Glenfarclas Vintage 1965 Cask Sample 4508 (Single Malt / 52yo /52.8% / not for sale)