I was first introduced to Glenfarclas in a way that I suspect – no, I know – has forever shaped my feelings for the distillery. Sitting by myself at the bar in a pub in Aberlour, just a couple of miles down the road from the stills that produced it, I picked a Glenfarclas 15-year-old at random from the whisky list in front of me. A few seconds later, my eyes widened as I experienced the deep, rich fruit of this Speyside stunner for the first time. It was a moment I’m not likely to forget; discovering an absolute joy of a spirit right next door to where it’s made has to rank alongside the happiest of the many memorable moments my whisky journey has provided.
Glenfarclas is a little unusual in several ways. The first is that they’re family-owned and operated, and have been for almost 150 years, a rarity in these times of acquisitions and consolidations. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that they add no colouring (the dreaded E150a) to their whisky, and they seem to favour higher strengths too… their 15 year old, probably what most people would consider their most mainstream bottling, is at 46%, and then of course there’s the cask-strength 105 at a natural 60% ABV. Their flavour profile is incredibly rich, full-bodied; it’s often referred to as “Christmas cake in a glass”, and you can see why at the first sip.
When I heard the 105 20-year-old (limited to just 4000 bottles) was coming to BC just in time for Christmas, I thought I’d treat myself and spring for a bottle. Normally I wouldn’t pay over $300 for whisky but you know, Glenfarclas at Christmas! That’s the equivalent of drinking an Islay on a stony beach in a raging storm… it’s just the right way to do it.
A shout-out to Edgemont Fine Wines and Spirits who got my order to me a couple of weeks before Christmas Eve, which is when I’d decided to open the bottle for maximum festiveness. And so, with George Bailey on the TV having both the worst and best night of his life for the millionth time, I cracked open the impressive packaging.
OK, the needle skips off the soft Christmas music record here as we talk about the packaging a little bit. It is indeed impressive at first glance; a smooth, monolithic black box with a nice lined interior. However, I don’t know if this is the case with everybody’s but mine smells strongly like the inside of a cheap toy; plastic and glue, not the ambience one desires when opening a premium whisky! It’s so overwhelming an atmosphere that I don’t store the now-opened bottle in it as I’m afraid of it affecting the spirit. It’s also very large and heavy and no doubt increases the cost of the whisky by some amount – manufacturing, shipping and storage all presumably being more expensive than a normal bottle. The 105 costs more than the standard 30-year old; it’s at a higher strength of course, and it’s also a limited edition which explains some of the higher cost, but the packaging surely also factors in. So, at the end of the day I’m left with a large, unpleasantly odiferous box with no practical use which I probably paid some premium for!
Happily things rapidly improve when we make it to the actual whisky. The colour is an incredibly dark mahogany in the bottle, and becomes a beautiful burnished red-gold in the glass. First impressions as the aromas hit you are of rich, deep fruitcake, with oak more prominent than the younger 105, and a pronounced sweetness. When tasting that sweetness dominates with black cherries in reduction, plums, raisins, dark chocolate and more, then changing a little towards the end with some soy coming through. The finish fades to coffee and chocolates, like a good meal, albeit a sinful one!
I wish I had a bottle of the standard 105 to hand to compare, but that will have to wait for another day sadly. This 20-year-old edition is a delicious dram, for sure. But is it worth the price premium? That’s hard to say, as subjective as these things are. I will say that the closest thing I’ve tried to this whisky is a sample of Kensington Wine Market’s bespoke 1972 Glendronach single-cask I had earlier this year; from memory, it had similar syrupy, thick fruit and rich intensity, and that cost a little more than this Glenfarclas. Also, the extremely rare 105 40-year-old goes for around $1300, so next to that this is a bargain! But personally, being on a budget as I’m sure most of us are, this will remain a one-off treat for me. I’ll just have to make the bottle last as long as I can!