Glenfarclas distillery tour review

Last day of the holiday and time for one last tour. Glenfarclas had been on my bucket list since the last time I was in Speyside (3 years ago), so I was looking forward to this one.

As the tour began, we stood in front of a number of portraits (below) and were introduced to the Grants (John and Georges), the family that have owned the distillery for generations. Much like when you do a Glenfiddich or Balvenie tour, a great deal is made out of being “family owned”, but it does feel a little different here. The family still live on site (in fact we saw them making a snowman in their driveway from the window in the wash back room), and there is something about the location and the whole operation that just *feels* like a family business.

Into the distillery we went and the first site was the biggest malt mill I have seen (It didn’t say porteus either). Apparently this bad boy can grind 8 tonnes per hour but has lasted since the 60s because it’s never been run at 8 tonnes per hour. This may raise some questions in your mind. All I’ll say is, mine too but I didn’t ask them as it didn’t seem like that sort of tour.

Onto the tun room and the wash backs, both made from stainless steel. The brilliant thing about this room just wouldn’t come out on my camera phone. The large windows to the left of this picture of the wash backs look out onto the snow capped Ben RInnes (and we are pretty close to it here). A fantastic setting for a workplace!

The stills looked fairly tall and had a bulb to help promote a lighter spirit (though some of this may be negated by the descending line arm). The spirit safe was roped off as you can see from the pictures. I really didn’t like this touch. Other distilleries don’t have problems with rogue tourists twiddling knobs and collecting feints etc, so why are these guys worried?

We were not taken to a warehouse, but we were allowed to look in the window of the filling store. Now here is where the tour guide told us something that I found very surprising. Apparently Glenfarclas use sherry casks and, if they use bourbon barrels, they must be 3rd fill (or 4th, 5th etc) so that, in the words of our tour guide, “they don’t impart any flavour to the final spirit and affect Glenfarclas’ sherried profile”. I can see the sense in this as Sherry casks can cost 10-12 times bourbon casks and this might be a way to get more spirit at the right age cheaper. I was just stunned that they’d admit to this on a tour. Surely something like “We prefer bourbon barrel notes such as vanilla to be more mellowed, as they would be after a number of fills, so that they add a subtle complexity to the profile of Glenfarclas”, would be more par for the course?

The tasting was to be held in a room panelled using wood from a salvaged ship, the SS Empress Australia. Nice!

The tour usually comes with a tasting of Glenfarclas 10 year old. However, I had heard on Whiskycast that there was a new distillery only edition available. The whisky was the last distilled in 1999 before the turn of the millennium and had been maturing in Sherry since then. The bottles are sold as 1l and are at cask strength. Our guide let me taste this instead (after I explained I had a full bottle of Glenfarclas 10 at home). Here are the dramstats:

  • Price £60
  • 1 litre
  • ABV 56.3%
  • Distillery only

Nose: Honey, vanilla, brandy snap, fig rolls. There is a blend like quality to the malt (i.e. in the flavour profile) and this is no bad thing. Maple syrup comes through with a little water.

Palate: Lots of honey and caramel. It’s slightly sickly, very sweet and a touch biscuity with fig rolls. Sherry is definitely there but it’s not a deep rich oloroso type sherry, but almost a cream sherry. There is a very creamy mouthfeel with maple syrup and barley sugar coming through with a touch of water.

Finish: Pepper, barley, fruity biscuits (fig rolls, gariboldis), with lingering honey and barley sugar.

Verdict: It’s definitely not what I was expecting from a sherry cask but it’s pretty awesome and £60 for 1l cask strength is a freakin’ steal!

Overall Verdict: Overall I liked the distillery and the whisky but I was disappointed with the tour. For a family place, there were too many corporate touches that served to make the visitors feel unwelcome (e.g. not showing warehouses and roping off the spirit safe). I am holding these guys to a higher standard, yes, but they do make a lot of their family ownership, and yet you don’t feel as if you are invited into their home as a guest, but as if you are a health and safety concern. When the experience is compared to that offered by William Grant and Sons at the Balvenie or even Glenfiddich, though the scale of the operation is huge in comparison, you still feel like they are showing you around their home. However, for the price of the tour (£5), this is definitely a place to visit. The breathtaking nature of the location, the view from the wash backs and the dram at the end are worth the entry fee.



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