...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Single Malt Report: Glenfarclas 15 year old

Oh man.

Nutella.  Just me and a jar and a spoon.  Dinner.

Soooooo, whisky.

After the Laphroaigs, we go to the other side of the spectrum: the rich sherried Glenfarclas(es).

Glenfarclas is one my favorite whisky producers.  Owned by the Grant family since 1865, they specialize in ex-sherry European oak-matured whiskys and have a wide spectrum of releases: 10, 12, 15, 17, 21, 25, 30, 40, 50, three high-strength 105 bottlings, and their vast single Family Casks.  Their regular range is well-priced in the UK compared to other companies' sherry bombs.  They have a large capacity that turns out best-selling product, yet have never sold their shop to a multinational corporation.

Some quick official history:
Robert Hay officially opened the distillery in 1836.  Upon Hay's death, father and son, John and George Grant, bought the distillery in 1865 and began renting it out to John Smith (of Glenlivet fame).  When Smith left to open up Cragganmore in 1870, John and George founded J&G Grant Ltd. and began to run Glenfarclas on their own.

Here's the family ownership tree since then:
John → (son) George → (sons) John & George → (sons) George Scott & John Peter → (son) John L S → (son) George S.

That's consistency.

Though I'm not the biggest fan of first-fill sherry-oak whisky, I do adore Glenfarclas 105  And when I've sampled a couple other 'farclases, I found the oak, wine, and malt very well integrated.  It was never like sipping a glass of 86 proof sherry; there was whisky in there.  Whenever Macallan decides to gut their 12yr in the States, I'd like to have a sherried replacement.  I've tried Glendronach, now let us go 'Farclas.

Distillery: Glenfarclas
Ownership: J&G Grant Ltd.
Region: Speyside (Central)
Age: at least 15 years
Maturation: ex-oloroso (and maybe fino) sherry casks
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
(Mini bottled in July 2010)

The color is dark amber.  The nose starts with sour fruit (apple?), stewed raisins, and rum raisin ice cream.  There's some balsamic vinegar in there too, along with carob and brandied cherries.  The palate is very fudgy.  The sherry is present but not overwhelming.  Prunes, cherry liqueur, a touch of salt, and whipped cream show up promptly.  The medium-length finish carries mellow sherry.  There's some salt, a little bit of chalk, brief bitterness, but also a fresh floral fragrance.

Water dries the nose right out, so it's mostly cardboard and sherry.  Some oranges follow, old sweat, and a slight metallic moment.  The palate is also mostly sherry with the malt stripped back.  A little fudge remains, along with caramel sauce.  The finish is mild with that metallic note, but mostly sherry again.

Do this.  For your own sake.
A bit of Nutella washed down with Glenfarclas 15yr.  Mmmm.  They mmmmmmerge into a BIG hit of hazelnuts and even a swoop of peanuts too.  I was standing in the kitchen upon the first try.  I had to sit down to fully process it.

Without Nutella, water seems to squelch most of the malt, so I recommend drinking this one neat.  Especially alongside Nutella.

Of course, I'm a total a**hole because the fifteen year isn't sold in the US.  But it is priced right if you're ever doing a UK order.  If you like sherried whisky, I'd recommend giving any Glenfarclas a try.  If you're on the fence about first-fill sherry casks, 'Farclas does a good job letting their malt live in the whisky, so perhaps you can give one a sip...

Availability - UK liquor specialists
Pricing - $55-$65 before shipping
Rating - 85


  1. It's kind of weird that the 15 YO is bottled at 46% while the rest of their range is 43%. Not that I'm complaining, but it seems like such an aberration.

    This is very much on my list the next time I order from the UK. I really liked their 12 YO, but it did have a few rough edges. A few more years in oak and a bit more strength sounds just right.

    1. I wish the 46%ABV wasn't an aberration! Perhaps some day soon they'll move a few other bottlings in that direction.

      Funny that the 12year selling in the $50-$60 range in the US, while the 15yr sells at a similar price point in the UK. It's understandable (duty, tariffs, transport, etc.), yet they're getting the better stuff over there for the same price. But the price difference is nowhere near as cockeyed as the UK-US Springbank situation.

    2. Glenfarclas 12 is one of the very few whisky values here in Oregon. Under $45. The 10 YO is actually priced higher, for some weird reason.

    3. That is odd. Distribution/import issues maybe? Weird. Good price on the 12yr at least.

  2. To me, 105 is the best. I had a 15yo bottle that I struggled to finish; I found the profile similar to the 17yo - lots of sherry and sweetness, but a little simple; 12yo is indeed rough around the edges, which is the Glenfarclas signature. But for some reason, the 105 seems to be from a different DNA, with depth and elegance. It's probably the cask strength that makes the difference!

    1. I agree with you 105%. The 105 is my favorite 'Farclas.

      I'll also agree that the 15yr is not immensely sophisticated; I'd say that the Glendronach 15 may hold more dimensions. But I found the sherry less imposing, and the malt more forward, on the GF15. It can be on the sweet side, but I am on the search for a good dessert malt. Yes, yes, I know the 105...

  3. Dessert malt, Nutella - how about Glenfiddich 15?

    1. A more affordable and accessible option. And one that I must try.

    2. Hey, I've got an open bottle of that malt!

      *Waves bottle of Glenfiddich 15 in front of screen as if trying to teleport the contents across the Web*

      Hmm, since you've compared the others, how 'bout a Glenfiddich/Glenlivet 15 Taste Off?

    3. *Bangs his hand on the screen reaching for the whisky*

      Yeah, I've never done a proper Glenfiddich 15 tasting. With a 12yr and 18yr Taste Off in the books, I see you have a point...

    4. If you haven't tried it, find some Glenfiddich DE 102 while it's still around. Blows every other 'Fiddich I've tried out of the water.

    5. That one's on my wish list. Looking for it...

  4. The 15 is from a different DNA than the 12 (or the 18, or the Glenlivets). It's the odd man out, and you owe it to yourself to try it asap.

    1. I just realized I'd tried it once almost a year ago, but was eating at the time and missed out on the big picture. I'll commit to it further next time.

  5. Wait a minute Michael. You wrote that John Smith worked at Glenlivet before coming to Glenfarclas BUT this John Smith had nothing to do with Glenlivet (there is, however, some speculation that he was an illegitimate son of Glenlivet's founder George Smith).

    1. I promise I didn't pull that out of my rear! I'm checking my sources to see where my info came from...

    2. Oops, looks like I was wrong on that point. John Smith, according to Malt Madness, did work at Glenlivet, Macallan, and Glenfarclas before founding his own distillery of Cragganmore.

      What got me confused is that George Smith's second son was named John Gordon. J.G. Smith (as he was called) is placed after his father on the Glenlivet label.

    3. And just to add to the confusion, John Smith of Cragganmore had a son named Gordon who served as distillery manager. So we have a John Gordon Smith at Glenlivet, a John Smith, and a Gordon Smith.

    4. Ah yes. The Whisky Yearbook confirms the John Smiths. Also the number of folks from Clan Grant that are/were involved in whiskymaking is always impressive.