Removing the husks from the barley and having far too much fun whilst doing so.
They say you haven’t truly been to Scotland unless it has rained at least half the time you are there. As we stepped off the plane at Inverness airport, there was little doubt in our mind that we were visiting Scotland in all its glory. Having left sunny old England behind, we all shuffled into Peter Donnelly’s car for the short drive to Glenfarclas distillery, taste buds tingling at the prospect of what was to come.
Nestled at the foot of Ben Rinnes, Glenfarclas has been producing whisky for over 150 years and is one of the only remaining family-run distilleries in Speyside. The Grants have been running the business for six generations and remain committed to creating some of the finest quality Highland Single Malt Scotch whisky while embodying a family philosophy of the Spirit of Independence.
Upon arrival at the distillery we were first and foremost blown away by the natural beauty of the area. The striking landscape, with Glenfarclas and its famous pagoda welcoming us as we made our way down the front drive, sent shivers down our spine. After a quick stop off in the visitors centre to see the oldest physical bottle of Glenfarclas (dating back to 1920), we made our way to the distillery with Distillery Manager Callum Fraser, a legend within the Speyside community and a diehard Rangers fan! He explained to us that this year’s production of Glenfarclas is six weeks behind schedule due to the shortage of water after one of the driest summers on record. They were unable to access the million litres of water they need each day in order to begin the distillation process and therefore had to delay the whole production by six weeks until they had enough water to begin distillation.
The stills – some of the last remaining that are still heated by direct fire
After an excellent tour of the distillery where we were (un)fortunate enough to stick our heads in the mash tun (which almost blew our own faces off), we wandered on over to the warehouses to sample some of the family casks. The excitement was palpable. Cue warehouse no 1 – the family cask warehouse. The crown jewel of the distillery’s releases, they showcase Glenfarclas at its best. All are single casks and all are bottled at natural cask strength. Therein we were treated to a selection of cask samples including an unreal 1968 Sherry Cask; an unbelievably dark and delicate number with amazing depth and refined power that left us licking at the chops for more. What an amazing opportunity to sample different vintages that have been sat in cask for over fifty years - a real treat!
A selection of Family Casks
What followed were several other warehouses and samples from different ages and casks including a selection of 1969 cask whiskies each aged in second-fill sherry casks. Though the colour was broadly the same in each, the nose and palate were worlds apart. Before we had a chance to decide which the outright winner was, we were politely asked to finish off the dram before we finally ended the tour with the chance to sample our own vintage family cask dram.
My vintage family cask - looking great and tasting even better!
Sampling each other’s birth vintages was the real eye-opener for me. I couldn’t believe the disparity between vintages. My 1993 was light in colour but by far the most powerful, highlighted by lighter notes of green apple and honey, whereas the mid-80s vintages were much darker and displayed a much more Christmas-cake palate. Before we could get our teeth into these samples, and comparing each other’s drams, Callum placed a bottle on the table… as we lifted our heads out of our glasses, we squinted over at the bottle sitting before us and to our amazement it was a bottle of 40 year old 105 cask strength. Safe to say the cheers of approval could be heard in the next village over. What a way to end the visit. Deliciously assertive yet smooth for the strength and so warm we could feel it well into the laughter-filled drive back to the hotel.
Photos of the staff are dotted about the distillery as a thank you for the relentless effort they put in to creating Glenfarclas
I most definitely speak for the whole group when I say that this Glenfarclas trip was one for the books. From the quality of the liquid to the hospitality shown to us by the distillery, the whole setup is created with that family spirit in mind. I think this was most poignantly pointed out to me by the selection of photographs of the staff dotted around the distillery as a thank you to all of those that make Glenfarclas so great. This only helps to strengthen the familiar nature and bonds between the team, from mashman to relief operator and the Grants themselves. And as I sit here back in London and look back on those two rainy days in the Highlands, I can’t help but have a smile on my face and think about the next time I can go back up there and immerse myself in that world once more.