I’m an engineer of sorts…I don’t hold an engineering degree but my entire post-military working life has been designing, writing, testing and explaining software and computer systems. There is a natural dynamic between the messaging folks (marketing) and the engineers. We techies like to know what’s what and make our own decisions. Marketing’s job is, as we see it, to spiff up, deflect, and entice. That might be fine for the hoi polloi, but we engineers like to think we’re immune to such blandishments.
Well, of course we aren’t, marketing is a powerful force and here to stay, but it sets my heart all aflutter to encounter a company like Glenfarclas. To say they are transparent about how they create their product would be an understatement. This starts at their website, which is professional but not the most visually stunning. It’s probably considered a couple years behind the times as far as design, yet I appreciate it for the amount of information they place at your fingertips. It is amazing. Furthermore, their brand ambassador manning the email trenches is similarly forthcoming (thank you, Myriam). This is a huge benefit to those of us who want to know just what it is we are drinking, how it is made, why it tastes as it does.
Integrity and competence are a good combination
John and George Grant, the 5th & 6th generation of the family concern, can get away with their transparency due to the quality of the product. (Spoiler alert: I liked it.) There is no need to deflect or spiff up the product, as it is produced at a high quality — and at a quite reasonable price. Around the soggy Northwestern US, the Glenfarclas 12-year will set you back $45. That’s a competitive category and filled with lesser whiskies. If you’re wondering how they manage that price point, I’d take two wild guesses:
- As a family concern (private unlimited company), they can set long-range plans without worrying about stockholders’ meetings.
- They don’t spend a ton of dough on marketing or product packaging. It’s straightforward.
So, what sort of whisky is it? And how does it compare to some other sherry-forward selections? Read on.
How it is made
An hour spent on the Glenfarclas web site provides a rather complete lesson in the process of whisky-making. In “From the Grain to the Glass” they provide specifics on temperatures, humidity, sources of ingredients, etc. This proves a point, which they make explicit in the commentary: it’s one thing to know the recipe; the knowledge to execute it and do so consistently is key. These folks are quite confident that their expertise is a competitive advantage.
The ingredients to Glenfarclas are:
- Barley malt, from one of the central ‘maltsters.’ Probably Scottish in origin, not always. This is extremely common in modern Scotch-making.
- Spring water. This is a Speyside distillery and the peatiness of the water is unlikely to be as pronounced as from some Islay distillers. At least, that’s the expectation…
- Copper pot stills. No surprise here.
- Ex-Oloroso sherry casks (250 and 500 liter); there are no ex-bourbon casks used. These are charred and the core range sees first and second-fill only; they use as many as four fills for malts heading to blends.
The Glenfarclas materials note that they use old, stone-walled, dirt-floored ‘dunnage’ warehouses, where their casks are stacked no more than 3 high. Eight years is their minimum aging, though currently a 10 is their youngest offering in the single malt. Lastly, they bottle at 43% and state that coloration is due to the casks, not an additive.
Glenfarclas 12-year old Speyside single malt, 43% ABV
Nose: Granite and earthy (not smoky) peat predominates. My bottle is at cellar temp, so allowing the glass to warm in the hand reveals more earth, but also malt and toffee.
Palate: Honeysuckle leads with vanilla. It is smooth, with oak tannins building at the back of the tongue.
Finish: The balance is towards the oak’s tannins but not unpleasant and there are no off-putting notes whatsoever. It’s been a couple minutes and I can still taste that earthiness. (N.B. the earthiness fades after being opened a week).
Bottom line: Considering the casking is 100% Oloroso, this is no sherry bomb. Clearly, the new-make spirit has a lot of character going into maturation, and that results in a whisky for grown-ups. I’d feel confident serving this to any of the malt-heads on my block (and we have a number). This is certainly going on my always-in-house list. It’s going to be interesting to compare how forward the oak is in the 17-year, which I have standing by.
The Macallan Test – or is it the Bunnahabhain test?
The handful of folks who have followed this blog (thank you!) know I hold The Macallan in high esteem. It’s a whisky produced with consistent high quality and finesse, secured by their control over the production and preparation of their casks. It’s pricey, about $60 around here, and Edrington Group spends a fair bit of cash on advertising and splashy websites (which have less info now than they did a couple years back, grrrr.) Would I like to find a whisky that could take the place of The Macallan (always on the shelf here) for a chunk less? You bet. I still have a couple kids to put through college.
Compared to Macallan’s 12, the Glenfarclas 12 has more peat on in the nose and finish versus The Macallan — the latter having a sweeter and less oak-forward palate. The Macallan is more of a C-Class Mercedes, while the Glenfarclas is the Range Rover — sophisticated but still a bit burly in the edges.
And that brings it right into Bunnahabhain territory — another whisky with an earthy-peat nose. Bunna is one of my faves and remains so, with more thickness in the palate along with earthiness and a better balanced oak character. It’s also 50% more expensive. I think the Glenfarclas 12 can hold its own in my whisky cabinet.