As I wrote in the Glenfarclas 12 review, the J&G Grant company is singular in their transparency and focus on product, producing whisky and marketing materials which go light on glitz and heavy on information. I think their entry in scotchwhisky.com says it best:
The Grants’ philosophy is to present their single malts with minimum fuss in terms of packaging and at sensible prices. The aim is to get consumers drinking the whisky, even the really old bottlings, and then come back for more. Essentially, Glenfarclas is a whisky for drinkers rather than collectors.
In that vein, the packaging for the 17 is quite similar to that for the 12, as you can see in the illustration at right. Different color, different number for the age statement, the collateral on the back is just about the same as the 12. “Many have wondered at the origins of the unique taste of Glenfarclas,” it reads. Well, with the 12, I was certain it was the water. The new-make spirit brings a lot of earthy, mineral notes into the nose of the 12. Would the 17 be the same?
Only one way to find out. Well, actually I already knew, as Santa managed to cram the 17-year expression into my stocking (!). I actually bought the 12-year afterwards to write up the review. Also, I liked the 17 so much, and considering the price, could not afford to indulge as much as I would have liked. Hence the 12 enters the rotation.
Lined up side to side, it is interesting to note the lighter color of the 17. Considering the Glenfarclas folks claim no colorants (well, they say the coloration is from the casking) one wonders why an older expression is a lighter color. But we’re here for the aroma and taste. Let others worry about colorants.
First, I had the wife try them both. She liked the 12, but the 17 got her to say “Wow, that really opens up in the mouth.” It does. The flavors are more balanced than in the 12, with the oakiness toned down and more complexity. This isn’t over-the-top sweet by any means.
Glenfarclas 17-year old Speyside single malt, 43% ABV
Nose: Granite minerals, earthy (not smoky) peat, but not as forward as the 12. With the malt and toffee of the 12 there is a whiff of seaside wrack. They’re no closer to the sea than Aberlour, so I assume I’m smelling that old dunnage warehouse. Cool!
Palate: Honey (vs honeysuckle in the 12) hand-in-hand with vanilla, the latter more balanced with the honey than in the 12. The sherry casks add a touch of plumminess. It is smooth, with oak tannins very delicate at the back of the tongue. It’s not sweeter than the 12, a bit less, actually, but the oak is less forward. A smoother big brother to the 12-year-old, and more viscous mouthfeel.
Finish: The finish is long, the oak more refined and the minerals less predominant than in the 12.
Bottom line: Again, this is no sherry bomb. It is a well-designed whisky that reflects the extra care taken in casking and aging, and it has no faults. However, at more than double the price ($94 locally), it is in a region where the competition is fierce. If I was going to spoil myself (for a birthday purchase, say) I might go with Bunnahabhain 12 over the Glenfarclas, but I’m a big Bunna fan and I’d be saving a few bucks. For anyone looking for a refined single malt with the smoothness of a sherried whisky, I can recommend the Glenfarclas 17.
Also, note the Glenfarclas folks have released single-cask versions (the Family Casks), and have a 21 (within a shout of the 17 in price), a 25 and a 40!