The Glenfarclas distillery is one of the last 'family' distilleries in Speyside.
Glenfarclas was licensed in 1836 by farm tenant Robert Hay. For a while around the year
1850 Glenfarclas was also known under the name 'Glenlivet' - but we all know who won the
battle for that name... Nowadays, only Glenlivet distillery has the right to use the name.
In 1865 Glenfarclas was obtained from Robert Hay's executors by John Grant who then
let it to John Smith until 1870. By that time, John (the 'Smith' one) had built Cragganmore
for himself, so after 1870 Glenfarclas was run by the actual distillery owners J. & G. Grant.
In 1895 the Glenfarclas -Glenlivet Distillery Co Ltd formed, half of which was owned by
Pattison, Elder & Co and the other half by the Grant family.
Glenfarclas was rebuilt in 1896, shortly before Pattison, Elder & Co were bankrupted.
The bankruptcy of 1898 sent shock waves through the young Scotch whisky industry;
its effects were so profound that over a century later the story of 'The Pattison Crisis'
is still being told as a cautionary tale. Given its relevance to the history of Glenfarclas,
I'll include some of the 'headlines' here.
The brothers Robert and Walter Pattison started out as dairy traders in
Edinburgh. When demand for Scotch whisky exploded in the 1880's, the
Pattisons saw an opportunity. They started a blending & retail company
in 1887. In 1889 they collected 100.000 pounds at the stock exchange.
The flamboyant Pattison brothers were very inventive pioneers in the field of (whisky) advertising.
They were not discouraged by the fact that mass media like radio and television had not been
invented yet. The Pattisons just used the 'tools' available to them at the time. At one time these
tools even included parrots... The brothers distributed no less than 500 grey parrots amongst
grocers. And these were no ordinary parrots; they were carefully trained to continuously shout
'Buy Pattisons' at the top of their little bird lungs. Surprisingly enough, many people followed
the advice of these 'bird brains'.
Thanks to stunts like these (not to mention
massive sums of borrowed money) the
Pattison's whisky empire grew rapidly and
they soon owned half of Glenfarclas and
significant chunks of Aultmore and Oban.
When the 19th century was winding down,
the Pattison brothers were a huge success.
Unfortunately, the good times would not last...
Like many other distilleries in the area Glenfarclas draws
its process water from a source on Ben Rinnes mountain.
As one of the first distilleries with a visitor centre, it is well
equipped to cater to whisky fans that visit the area.
Various distillery tours are available; the ‘classic’ tour takes an hour and a half and sets you back just £7.50.
1) Glenfarclas is the last distillery in Scotland still to use
direct heating of all its stills instead of indirect heating.
Around the year 2010 Springbank still used direct heating
for one of its stills, but others were heated indirectly.
2) The visitor centre of Glenfarclas was opened in 1973,
making it one of the first distilleries with this 'feature'.
6) The number of stills at Glenfarclas was expanded from four to six in 1976.
3) Glenfarclas distillery uses 12 washbacks - all made
out of stainless steel.
7) In 1968 Glenfarclas launched the very first first cask strength malt whisky - now called ‘Glenfarclas 105’.
4) There are now more than 30 warehouses on the
Glenfarclas distillery grounds, all of the 'dunnage' type.
5) 800,000 bottles of Glenfarclas are sold each year.
2002 - Glenfarclas chairman George S. Grant passes
away and his son John L. S. Grant succeeds him.
2010 - Like many other distilleries (Balvenie, Bowmore,
Bruichladdich, Glenfiddich and Highland Park),
Glenfarclas releases a 40 years old official bottling
in 2010 as well. A 40yo OB almost seemed like a fairly
"standard" fixture in a single malt portfolio these days.
2012 - Glenfarclas finds a few more ancient casks in
their warehouses and releases two more ultra-premium
bottlings, a 43yo and a 58yo.
2014 - An even older official bottling is released; the Glenfarclas 60yo. Bottlings of this age are very rare.
2006 - The first Glenfarclas 'Family Casks' are bottled.
New bottlings in de range are released in 2007, 2008
and 2009. (Scroll down for a handful tasting notes.)
2017 - A Glenfarclas 30yo 1987 is released to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the ‘Final Fantasy’ game.
Glenfarclas 2002/2011 (58%, OB for Ermuri, first fill sherry, C#1575+1576, 630 Bts.)
Nose: Light fruits in the start; much lighter than the dark colour suggests. Then an explosion of complexity. Tea.
A solid sweet undercurrent. Evolving spices after a few more minutes. Very impressive for such a young whisky.
Taste: Sweet start, followed by a good dash of smoke. The finish starts dry but grows more succulent.
Score: 89 points - although the sherried character might be a tad too outspoken for some...
Glenfarclas 25yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2011)
Nose: A wonderfully polished sherry profile, but not very complex. Perhaps just a hint of something sulphury.
Taste: Starts off quite potent at 43% before mellowing out. Heats up again towards the hot finish.
Extremely drinkable, but it lacks just a little individuality compared to some of the other expressions.
Score: 86 points - a very good Scotch malt whisky, but not one of the 'stars' in the Glenfarclas line-up.
Glenfarclas NAS '105' (60%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Hey... Dry grain warehouse smells, followed by some nutty notes. Then the fruits gradually appear.
Then herbs and spices emerge. Mint? The various components slowly drift together over the next 30 minutes.
Taste: Sweet and hot. At cask strength it feels round and very smooth. Water amplifies the tannins
Score: 88 points - although I might have gone for 89 points based on the nose alone.
Glenfarclas 10yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Powerful, nutty and a little sweet with an oily undercurrent. Faint hint of rotting milk powder.
Hardly any fruits. Pine. Curled Dock Sorrel (Rumex crispus). Fresh. Opens up considerably after ten minutes.
Taste: The same sorrel freshness I found in the nose. Vaguely malty. Bitter finish. Sticky aftertaste.
Hints of pine and menthol? Feels quite hot at 40%. There are some very faint tannins - not a lot though.
Score: 76 points - but that's just because it's quite complex; I liked the fruitier profile of the past better.
Glenfarclas 40yo (46%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Woody, sweet, fruity, smoky and spicy. Everything you want in an aged sherry malt. Tea? Orange zest?
A few drops of water didn't change the profile a lot. Not a lot of development - but it doesn't really need any.
Taste: Coconut. Sweet. Raisins. Wood. Chocolate. A hint of smoke. Dry. Tannins. The wood grows very dominant.
Score: 91 points - A fine example of an aged sherry malt. That being said: perhaps too woody for some people.
Glenfarclas 10yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2008)
Nose: Subtle, well-rounded and a little fruity. Quite expressive for a minute, but then it drops off a little.
Ah, wait, now it catches a second, spicy wind. Enjoyable, but it has its ups and downs.
Taste: Quite dry, with strong tannins in the finish. Unfortunately, it's the 'plywood' variety. A young one?
Score: 78 points - the nose is quite enjoyable if you give it time, but the palate keeps it out of the 80's.
Glenfarclas 30yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2008)
Nose: Fruity and spicy. Raisins. Touches of smoke and wood too. Classic. A well-balanced profile.
Taste: Brilliant mouth feel - at least initially. Fairly weak, though - again in the beginning.
Lovely persistent fruits after a few minutes. Fruit cake with loads of different fruits. Lovely whisky!
Score: 89 points - drops from 90 to 89 despite growing complexity. Not quite 90's material, but close.
Glenfarclas 41yo 1966/2008 'Feral Clangs' (45.7%, The Nectar Daily Dram, 201 Bts.)
Nose: Light with faint fruits and something vaguely coastal. Quite different from the 'Farclas profile.
Citrussy. Sorrel? Opens up a little over time, but it's more sharpness rather than more complexity.
Taste: Fairly smooth with the faintest hint of pine and perfume. Long dry finish on the edge of bitterness.
This starts as the 'plywood' finish that I'm no fan of, but there are some brief fruity episodes too.
Score: 77 points - disappointing; the harsh finish drags it out of the 80's; I like the 10yo OB better.
And I'm guessing you can buy at least 10 bottles of that for the price of this independent bottling.
That being said: after almost a year of breathing it had mellowed out - score could have approached the 80's.
Glenfarclas 1991/2007 'Family Cask' (57.9%, OB Family Cask #5623, 613 Bts.)
Nose: Polished. Heavily sherried. Wood & spices (clove) coming forward after a few seconds. Lots of wood!
Some subtle fruits (fermenting blueberries?) hiding behind the smoky oak. Very enjoyable, but not too complex.
Taste: Strong, woody start. Strong tea. It has a few sweet seconds, but grows a little too hard for me.
Dry, smoky finish. No wait, now I get another sweet flash in the finish. Smoke remains dominant.
Score: 85 points - I loved the nose, but it lost a few points in the harsh finish. Still great whisky , mind you!
Glenfarclas 1990/2007 (58.9%, OB for 5th Anniv Taïwan SMW Tasting Association, C#9246, 209 Bts.)
Nose: Sherried, but not terribly expressive initially. Some light, early summer fruits in the mix. Mirabelles?
Taste: Fruity with a whiff of dust. Loads of tannins that start to develop VERY early. Extremely smoky.
Score: 88 points - highly enjoyable, and it earns one or two extra points for going beyond the house style.
Glenfarclas 1986/2007 'Family Cask' (56.5%, OB Family Cask #3434, 521 Bts.)
Nose: Slightly dusty start. Wood. Some smoke. A whiff of oil perhaps? Hey, a touch of green peat as well?
After circa fifteen minutes the profile has sweetened out and more spices have emerged. Quite lovely!
Taste: Peculiar sweetness before the fruits appear after a few seconds. Beer? An enjoyable 'dirty' undertone.
Some toffee in the fairly fruity centre. Smoke in centre & finish. Touch of liquorice. The finish feels a tad dry.
Score: 87 points - an enjoyable roughness reminded me of the single malts that were bottled in the 1970's.
When interpreting my score of 87, please keep in mind that I'm a very strict scorer and rarely go into the 90's.
Glenfarclas 1969/2007 'Family Cask' (56,2%, OB 'Familly Casks', C#3184, 148 Bts.)
Nose: Beautiful old sherry style; fruits and woods. Vague hint of rubber? Cinnamon?
Taste: First sweet and complex fruits, then more wood and some smoke. Cinnamon. Quite extreme in the finish.
Score: 95 points - too bad I tried this in the MM Awards 2007 madness, so I only made rudimentary notes.
Almost the best bottling of Glenfarclas I've ever had the pleasure of sampling. Well, until now at least...
Glenfarclas 1972/2006 'Family Cask' (51.1%, OB Family Cask #3546, 645 Bts.)
Nose: Shoe polish. Sweet with yeasty notes in the background. Cattle feed. Spices. Passion fruit.
A lovely balance between sweetness, farmy notes and organics. Like cask #3434 it reminds me of antiques.
Taste: Sweet, smooth and bold. Big, fruity centre. Very nice, although it feels a tad gritty in the woody finish.
The smoothness is really amazing. The faintest touch of perfumy towards the finish - not at all disturbing.
Score: 90 points - I loved all 'Family Casks' I've tried so far, but this one is particularly enjoyable.
Glenfarclas 15yo (46%, OB, Bottled +/- 2006, new 'classic' packaging)
Nose: Sherried. Fruity. Polished. Hint of smoke? Some organics. Woody on the palate.
After time the nose grows more and more complex - although it does have just a few imperfections.
Taste: Great mouth feel. It lacks just a little sweetness and doesn't have quite enough 'staying power'.
Score: 87 points - there's a lot to love here... Possibly my favourite whisky of the year of the new releases.
Glenfarclas 25yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2005)
Nose: Sweet and polished, but not very expressive at first. Opens up over time, growing more unique.
Round 2: Again sweet, but there are lots of lovely fruits now as well. You just have to work at it a little.
Taste: Hint of peat. Strong tannins. Quite bitter towards the finish. Gritty. Still, there are moments of glory.
Score: 85 points - but give it time. After a few minutes both the nose and palate open up.
Glenfarclas 1974/2004 (50.5%, OB for The Whisky Exchange, Refill sherry hogshead #6041, 246 bottles)
Nose: Big, sweet and polished. Spices in the background. Honey. Baklava. Then leather & organics.
Taste: Soft, fruity start with a pinch of smoke growing stronger and stronger. Menthos freshness.
Score: 89 points - another one that's right up my alley. A fine showcase of the power of sherry.
Revision: Oh yeah! Fruity and sherried, with spices and organics joining the party after a while. Great stuff.
Glenfarclas 1991/2004 (46%, OB for La Maison du Whisky in Paris, Oloroso Cask #5620)
Nose: Distinguished; polished oak and pipe tobacco. The faintest hint of soap perfume.
Sherry, wood and tobacco. Almost perfect; maybe even just a little too perfect.
And yes, once again some organics emerge after a while. Stinging nettle? Salmiak?
This feels like a 'luxurious' malt. Speculaas spices. Rotting leaves. Mushrooms. Brilliant.
Taste: Sweet and solid. A fabulous fruity explosion in the centre - what a knockout malt.
Wood, smoke and salmiak become more dominant over time, while it flattens out a bit.
Lots of smoke on the palate - it seems much more dominant than in other official bottlings.
Score: 89 points - in the end the palate is just a bit too woody and smoky for the 90's.
Glenfarclas 15yo (46%, OB, Bottled +/- 1997, L7273BB 1 15 27, 5cl)
Nose: Hey, this smells a little 'antique'. Something organical in the direction of leather. Oriental spices.
Furniture polish. A whiff of dust. Sweetens out a bit with time. Nice! After a while it takes a nuttier direction.
Never a dull moment with this Glenfarclas. Not as sweet and fruity as the Glenfarclas 15yo of today.
Very interesting nonetheless. This shows a lot of development over time. The score kept climbing up.
Taste: Ah, it's much sweeter on the palate than in the nose. Solid. Fruity. Very nice. Intriguing spicy twist.
It remains very nice for a long time, but after some 20 minutes bitter notes take over.
Score: 83 points - I'd prefer the sweeter, fruitier 15yo of today, but arguably this is more interesting.
My own tasting notes for some expressions of Glenfarclas malt whisky are collected on this distillery profile.
Those were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Glenfarclas I've tried over the years, but the notes should
convey how I felt about those whiskies. However, these tasting notes only reflect my purely personal opinion.
Your tastes might be different from mine - so it would be prudent to check out some other opinions as well.
Serge Valentin’s Whiskyfun website offers tasting notes on thousands of whisky bottlings, including Glenfarclas.
The Malt Maniacs Monitor provides opinions of several other aficionados on over 15,000 different whiskies.
But perhaps you'd like to read a little bit more about whisky in general or single malt Scotch whisky in particular?
In that case, you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky - 10 chapters filled with (almost)
everything you need to know in order to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky. Or, if you’d like
to dig a little deeper, the Whisky Lexicon offers more detailed information on a bunch of whisky-related topics.
A local newspaper of the time wrote about
the Pattisons: 'Advertising was resorted to
on a scale previously undreamt of'. In 1897
the Pattisons spent 20.000 pounds on a
world wide advertising campaign. In those
days one could still buy or build a distillery
for that amount of money. In 1898 they
even spent 60.000 pounds on advertising
for brands like 'The Doctor' and 'The Gordon'.
Banks and investors swarmed around the
brothers like flies around a dung heap. For
years the Pattisons had no problems with
attracting the necessary funding. They
lived the good life and built opulent houses
in Edinburgh and the Lowlands.
Like every bubble, this one had to burst
some time. When it did, it turned out that
some business practices of the Pattisons
were illegal - so they ended up in prison...
After 'The Pattison Crisis' the Grant
family took control of the distillery again.
In the year 1900 they decided to
change the name of the company
back to J. & G. Grant - and the
operation has operated under that
same name until the present day.
After the commotion caused by
the Pattison crisis, Glenfarclas
enjoyed a few peaceful and
quiet decades. It wasn't until
1960 that the next big event in
the history of Glenfarclas took
place; the number of stills
was doubled from two to four.
in 1976 the number of stills was
increased further to six, further
expanding the capacity.
When I visited the Speyside area for the first time in 2003 the Glenfarclas distillery was one of the 'targets' of the tag team of certified malt maniacs that had joined our pilgrimage. I don't know if the fact that Glenfarclas is one of the last remaining 'family' distilleries has something to do with it, but the maniacs were treated like royalty in the glorious tasting room. Read my report on the first maniacal trip to Scotland in my Liquid Log for all the details...