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September 27, 2023 (edited December 21, 2023)
4.0 out of 5 stars
Continuing to work through whiskies in my collection that I’ve not yet reviewed: and while these are each quite different expressions, and thus should contain noticeable differences, they are the only Glenfarclases I have in my collection, and the “Glenfarclas” aspect is a common denominator for comparison. I’ve tasted each of them previously, several times, and my recollection is that Glenfarclas is somewhat subtle across the board, which is a bit unusual for a sherried whisky. Let’s see if my recollection is accurate.
Color is a clear Pantone 153. The fragrant nose was immediately apparent upon pouring, with clear sherry notes: dark plums, carrot cake, dark butterscotch, and warm mulled cider. There appears to be a very thin, almost parrafin-waxy mouthcoating aspect in the mouth. The palate has some honeyed sweetness, some char, and a surprising spice for the 40% ABV. There is an almost smokey burnt orange on the finish, which is in-between short and medium in length. But keeping the mouth closed, inhaling and exhaling through the nose, an almost petroleum, tar-like phenolic element appears much later: subtle, but lingering very long (the aforementioned paraffin wax is also a derivative of the petroleum process; obviously there’s no petroleum here, but the two may be related in some way).
I’ve written many times about the economics of 80-proof whisk(e)y: it is the bare minimum proof that is allowed. A distiller dilutes the distillate from the barrel with water to reach a particular proof (ABV); thus an 80-proof whisky will give the largest amount of whisky allowable from the same amount of “raw” whisky, thus increasing yield and number of bottles. That being said, this is Farclas’s entry-level whisky, and given the bottle’s age statement and the brand’s otherwise traditional, old-school craftsmanship, I can look past this shortcoming a bit. Would I prefer the more standard 43% ABV / 86 proof? Unquestionably. But as is, the whisky is complex, aromatic, and flavorful. It is without a doubt the best 80-proof whisk(e)y I’ve ever experienced, and far more complex than I remember. This is a whisky which, like Oban, would appeal to the entire spectrum of consumers, from neophyte to connoisseur; it is approachable, pleasant, and yet complex. Widely available, and priced around $50.
Would I buy it again? Without question. Solid 4.0 on the Distiller scale. I feel certain that I’d rate the 12-year higher, given its 43% ABV. I can’t wait to try it.
Chill-filtered; uncolored; 40% ABV.
Surprisingly, the color of the 17 is a clear Pantone 153, despite the longer maturation; perhaps the sherry-cask aging component is of the same length as the 10-year. The initial impression is similar to the 10, but a bit more muted on the nose: it begins with both pomander and stewed cinnamon apples, unexpected strawberry jam, Christmas cake, vanilla, and dates. Whereas butterscotch was evident on the 10, it’s not nearly as noticeable here. The entry is smoother, with some caramelized sugar sweetness and a gentle espresso bitterness, and the higher alcohol is kept in check. The finish is medium in length, with a soft, wet-oak element, and a smidgin of woody tannins; but it lacks that lingering petroleum aspect that was evident with the 10.
The 17-year-old Farclas can be found for around $125. It is a different whisky than the 10-year, as it should be; but the overall impression is one of more subtlety and smoothness rather than overt “betterness” per se.
Would I buy it again? Not as quickly as I would the 10-year, but I’d like to think that I would, despite the significantly higher price. The extra age is always a positive, even if only intellectually. 4.0 on the Distiller scale.
Chill-filtered; uncolored; 43% ABV.
The clear Pantone 153 color is identical to the 17 and 10, which seems unusual given the older age. This is different: the tar that I noted on the 10-year has returned, this time on the nose, along with dark honey, apple cider, and warm spice cake—with a pat of now-melted butter (perhaps the extra wood exposure introduces some diacetyl). Like the 10-year, the butterscotch has returned, but this time it’s not Brach’s candy, but some sort of imaginary artisanal, rare, perfected butterscotch—if such a thing exists. Cocoa. Vanilla. Espresso. Chocolate-covered cherries. There’s no real viscosity on the palate; the smoothness is not in the creaminess of the mouthfeel, but rather in the flavor integration. Sweet, but not cloyingly so. Lots of sherry on the finish, as well as some drying, leathery notes. The closed-mouth, inhale-exhale tar aspect returns, having skipped a generation (the 17-year), though not as pronounced as the 10-year.
There’s something special about drinking a 25-year-old whisky. Time cannot be substituted or rushed. I purchased this particular bottle a few years ago, and who knows how long it had been sitting on the shelf; the combination of these three items mean that it was distilled well before the millennium. The Farclas 25 drinks like a 25-year-old First-Growth Bordeaux: the age is apparent, but there’s plenty of gas in the tank. It’s the same “iron fist in a silken glove” that is often applied to a quality, aged Cabernet or meritage blend. Glenfarclas has 40- and 50-year old expressions available; and while I don’t know if I’ll have the opportunity to experience them, I’m willing to bet that my overall impression with be similar—a combination of youthful exuberance and aged experience, imparting the best of both worlds.
Would I buy it again? I’d like to, though I’ll savor this one for some time. I’ve shared it with one or two friends on special occasions. I don’t recall exactly what I paid for it—I think it was around $150 a few years back. An Internet search reveals that it can be had for $200-250 currently. That’s certainly not inexpensive, but if you can swing it, and can take the time to delineate complexity from ostentatiousness, the answer is a resounding yes. 4.5 on the Distiller scale.
Uncolored; 43% ABV.
Glenfarclas is a traditional, family-owned, old-school distillery. To my knowledge, they don’t produce NAS whisky. They also don’t employ the marketing hype or fancy packaging of some other distilleries; they just produce damn good whisky that achieves an objective goodness on its own merits. It is priced relatively lower than other whiskies with similar age statements; perhaps that’s a function of not being owned by one of the corporate behemoths like Diageo or Pernod Ricard.
I’ve not enjoyed any of my three Farclas bottlings in some time—a lapse in good judgment that I’ll rectify in short order. Each of these expressions is outstanding—the 10-year in particular, given the 40% ABV, and the fact that it is the youngest of the three. Given the quality of the 10-year, I would actively seek out the 12-year: while it only possesses two extra years of aging, it has the higher 43% ABV, and I would expect an even more enjoyable flavor profile. And I’d love to have the Glenfarclas 105 cask strength, which I see rarely in my neck of the woods, and have yet to purchase. I’ll be keeping my eyes out for it.
The Glenfarclas range, or at least these three bottlings, represents a different sherry-cask influence, in my experience: they’re a bit more youthful. Whereas a whisky connoisseur commonly associates dark fruit, stewed fruit, and more intense baking spices with sherry-casked drams, each of these Glenfarclas expressions emit a younger fruitiness. These aren’t sherry bombs like Aberlour A’Bunadh (which I adore) or Edradour (which I also love); nor do they exhibit the refinement of a sherry-finished whisky like Macallan 18, which, while expensive, is nevertheless a high quality benchmark. Glenfarclas to me is a bit more rustic, though certainly not rough; think “gentleman farmer” to Macallan’s urbane refinement.
There was a time a few years back in my drinking experience where I was purchasing every release of Aberlour A’Bunadh, which is a cask-strength offering. Perhaps its high-octane experience jaded my palate somewhat to Glenfarclas when I would taste it (not side-by-side, but sporadically during the same period). Glenfarclas represents old-school balance—think pre-Parker overextracted wine, or pre-whatever overhopped IPAs—and is a benchmark of what a sherry-finished Highland single-malt should be.
N.B.: All spirits tasted neat in a Glencairn glass.